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  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

The Amazing Acropolis of Pergamon in Turkey

Rising high above the plains in the northwest Turkey is a 335m (1100ft) high mesa on which the Acropolis of Pergamon (also known as Pergamos or Pergumum) was situated. Buildings here date back to 281BC. Today, a chair lift rises swiftly upwards, taking visitors to wander and marvel at the impressive ruins of temples, homes and libraries. Pergamon was a cultural and political centre.

relief map of the entire Pergamon Acropolis in Turkey as it would have looked in the 2nd century including houses, temples, sanctuaries and other buildings

People also came to Asklepion located at the base on the Acropolis to be healed with the water from a sacred spring that still flows. It is reputed to be the site of the world’s first psychiatric hospital. Massage therapy and surgeries were performed here. Galen (129-216), a famous physician came from Pergamon. He discovered that snake venom could be an antidote for some bites and stings. Later, Galen was the personal physician of Marcus Aurelius (121-180), the Roman Emperor. Gladiators would also attend the healing centre to recover from injuries sustained whilst fighting.

The massif is about one km (0.6mi) wide and around 5.5 km (3.5mi) long from north to south.

Art, music and theatre were important to the ancient citizens of Pergamon. With a stunning, but steep, seating arrangement of 80 rows, around 10,000 people could be entertained at one time.

one of the steepest theatres in the world was built into a cliff at Pergamon Turkey in the 2nd century. It seated 10,000 people and today overlooks the wide valley to the sea 20kms away

Today, nothing is left of the stage that was built around 3BC, except for the magnificent view over the valley and the modern city of Bergama.

the view from the top of the theatre seats looks down upon where the stage was, and over the hills and valleys into the misty horizon

Cultural activities were seen as healing to the mind and several smaller theatres are also located around the acropolis. Several members of my tour were afraid of heights and found the steepness of the theatre terrifying. Yet, it is worth sitting on the seating area high up and imagining the crowds that would have assembled here. Also, just soaking in that glorious view was definitely worth taking time out to have a break from the wandering.

The author of the article - Helen, relaxing on the stone steps of the steep theatre, built in the 2nd century. The arch behind has a passageway that leads to the temple of Zeus

Then step down to where the stage would have been and imagine performing to the crowds above you. The natural acoustics are such that a person speaking in a normal natural voice could be heard from every seat. It was quite emotional doing this.

The impressive temple, dedicated to Trajan and Zeus, built on top of the highest point of the citadel would have been seen from afar. Trajan was the Roman Emperor from 98 to 117, and Zeus was king of the Gods in Greek mythology.

Corinthian columns soar skyward on the left and right, of the Trajan and Zeus temple. Reconstructed by German Archaelogists they stand impressively tall, topped with carvings of faces, flowers and geometric designs

Destroyed over time, what visitors see now of the Trajaneum was reconstructed in the 1960s by German archaeologists. Materials had been previously plundered, yet the salvaged Corinthian columns stand tall and enable you to understand the size of this grand building. Carved into the marble stonework are faces and floral patterns as well as geometric designs.

above the Corinthian columns are balanced fragments of stone from the original temple, placed where archeologists estimate they would have been originally

A replica of an armoured statue stands where the east hall of the temple was.

a full sized replica of an armoured statue found in the ruins, minus head, legs and arms, this is the torso and armour of a warrior.

The original statue is now in a museum and was found in one of the chambers nearby during excavations. These chambers have held up remarkably well over the centuries, and their purpose has been highly debated. Were they for storage, accommodation, religious purposes? In the middle ages some were used to as water storage cisterns.

a corridor made up of stone arches that lead the eye to the distance. Different sizes of stone were used, large on the bottom and smaller to fill in the tops near the arch. Still standing after centuries

The Great Altar of Zeus and Athena was one of the greatest masterpieces ever built, around 180BC. It measured an impressive 36 x 34 metres (116 x 109 ft). In 1959 it was rebuilt in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

Today all that is left of where this magnificent structure first stood, are a pile of stones from its foundation. Standing on the terrace where the altar was originally built, you can see the same impressive view over the valley as from the theatre.

a few stones scattered on a hilltop  with three trees growing amongst them are all that is left of the altar of Zeus' original site at Pergamon Turkey. The reconstructed altar is in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin Germany

The city fell into ruins for many reasons, especially attacks from invaders and earthquakes. Situated high on the mesa, it was prone to windy weather and required a lot of maintenance. Something people in future centuries no longer had the money or inclination to repair. Fortunately for modern day travellers, the site has been preserved and ongoing discoveries are still being made. In 2022 alone, walls, production areas and mosaic tiled floors were newly uncovered and discovered.

Also to see at the ruins of the entire Acropolis are as follows, which would require at least two days of discovery to see them all:

· The Royal palaces

· The Heroön – a shrine where the kings of Pergamon were worshipped

· The Upper Agora

· The Roman baths complex

· Arsenals

· Gymnasiums

· Sanctuaries of Hera Basileia, Demeter, Asclepius

· the House of Attalus

· the Lower Agora and

· the Gate of Eumenes

· the Roman theatre

· the North Stoa and the South Stoa

· Temples for Asclepius, Serapis, Dionysus, Athena

· a circular treatment centre (sometimes known as the Temple of Telesphorus)

· a healing spring

· an underground passageway

· a library

· the Sacred Way, which is a colonnaded street leading to the sanctuary, known as the Via Tecta

· the Red Basilica

Pergamon was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2014.

sign in Turkish and English declaring that Pergamon was listed with UNESCO in 2014

At the top of the chair lift are a range of stalls to buy souvenirs, a cafe and well-maintained bathrooms. That last one is always a plus at tourist destinations!

stalls at the Acropolis in Pergamon Turkey selling turkish style clothing, scarves and metallic souveniers, postcards and evil eye wards

The site is not easily navigated by people with mobility issues, or those who do not like heights. There are some wooden walkways in the area for short strolls, yet, on my tour were two agile 90 year olds who had a great time navigating the area.

the Acropolis in Pergamon in Turkey, high on a mesa with ruins scattered everywhere, a lone tower stands tall. looking out over the plains into the distant hills,

Happy Travels!

407 views4 comments


Ken Sternes
Ken Sternes
Jan 22, 2023

This looks absolutely fabulous


Froggy Landia
Froggy Landia
Jan 12, 2023

I've never been in Turkey and would love to. This place looks so full of things to admire.


Dec 31, 2022

This place looks amazing. I'd love to spend a day exploring the Acropolis.


Ingrid Turner
Ingrid Turner
Dec 31, 2022

Very impressive there. I love the colors of the clothing in the shop. The dresses or costumes look beautiful. Not sure I would have enjoyed the climbing of those heights.

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