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