music by Lucas Thanos
footage and photos by various artists
location: Bergama, Turkey

Pergamon (Ancient Greek: τὸ Πέργαμον or ἡ Πέργαμος), or Pergamum, was an ancient Greek city in Aeolis, currently located 26 kilometres (16 mi) from the Aegean Sea on a promontory on the north side of the river Caicus (modern-day Bakırçay). Today, the main sites of ancient Pergamon are to the north and west of the modern city of Bergama in Turkey.

Some[who?] ancient authors regarded it as a colony of the Arcadians, but the various origin stories all belong to legend. The Greek historians reconstructed a complete history for it due to confusion with the distant Teuthrania. It became the capital of the Kingdom of Pergamon during the Hellenistic period, under the Attalid dynasty, 281–133 BC. Pergamon is cited in the Book of Revelation as one of the seven churches of Asia.

The Acropolis of Pergamum (Pergamon) is certainly dramatic, perched atop a high, steep-sided hill to the northeast of the modern city center.

The great temples and dramatic theater are visible from anywhere in the city, as they were meant to be.

Follow the signs to the Akropolis. From the Bergama Museum at the center of Bergama, it's over 5 km (3 miles) to the top of the hill along a narrow road that winds around the hill. A gate near the bottom of the hill is closed during the night to prevent access to the site.

The foundations of the monumental buildings of the ancient city cascade down the hill right to the modern city. It used to be possible to hike to the top of the hill through the Gate of Eumenes and the various gymnasia and agoras, but the entire archeological site is now enclosed by a fence. If you walk, you must walk along the auto road all the way to the summit—a long, hot walk in summer. (In April—a much more pleasant time to hike—the hill is carpeted with beautiful wildflowers.)

As you ascend the hill, note the remains of ancient aqueducts in the valleys to the west and north.

At the summit is a parking lot (small fee), some souvenir and refreshment shops. Pay the admission fee of TL20, and walk up the stone ramp to reach the summit.

The most prominent building here is the Traianeum, or Temple of Trajan, a huge marble temple that has been partially reconstructed from ruins found on the site.

Beside it is the Temple of Athena, also partially reconstructed. Between the Traianeum and Athena temple was Pergamum's famous library of 200,000 volumes.

Behind these to the east are the ruins of numerous dark stone palaces (not much to look at). West of them, carved into the steep hillside, is the dramatic Hellenistic theater. Like most Hellenic and Hellenistic theaters, it offered a scenic panorama just in case the play was boring.

The highest point on the hilltop, now marked by a Turkish flag, were 3rd-century BC arsenals.

Just down the hill from the summit on its own terrace is the site of the Altar of Zeus, now in Berlin. At the foot of the theater, reached by the grand Theater Terrace/ Promenade, was the Temple of Dionysus.

The Asclepion (Asklepieion) of Pergamum was perhaps the world's most famous ancient medical center, and is the second-most important site in Bergama.

The Asclepion is west of the city center, 1.6 km (one mile) north of the main street, reached by a road on the left (north) 6 km (3.73 miles) east of the Otogar (bus terminal) and one km (6/10 mile) west of the Bergama Museum and city center (map).

The road to the Asclepion passes through a large Turkish army base. Do not linger on the road, or take photos, and be off the road by dusk.

Founded by a man named Archias, the Asclepion of Pergamum became famous under Galen (131-210 AD), a local physician who pursued his medical studies in Greece and Alexandria (Egypt) before settling here as doctor to Pergamum's gladiators.

From the parking lot and entrance (TL15), where there are shops and snack-and-drink stands, you walk along a monumental marble street bordered by columns. This was once an active market street, with shops lining both sides of the street. The acropolis of Pergamum is clearly visible on its hilltop to the east.

Coming into the main precinct of the Asclepion, notice the large marble column fragment bearing the Asclepion's symbol: two snakes facing each other across a wheel. As snakes shed their skins are are "reborn," so patients at the Asclepion were to shed their illnesses and regain health.

You first notice the large theater of the Asclepion, in front of which are several stone-framed sacred pools, filled with water (and frogs) in spring, though perhaps dry in summer and autumn.


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