This morning we left Selcuk and made the 2 hour drive to Bergama, the modern city near ancient Pergamon. I think I’m getting the hang of this driving-in-Turkey thing; if I can handle Istanbul I can handle anything! From now on, though, we will rent our car from the Sabiha Gokcen airport rather than the Ataturk airport, since the former is farther out of town. We probably added an hour and a half to our drive (and our stress) renting from Ataturk to drive south.

DSC_0316In Bergama we are staying at the Akropolis Guest House in a great location – 10 minutes’ walk from the Pergamon Akropolis. Not bad for 40 Euro a night. In fact, the Akropolis, Asklepion and museum are all within a good walk of each other. At the Akropolis you take a cable car up the mountain (10 Turkish Lira) and get a great view of the valley and surrounding mountains. What a fun way to enter the site!

DSC_0326This was the first time for both of us to visit Pergamon and we were debating whether to include this site in our tour. The issue is simply drive time. We do a lot of driving from Istanbul down to Pamukkale, through Bodrum and back up the coast and don’t want to overwhelm our group, who might be “ruined-out” by this time. As with all our destinations, there is simply too much to see in 10 days!

DSC_0337Once we reached the top of the mountain we realized Pergamon is a must-see in Turkey. The Temple of Trajan has received the most reconstructive effort on the site and redefines the term “inconceivable” (and that means what I think it means). Started by the Emperor Trajan and finished by his successor Hadrian, this temple was finished in the 2nd century. Although destroyed in the Middle Ages, archaeologists have re-erected much of the temple so we can see it in its massive glory.

DSC_0330The columns are monolithic (each made out of one huge piece of marble), but the side columns have an extra component. All of the columns were made without attached bases and capitals – these were added as separate pieces. Apparently when the temple was first created the architect decided that the columns along the side looked short and stocky so he added a length of marble to the bottom and fluted the tops to make them look taller more elegant. What attention to detail – what uncompromising standards!

DSC_0352We also saw the ruins of the library which had the second largest holdings of antiquity with 200,000 scrolls (later given to Cleopatra by Marcus Antonius as a wedding present). Most of the scrolls were made out of Egyptian papyrus. Eventually the Ptolemies ceased exporting papyrus not only because of a shortage but also because they didn’t want their own libraries to have competition. Under the rule of Eumenes II (who is considered the father of Miletus, which we saw earlier) Pergamon invented a new form of paper, parchment made out of dried animal skin (charta pergamena). This invention freed Rome from its dependance on Egypt for writing materials.


The theater at Pergamon is the steepest of the ancient world, for those of us with vertigo, can be quite dizzying. It seated around 10,000 and held comedies, dramas and satires. If you are brave enough to walk all the way to the bottom (and strong enough to walk back up) you can test out the still excellent acoustics. We made it halfway and let others test the echoes … and were a little embarrassed to be younger than the brave ones!

DSC_0364There is much more to see, but the greatest treasure held at Pergamon is the Great Altar. Known in Revelation as “Satan’s Throne”, only the base of the altar remains on the site – everything else is held in Berlin at the Pergamon Museum. The altar again redefines an overused term: it is monumental. Much of the Pergamon Akropolis was based on the Akropolis in Athens, but here at Pergamon’s Altar the pediment was put at the bottom rather than the top of the columns. The outer frieze shows the battle between the Olympian gods and the Titans.

DSC_0361The inner frieze tells the myth of Telephus. As the story goes, during the Trojan war Telephus was mortally wounded by Achilles. He sought help from the Delphic oracle who told him that “he who wounded shall heal.” Knowing Achilles’ massive temper, he instead sought out Clytemnestra (the resentful wife of Agamemnon and relative of Telephus’ father, Hercules). She helped Telephus kidnap her son, Orestes, and hold him for ransom to blackmail Achilles into helping. Achilles relented and shaved part of the spear that stabbed Telephus into the wound, healing him.

DSC_0348The next day we visited the Asklepion and Bergama museum. The Asklepion was founded in the name of Asklepius, the god of healing whose rod intertwined with snakes is still the symbol of healing today. This healing center was built on the outskirts of town and featured healing waters, dream analysis, sunbathing, and more. Galen, the second most famous ancient doctor next to Hippocrates, practiced medicine here. The site features a theater, library, massive tunnels, and a multitude of tholos temples. The Bergama museum is fairly small – most of the artifacts from Pergamon are housed in Berlin. We were able to see several stele (grave markings), statues, and a grand mosaic featuring Medusa.