Ancient temples. Hellenistic citadels. Archaeological ruins.
They're what trips in Turkey are made of, and our visit to Bergama (Pergamon) last week was no different. Jeff and I spent about 24 hours (we had intended to spend 48 but ran out of things to do) visiting Bergama's major sites: the Acropolis, Red Basilica and the Asclepion. We intended to also visit the Archaeology Museum but upon learning that only the ethnography section was open, we decided to skip it.
Unlike Selcuk, which is home to Efes (Ephesus), Bergama is a bit provincial and, seeing as how it doesn't get nearly as many tourists, also a lot quieter. What it has going for it is the ancient city of Pergamon's Acropolis and Rome's famous medical center, the Asclepion.
First on our list of things to do was the Acropolis (the citadel of Pergamon). We had to take a cable car ride to the top of a very steep hill. The good part of the ride was that since we were ascending parallel to the hill the entire time, there was never a great distance between us and the ground. The bad part of the ride was that we had chosen a particularly windy (and cold!) day to go to Bergama and so the car rocked back and forth like crazy.
I do love trekking around archaeological sites, but I will be the first to admit that I am not very good at photographing them. I'm never sure what exactly I am looking at (unless there's a sign nearby) and I usually come home with hundreds of photos of piles of rocks.
But every now and again, I am moved by a particular scene, and it's quite easy to snap a photo, like this view of the defensive walls and parts of the theatre.
The theatre carved into the hillside at Pergamon is really cool, mainly because it is one of the steepest of all Hellenistic theatres. Usually Hellenistic theatres (like the one at Efes) are wider and rounder, but this one is quite vertical. It is probably the only theatre I've visited where I couldn't sit down on the steps because I couldn't figure out how to get down to them!
The acropolis of Pergamon was modelled after the one in Athens so if you've been there, you'll notice some similarities between the one in Greece and the one here, though there isn't as much left of Pergamon's.
After taking the cable car back down and walking about a kilometre or so, past lots of old Greek houses that would be so beautiful with a bit of restoration, we inadvertently passed the Red Basilica, originally built as a temple to several Egyptian gods. Christians then built a basilica inside it, and now a small tower is used as a mosque.
It's interesting to see if only because it is one of the Seven Churches of the Revelation (or the Apocalypse) and St John of Patmos signalled this church out as the throne of the devil, which Jeff is quite adept at demonstrating here.
The next day, we headed over to the Asclepion, the ancient medical center where sick people were "cured" of their illnesses via massage, mudbaths, drinking sacred water and dream analysis. It sounds silly today, but Galen, who is considered the world's greatest early physician, did work here that was the basis for medicine into the 16th century.
There's a Roman bazaar street, once lined with shops, that led to the Ascleption's entrance. Inside, there are fine, upright columns of a long-gone library, a temple and a theatre.
But I think my favorite part of the Asclepion was venturing into an underground tunnel to the area of the medical center where people slept overnight and received their prognosis via dream analysis.
It was said that in these rooms, patients dreamt and received prognoses through Asclepios, the god of medicine. I imagined people laying fitfully in bed, waiting to fall asleep, hoping that when they woke up they would be cured.
It had been a long time that Jeff and I had been wanting to visit Bergama, and I'm so glad we finally did it! I wouldn't say that it is an essential part of a tour of Turkey, but I think if you're interested in Greek and Roman history, or like archaeological sites, Bergama is a neat place to spend a day.
Practical Information: The cable car ride to the top of the Acropolis costs 8 TL per person, roundtrip. Admittance to the Acropolis itself is 20 TL. Entry to the Red Basilica will cost you 5 TL, so decide for yourself if you want to poke around inside or just admire the building from the sidewalk (I would recommend the latter as you can't actually go inside the basilica for safety reasons). Admittance to the Asclepion is 15 TL.
We stayed the night at the Akropolis Guest House, a lovely little place in old Bergama set amidst Greek houses. It was low season while we were there and they were clearly doing some renovation and decorating for the start of spring, so I didn't take any photos. A double room cost us 70 TL and included a lovely breakfast.
For lunch, definitely try the famous Bergama köfte, which you can find all over town. For dinner, head up to the Bergama Ticaret Odası Sosyal Tesisleri (the Bergama Municipal Restaurant), which serves great meze, kebaps and organic wine for quite reasonable prices.