Located 100 kilometers north of Izmir, the laid-back market town of Bergama is the modern successor to the once powerful ancient city of Pergamon. Bergama is home to two of Turkey’s most celebrated archaeological sites; Pergamon
acropolis and Asclepion, one of the earliest medical centers on record.
Built on a conical hill, rising 300 metres above the surrounding valley, Pergamon was the most famous city in Asia.
Bergama has a population around 60,000 making it the 4th biggest town in İzmir.
Bergama is a center for farming, light industry schools, gold mining and of course tourism. It is also renowned for its high quality carpets. There are approximately 80 villages that still weave Bergama carpets today. The history of carpet weaving in Bergama dates back to the 11th century when Turkish migration started in the area.
Most of the downtown is very navigable on foot. In fact walking is one of the pleasures of a visit to Bergama. You can walk through all of the popular tourist destinations from the center within 15 minutes including the Asclepion, the Acropolis cable car, the Archaeological Museum and the Red Basilica.
Boasting a small but impressive collection of artifacts Bergama’s museum is well worth a visit. On exhibit reliefs from the Acropolis including a wonderful Roman era relief from the Demeter Terrace and a Hellenistic frieze from the Athena Terrace also impressive.
There are many statues from the Asclepion, the famed ancient medical center and a mosaic floor featuring of Medusa’s head that was originally in the lower Agora.
The Ethnography gallery focuses on the crafts, costumes and customs of the Ottoman period. There is a scaled replica of the altar of Zeus, the original is in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.
The Red Basilica was erected in the 2nd century probably under the reign of Hadrian, as a temple to the popular Egyptian god Serapis. It was later converted into a Byzantine church. It consists of main building and two round towers within an enormous sacred area. Nowadays there is a mosque located in one of the buildings.
Bergama shares the site of ancient Pergamon where extensive ruins remain. Pergamon is reportedly named after the founder of Pergamus. Pergamum was never important until it became the capital of the independent kingdom of the Attalids after Alexander the Great.
Under Eumenes II from 197 to 159 BC Pergamon became the finest flower of Hellenic civilization. It boasted 2nd biggest library of ancient world with more than 200,000 volumes. Legend has it that they invented parchment here when the supply of papyrus from Egypt was cut off.
Pergamon’s last King willed it to Rome in 133 BC when apparently it became the capital of the Roman province of Asia.
In addition to its political importance Pergamon was also a great and important religious center with temples dedicated to Zeus, Athena the patron goddess, Dionysius and Asclepius the god of healing.
Pergamon was also the leading center for the worship of Roman emperors in 29 BC. As the first city of the province Pergamon built a temple dedicated to the divine Augustus and the goddess Roma.
Shortly after St. John’s time an amazing temple for emperor Trajan was constructed thus ensuring the ongoing worship of the emperor.
Certainly the most prominent feature in Pergamon was the gleaming temple structure, an altar dedicated to Zeus Soter that is Zeus the Savior. This temple and the altar of Zeus were unquestionably the most spectacular features to greet the eye of the visitor arriving in the city from any of three directions. To some the great altar appeared to be something of a throne.
The additional feature giving fame to the city was the Hospital and a Temple of Asclepius who is also called Asklepious Soter.
Galen, the famous physician, had perfected his medicine expertise in the care of wounded and dying gladiators and had them expanded that medical practice through the hospital in the temple of Asclepius.
The temple of Asclepius itself has been extensively preserved and offers insight into the combination of the practice of medicine and psychology in the 1st century.
Present in the temple complex is a theater and various baths some of which were rather uniquely engineered achievements enabling their raising or lowering of the water. So that those immersed in the baths were unable to account for the phenomenon. Some suggest this entered into the healing process. So that the rising of the waters would be an indication that Asclepius had honored the request for healing.
A long tunnel connected the bathhouse area with the solarium which was a large round building. Small apertures in the top of the tunnel enabled priests of Asclepius to speak promising words to devotees walking through the tunnel in search of healing.
In the solarium some sources indicate the presence of hundreds of non-poisonous snakes whose permanent residence was the solarium. With the assistance of certain drugs, a participant in the activities of the solarium might sleep for a period of time or even a night in the dormitories while non-poisonous snakes crawled around them. During their sleep they were told that the serpent god Asclepius would speak to them in dreams and give them a diagnosis.
It was believed that the snakes carried the healing power of Asclepius. And if the snake slithered across you while you were sleeping at night that was a divine sign that healing power was coming to you. The next morning the patients told their dreams to the priests who prescribed their treatments. Finally the patients made clay sculptures of the body parts that needed healing and offered them to Asclepius.
Pergamon had been a city of considerable importance for at least four preceding centuries. And it had an estimated population of 120,000. If Ephesus was the New York of Asia Pergamon was its Washington.
In addition to his political importance Pergamon was celebrated as the center of intellectual life in the whole of Hellenistic world. Pergamon was also a great and important religious center. It had become the center of emperor worship in the Roman world by the time of the 1st century.