One of the greatest cities of Antiquity
Yet again the turn for another of the great ancient cities in the world. Pergamon. Of Greek origin, then Roman as it’s the case for this entire region of Turkey, was of great strategical, knowledge and arts importance. With the steepest theater from the ancient times and once home to the 2nd largest library from the ancient world just after Alexandria, it flourished even further after the Pergamese people discovered a new way of creating paper-like since the administration of papyrus was cut off from Egypt. They named this newly created product pergamenum after the name of the city. This event was a complete success across the entire Roman empire as it meant breaking the dependency from Egypt’s papyrus.
But visiting this place did not come as a simple task on our agenda. Squeezing the time to probably a new limit that we have not done before, while changing upside down the original plans for this entire long weekend trip; we managed to get some room to visit this great ancient city. At only 100 kilometers to the north from Izmir, it was in our heads the days before flying to Turkey yet we preferred to stop thinking and letting it go with the flow. Still… the rush for doing everything possible to get to this place was too high to miss.
As commented on the previous travel guides for Izmir (Smyrna) and Ephesus, Pergamon is also one of the Seven Churches of Asia, known also as the Seven Churches of Revelation or the Seven Churches of the Apocalypse. Mentioned in the New Testament Book of Revelation, it is where Jesus Christ from the Greek island of Patmos instructs his servant Jon of Patmost saying: “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.”
Thankfully it really worked well in our direction, having to move Ephesus to the day before right after a short sightseeing walk around the old town of Izmir and the ancient remains of the Agora of Smyrna. I would otherwise not imagine us staying any longer in Izmir with nothing else to do and see today, knowing how good we are in moving at the right speed around with the directions and way marked in the map making it as easier as going from A to B, to C and so on.
It is very important you know that the archaeological area is actually very big and is spread in 3 different areas. There is no need to mention that absolutely every tourist will come to the Acropolis, where the most important constructions once stood. Sadly, they don’t even know there is a lot much more to see than just this. Not to mention the tourist on a guided tour, or tour groups that are taken here with only a very short time to explore, hence never taken to the rest of the complex.
Further explained in the section below are the areas with each of the noteworthy constructions within. But does not matter how you plan your visit or how long is your total available time in here, you should get to see the Acropolis the first thing, and then depending on your remaining time left, the other places as appropriate. As for the Red Basilica which lies in between both the Acropolis and the Asclepion, in downtown Bergama, you can easily see it through the fences. There is not really a need to get inside since what you see from the outside does not change much from within the inside of the excavation area. Also, if you came to Bergama by bus, you will have to pass through the Basilica on your way to the Acropolis cable car so you will get to see this place yes or yes.
Reaching the Asclepion is a rather more tricky task. It is in downtown Bergama, and surprisingly or not, I did not get to see it from the top of the Acropolis. In any case there is not much more I can let you know about it because I did not have the time to visit it. Supposedly to be a great place anyway, but believe me or not, the best decision we could have done is walking down from the top of the Acropolis and see the countless sites. One after another, the place is indeed huge. Do not make the mistake of going down via the cable car as the rest of 99.9% of people do. I would have been very disappointed if visiting only the top of the Acropolis wondering, is this really it? Then how small!
For more information about Pergamon check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Turkish currency is the Lira (TRY). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
How to get there
Coming from Izmir is probably the fastest and easiest way from what is the nearest largest city. With buses every 20 minutes or so from the main bus station, you just simply pop there and get a ticket for the next available bus. With bus I mean, mini vans. The cost is 10 TRY per way, there is no need to buy a return as they only sell those at the bus station of arrival.
You need to get a bus to Bergama. If you need to ask for help and you mention the name Pergamon, people might not know what you are referring to. Bergama is the name of the current city, while Pergamon the ancient city within the new Bergama.
The travel time should be anything between 1.5 and 2 hours, depending on traffic. On the way there it took us 1.5 precise, but on the way back was a different story due to the heavy traffic on approach to Izmir. Once you are at the bus station in Bergama, it takes around 15 minutes walking to the cable car to the Acropolis.
Entrance and fees
The general admission fee is 25 TRY for the Acropolis. Bear in mind you need separate tickets to enter the Red Basilica and the Asclepion that you buy in-situ at each of those places. The Red Basilica is 5 TRY and the Asclepion 20 TRY.
During winter months (October to April) the sites close at 17.30pm, while on summer months (May to September) it is extended until 19.00pm.
Remember to get some water at the kiosk near the top entrance of the Acropolis as otherwise there is nowhere you can get anything when inside.
What to see and do in Pergamon
- Acropolis Without any doubt, the highlight of this once impressive city from the antiquity. Perched on top of a mountain overlooking the entire valley and new Bergama city at the feet.
-Upper Acropolis Contains the most famous constructions, but as explained in the brief introduction before, there is way much more to see than only this as majority of people does. Among the most notorious constructions are:
-Great Altar of Pergamon Was taken to Berlin where is even since on display at the Pergamon Museum. What remains today in place is only its original base. It is one of the symbols of the entire ancient city.
-Temple of Athena Just a little portion of it remains today, on the edge of the theater. It is in this corner where you can get the best picture of the theater below and the Trajaneum above.
-Sanctuary of Trajan Also known as Trajaneum, is the temple that has been perfectly restored following the principle of anastylosis. The beautiful columns and site are the current landmark in the Upper Acropolis.
-Pergamon Library Only few pieces of the floor and base of columns survive today. It is located next to the Trajaneum. Was the second in size and importance after that of Alexandria in Egypt.
-Hellenistic Theater It is the steepest theater from the ancient world.
-Temple of Dionysus and Stoa of Eumenes II Located right at the base of the theater, was once this temple with the colonnaded walkway.
-City Walls Quite intact at many points, rebuilt at others, gives you an idea of how well fortified the whole complex once was.
-Other constructions Although less preserved and some not recognizable anymore, include the Arsenal, the Royal Palaces and the baths.
-Lower Acropolis Incredibly underestimated but the majority of tourists who do not come this way down towards the bottom and exit of the complex via this route, it is truly worth it. You will start heading down via a zig-zag route marked with blue dots at stones. Among the many constructions you will see are:
-Upper Gymnasium This was the largest training facility for competitors in public games. Recently restored there is still in place the crane that lifts the columns back in place following a restoration process of anastylosis.
-Middle Gymnasium Half the size of the upper one but retaining some of its walls facing the old road.
-Lower Gymnasium The smallest and less preserved from the three.
-Temple of Demeter One level below the Hellenistic theater, once fully colonnaded, today not much remains but the entire shape with floors still there.
-House of Attalus Now musealized with a new structure covering the entire site to protect the perfect mosaics from the external agents.
- Red Basilica Built in the 2nd century AD under the reign of Hadrian dedicated to the Egyptian god Serapis. It’s a massive red brick construction in pretty well shape of preservation. It lies middle of the way between the Acropolis cable car and the Asclepion, and just meters away from the main bus station of Bergama.
- Asclepion Built in honor of Aesculapius, the god of Health and Medicine, it is believed this place exists since the 4th century BC where people came here to be healed and cured. There are several buildings at the complex
-Monumental Way Almost 900 meters of colonnaded road leading towards the main entrance. Unfortunately right next to this road there is a military base hence don’t take much time making pictures around as people from the base might come telling you it is not possible to take pictures. Of course do not take any of the base.
-Theater In pretty much good shape and state of preservation.
-Sacred Pools Located at the front of the theater.
-Tunnels Where the sick walked in the darkness to hear the healing powers of the god Asclepios.
- Pergamon Bridge The widest bridge from antiquity to survive to our days, was built in order to create an under pass on the side of the Red Basilica. A visible part of the bridge is by the river, where you can see the 2 arches at the western entrance.