How I love going to a new location and seeing another great ancient ruin! As we drove into the modern city of Bergama, we looked up high on a hill behind the city and the first thing we saw is ancient Pergamum’s theater, dramatically situated on a very steep slope. For a map of sites visited in Turkey click here.
As usual, the Greeks picked an excellent natural setting for a theater, with a view that extends for miles. The acropolis of Pergamum covers a steep hilltop, and a lot of Greek and Roman civil engineering work went into creating a level building area.
Pergamum was settled by the Greeks in the 8th century BC, and ruled by one of Alexander the Great’s generals around 320 BC. It became part of the Roman Empire in 133 BC. Pergamum was a great center of learning, and had a huge library of 200,000 scrolls that were (probably unfortunately) given to Cleopatra by Marc Antony as a wedding gift in 41 BC.
Pergamum (Pergamos) is mentioned in The New Testament, in Revelation 1:11 as one of the seven churches in Asia and as the “seat of Satan” in Revelation 2:13. Let’s just say he picked one heck of a spot. The reason for the label is probably due to the horrific martyr of Antipas, the bishop of Pergamum in 92 AD (he was roasted to death inside a bronze bull or ox at the Altar of Zeus).
Another of the seven cities mentioned in Revelation, Smyrna, is located in modern Izmir. We did not have time to explore Smyrna opting for Pergamum instead. Izmir is more of a “working” city and does not receive a lot of tourists. We found a good restaurant along the harbor front and enjoyed the feeling of being in a “real” Turkish city.
Practicalities: Pergamum is a pretty easy day trip by car from Izmir, about 2 hours (100 km) north. Since Pergamum is at the top of a very steep hill, there is a tram that will take you close to the top, or you can drive through the town and up the hill on a narrow road to find a small parking lot near the top. The entry fee is 20 TL per person and parking was 3.5 TL (about 2 TL to the USD as of July 2013).
In addition to Pergamum, in the town of Bergama is the Red Basilica (Temple of the Egyptian Gods), which dates to the 2nd century AD and was once covered in marble – it must have been quite a sight then and it still is now. It is huge, and pictures cannot do its immense size justice.
Later on, the Byzantines built a church inside the basilica. This was a place where the Romans worshiped the Egyptian Gods. The entry fee was 5 TL. It’s worth a quick stop here. In addition to these sites, the Asclepieum (or Asklepion, dedicated to the serpent-god Asklepios) an ancient medical center ruin is about 8 km from the acropolis. Time didn’t allow us to stop here either.
References: Signage at Pergamum, DK Eyewitness Travel Turkey and Lonely Planet Turkey.