Turkey

Ancient Pergamum – One of Turkey’s Most Dramatic Sites (and the seat of Satan)

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.

The theater at Pergamum. It could seat 10,000 people.

The theater at Pergamum. It could seat 10,000 people.

Exploring the theater at Pergamum.

Exploring the theater at Pergamum.

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.

These archways are part of the hillside infrastructure to support the Temple of Trajan and other buildings at Pergamum.

These archways are part of the hillside infrastructure to support the Temple of Trajan and other buildings at Pergamum.

Ruins of the Temple of Trajan, started during the reign of the Roman Emperor Trajan, 98 - 117 AD.

Ruins of the Temple of Trajan, started during the reign of the Roman Emperor Trajan, 98 – 117 AD.

Another view of the Temple of Trajan.

Another view of the Temple of Trajan.

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.

Although it doesn't look like much now, these are the ruins of the magnificent library of Pergamum that once held 200,000 scrolls -rivaling Alexandria as one of the great ancient libraries.

Although it doesn’t look like much now, these are the ruins of the magnificent library of Pergamum that once held 200,000 scrolls – rivaling Alexandria as one of the great ancient libraries.

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).

The Altar of Zeus was located where the big tree is. The amazing friezes and other parts of the Altar structure are now in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany.

The Altar of Zeus was located where the big tree is. The amazing friezes and other parts of the Altar structure are now in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany.

The ancient city walls of Pergamum, dating at least to 159 BC.

The ancient city walls of Pergamum, dating at least to 159 BC.

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.

A view along the seafront in Izmir.

A view along the seafront in Izmir.

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).

Red Basilica

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.

A view of the Red Basilica.

A view of the Red Basilica.

The Red Basilica ruins, still standing from the 2nd century AD.

The Red Basilica ruins, still standing from the 2nd century AD.

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.

Ephesus and Kusadasi –Avoiding the Crowds

Temple of Hadrian (123 AD) in Ephesus, built to commemorate the Emperor's visit.

Temple of Hadrian (123 AD) in Ephesus, built to commemorate the Emperor’s visit.

A swastika at the Temple of Hadrian, a common symbol in classical Mediterranean times.

A swastika at the Temple of Hadrian, a common symbol in classical Mediterranean times.

The most popular tourist destination in Turkey (along with Istanbul) has to be Ephesus, located near the western Aegean coast port of Kusadasi. Due to Ephesus’ proximity to the coast, it is a popular cruise ship day-excursion. Be prepared for hordes of tourists. (For a map of major sites we visited in Turkey, click here).

Kurets (or Curetes) Street, a major thoroughfare anciently and today in Ephesus.

Kurets (or Curetes) Street, a major thoroughfare anciently and today in Ephesus.

If you’re lucky enough to have your own transportation you can have the site nearly to yourself by visiting in the late afternoon.  In September of 2012, we had the most famous sight of Ephesus, the Library of Celsus, practically to ourselves around 4:30 pm, what a pleasure!

Robyn and I at the almost deserted Library of Celsus.

Robyn and I at the almost deserted Library of Celsus.

A different view of the Library of Celsus.

A different view of the Library of Celsus.

Detail of the stone work at the Library of Celsus.

Detail of the stone work at the Library of Celsus.

Harbor Street.  At the far end of this street was the seaport, which long ago silted up. This view is from the theater.

Harbor Street. At the far end of this street was the seaport, which long ago silted up. This view is from the theater.

The huge theater at Ephesus, which dates from the 2nd century BC, but most of what we see is from the Roman era.  It could seat 20,000-25,000 people.

The huge theater at Ephesus, which dates from the 2nd century BC, but most of what we see is from the Roman era. It could seat 20,000-25,000 people.

Ephesus in its prime (about 100 AD) was a major seaport (population of about 250,000) and the capital of Roman Asia Minor.  This was an important city of the early Christian Church—the Apostle Paul lived here for about 3 years. He also wrote his famous letter to the Ephesians, as documented in the New Testament. It’s very likely that the Apostle John lived here (the isle of Patmos is about 105 km or 60 miles away) and he may have brought Mary (Jesus’ mother) here. About 18% of the city has been excavated, and the main accessible ruins run along two main streets. For a reasonable visit, plan on at least 2-3 hours.

Another way to avoid the crowds is to visit the Terrace Houses (enclosed to protect the fragile frescoes), right near the Library of Celsus. The Terrace Houses require a separate entry fee (a barrier for many visitors). These ruins were homes of the very wealthy and they reminded me a bit of the buried cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy.

View of the frescoes and mosaics in the Terrace Houses.

View of the frescoes and mosaics in the Terrace Houses.

Another view in the Terrace Houses - note the mosaic floors.

Another view in the Terrace Houses – note the mosaic floors.

The houses had hot and cold running water (amazing), numerous frescoes and mosaics.  They are still doing excavation work on these houses. This separate area was a fascinating part of Ephesus and we were practically the only people visiting these ruins.

Part of Ephesus' plumbing system - must have taken some engineering to get hot and cold water to those wealthy people!

Part of Ephesus’ plumbing system – must have taken some engineering to get hot and cold water to those wealthy people!

The Government Agora, near the "top" of Kurets (or Curetes) street, where many of the sights are located.

The Government Agora, near the “top” of Kurets (or Curetes) street, where many of the sights are located.

Cost:  Car parking at Ephesus was 7.50 TL, the main entry fee was 25 TL, and the Terrace Houses cost another 15 TL. (1.9 TL per USD as of July 2013). Keep in mind there are other places to visit near Ephesus – the reconstructed House of Mary (mother of Jesus), as well as other tombs and ruins.

Since we were on our own driving tour, we spent a couple nights in Kusadasi at a pretty good hotel (Mr. Happy’s Liman Hotel) next to the port and then drove out to Ephesus (only about 19 km).  The area around the port of Kusadasi is quite nice, and we enjoyed wandering around and visiting the local shops, restaurants and a little island fortress just off the shore.

This little island fortress is near Kusadasi's harbor. Nice views from the island, and it can be reached by foot from the shore.

This little island fortress is near Kusadasi’s harbor. Nice views from the island, and it can be reached by foot from the shore.

The port of Kusadasi from our hotel terrace.

The port of Kusadasi from our hotel terrace.

One of our favorite restaurants in Turkey was in Kusadasi.

One of our favorite restaurants in Turkey was in Kusadasi.

There is pretty good beach south of the harbor a couple of kilometers. Don’t rush your visit to this part of Turkey!

References: Lonely Planet Turkey, DK Eyewitness Travel, Turkey.

Termessos – A City That Defied Alexander the Great

A view of the theater at Termessos.

A view of the theater at Termessos.

A visit to the ancient city of Termessos is a great half-day trip from Antalya, Turkey.  We visited Termessos in the morning and then took a refreshing dip in the Mediterranean Sea at the Konyaalti Beach Park near Antalya in the afternoon. The ruins are about 35 km inland and sits in a narrow and high mountain valley—the road up to the site is good, although winding and somewhat steep. Anciently, this region was known as Pisidia, and due to the fierceness of the people and its strategic defensive location, Alexander could not conquer Termessos (in 333 BC). The Romans who came later chose an alliance with Termessos rather than risk war in 70 BC.

Part of the gymnasium ruins at Termessos.

Part of the gymnasium ruins at Termessos.

The ruins include a large theater in a dramatic setting, an agora, temples, tombs, a gymnasium, necropolis and remnants of houses.

The Tomb of Alcetas - note the figure on the horse above my shoulder.

The Tomb of Alcetas – note the carved figure on the horse above my shoulder.

A dramatic backdrop for the theater at Termessos, which held 4,000 people.

A dramatic backdrop for the Termessos theater, which held 4,000 people.

Some of the rock-carved tombs at Termessos.

Some of the rock-carved tombs at Termessos.

Practical Information

There are some interpretive signs at the site and also a small map available at the entrance. The ruins are inside the large Termessos National Park, which is known for its abundance of wildlife. At the entrance to the park is a restaurant and small botanical museum.  From the entrance, a 9 km paved road takes you up to the parking area at the base of the ruins. You will see ruins of some buildings and the massive walls on the road up to the site, giving a feel as to how large this city was.

There are toilets at the ruins but no water or snacks, so bring these items with you. It is a bit of a hike from the parking lot up to the main site, which is large, and mostly hidden from view from the base. The trails are fairly steep, so be prepared with good hiking shoes.  I suggest a loop route, going from the parking lot up to the left of the Artemis-Hadrian Temple (as recognized by the large doorway arch) and returning on the trail to the right (or behind the Artemis-Hadrian Temple). This return trail passes a number of interesting tombs in the rock hillside (see picture above).

The Temple of Artemis-Hadrian near the parking area. The trail behind this temple goes up to some tombs.

The Temple of Artemis-Hadrian near the parking area. The trail behind this temple goes up to some tombs.

Due to the climb from sea level, Termessos is definitely cooler than Antalya and was very comfortable in September. The entry fee was 5 TL per person (1.8 Turkish Lira (TL) to 1 USD in 2012).

Konyaalti Beach Park. On your way back to Antalya, stop at this great beach. There was a 4 TL parking fee, but the beach is free. The water and beach were very clean.

Konyaalti Beach - a great way to spend the afternoon after hiking around Termessos.

Konyaalti Beach – a great way to spend the afternoon after hiking around Termessos.