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Pergamon Ancient City
Traian Temple
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The Theatre
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The Red Basilica
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Pergamon Ancient City

A UNESCO World Heritage Site

Pergamon Ancient City

Pergamon also known as Pergamum was an ancient city founded by colonists on the Aegean coast of Anatolia at the site of the present day city of Bergama

First inhabitance dates back to 8th century BC. Unlike many cities in the Aegean first inhabitants were not Greeks in this city. In the era following the death of Alexander the Great (323 BC), Lysimachus, one of Alexander’s generals, chose Pergamon as the treasury for his vast wealth, placing here 9,000 talents of gold under the guardianship of his lieutenant, Philetaerus. Upon Lysimachus’s death, Philetaerus used this fortune and founded the independent dynasty of the Attalid Kings. Pergamon later became the capital of a flourishing Hellenistic kingdom and one of the principal centers of Hellenistic civilization. Under Kings Attalus I and Eumenes II, Pergamon reached the height of its independent powers.

At the same time, however, it began to look to Rome for alliance against the warring Hellenistic rulers. After signalizing himself as a friend of Rome, Attalus I was awarded the Seleucid dominions, making Pergamon a powerful kingdom, comprising of Mysia, Lydia, Caria, Pamphylia and Phrygia. In addition to extending the kingdom, Attalus I adorned his capital with architectural splendors. Attalos defeated the Galatians in 230BC. Eumenes II also brought the city to the climax of its cultural prominence. During the reigns of these two prominent kings, the city so flourished that it could only be compared to Antioch and Alexandria. King Attalus III bequeathed (133 BC) his domains to the Romans, under whom the city retained its position as the preeminent artistic and intellectual center of Anatolia but declined in political and economic importance.

Pergamon attained a high culture in the Hellenistic era, boasting an outstanding library that rivaled in importance that of Alexandria, a famous school of sculpture and excellent public buildings and monuments of which the Zeus Altar is the best example. Pergamum had 3 temples: Altar of Zeus, Temple of Athena and Temple of Trajan. In the Roman period, Pergamon played an important role in the early history of Christianity. It was also numbered among the Seven Churches of Revelation. The first Christian bishop of Pergamon, Antipas, was believed to have been martyred here in 92. (Revelation 2:13). Antipas was ordered to sacrifice an animal in the name of pagan gods. Antipas was sentenced to death on the altar of Zeus. (Anti-pas meaning against everything.)

The Via Tecta

Pergamon from The Via Tecta (The Sacred Road)

Acropolis: The function of the acropolis in Pergamon was never the same as the function of the acropolis in Athens. In Athens everything was focused on religion, whereas in Pergamon it was on social and cultural activities, or in other words, daily life. As a result of this contrast, major buildings in Pergamon were reserved for public use in daily life. Even in the temples, religion was of secondary importance. Buildings had large areas for the public where they could meet, walk or join in social affairs. Pergamon was the first city to react against functional urbanism of Hippodamus preferring ornamental urbanism. Pergamenes agreed that functionalism was necessary, but that aesthetics were to be given even more consideration. The buildings of the Acropolis were designed to be seen from below and to impress those viewing the city from the valley. Except for the Trajan Temple all the buildings were built in the Hellenistic period during which constructions were made of andesite and very rarely in marble. Heroon, in general, is a shrine dedicated to a deified hero. The Heroon in the Acropolis of Pergamon was the imperial cult or the shrine in which kings of Pergamon, especially Attalus I and Eumenes II, were worshipped. It was a peristyle building made of andesite from the Hellenistic period. 

The Sanctuary of Athena was entered through a propylon which was built by Eumenes II. As written in its inscription, King Eumenes dedicated it to victory-bringing Athena. The entrance opens into a courtyard surrounded by three stoas of the Doric order. This also dates from the same period. At the corner near the theater was the Athena Temple in Doric order which was built earlier, in the 3C BC. It was built of andesite and stood on a crepidoma with two steps. 

The Library of Pergamon, built by Eumenes II, was the second of the three famous ancient libraries. It contained 200,000 volumes. A century later Mark Antony gave them to Cleopatra as a wedding present to be added to the collection of the library in Alexandria. The library building was next to the north stoa of the Athena Sanctuary. This was not a coincidence. Athena was known as theprotector of science. Most probably, the second floor of the stoa was at the same level with the first floor of the library. It had a large reading hall with many shelves all around, leaving an empty space between walls and shelves for the circulation of air to prevent humidity. Manuscripts were written on parchment then rolled or folded and put on shelves. When the Egyptians prohibited the export of papyrus, the King of Pergamon ordered that a new material be found. The new discovery was “parchment”, a fine material from sheep or goats’ skin, highly polished with pumice stone and slit into sheets. Therefore the name of Pergamon has been perpetuated and seen as synonymous with the word “parchment”. They used scrolls, which was rolled to a feet long stick. Reader was holding the two ends while reading he was rolling the stick. Codex, today’s book shape was also founded in Pergamon. 

The Temple of Trajan was a 2C AD temple in Corinthian order, dedicated to Trajan, built by his successor Hadrian. Both emperors were worshipped there. The temple was built of marble, probably on the site of a previous Hellenistic building. Before the construction, the area was leveled off by using a successful arched and vaulted substructure. The temple is flanked by stoas on three sides, the one at the back being higher than the others. It was in Corinthian order to have a peripteros plan, with 9 by 6 columns. 


The Trajan Temple

It is said that the Theater in the acropolis of Pergamon is the steepest raked Hellenistic theater in the world. The cavea of the theater, which consists of 80 rows of seats, is divided into three sections by two diazomas. The capacity was 10,000 people. The construction material is andesite. Because it was originally a Hellenistic theater, there was not a permanent stage building and people sitting on the cavea could see outside and beyond the playing area. In the Hellenistic period, performances were held in a festive atmosphere and took a long time. People spent a lot of time in the theater, usually the minimum of a full day. Therefore, they never wanted to block their view of outside and the stage building, being made of wood, was portable. Square holes at the back of the orchestra were for the portable stage building. The theater was also used during the Roman period with some alterations. 

The finest altar ever built can be accepted as the Zeus Altar at Pergamon, of about 180 BC, which stands in its own precinct but, most unusually, without a temple. The altar, a marble offering-table, stood on an enormous stone platform, which also supported the double colonnade of Ionic columns enclosing it on three sides. On the fourth side it was approached by a fine stairway, nearly 65 ft. wide. Much of the structure and almost all of the friezes are now in Berlin. Decorated with vigorous friezes of life-size figures depicting a battle between gods and giants, its contemporary context is probably King Eumenes II’s celebration of his recent victories over the Galatians. If this is so, then the context incorporates within its apparently straightforward mythology the King’s assertion of his own triumphant role as the defender of traditions against barbarianism. At the top of the Great Altar of Zeus, there was a hallow bronze bull, designed for human sacrifice. The victims tied inside the bull, the head of the person was placed at the head part of the bull. Then a huge fire was lighted under the bull. As the fire heated the bronze, the person inside the bull began to roast and start shouting and crying, through the pipes of the bull which seemed to make the bull alive. Most probably Antipas also died like this. (Holokaust: Wholly burnt animal sacrifice.) In early 19 hundreds German engineer Carl Human by the approval of Ottoman Sultan dismantle the altar and took it to Berlin. In 1930s, the Pergamon Museum opened in Berlin which human sacrifices techniques most probably inspired  most brutal dictator Hitler. The Altar of Zeus inspired some of the Nazi Buildings at that time.

Water to Pergamon is taken from 30miles away with the help of Aquaducts and 240000 clay pipes. Round structures, which looks like a well was used to check the level of the water.

The Red Basilica: This building was a 2C AD temple dedicated to Egyptian gods and goddesses especially Serapis (known as Osiris in Egypt) from the time of the Emperor Hadrian. In the Byzantine period it was converted into a basilica. Because of the red bricks used in the construction and its court-like area, it was named the Red Basilica. The two pools as cold and hot was related to religious rituals. Water in Isis and Serapis cults are connected with Holly Nile river meaning abundance. The building was constructed on Selinius river. Serapis has similarities with underworld god Hades (Plouton in Roman Mythology).

The Red Basilica

The Red Basilica

Asclepeion: Asclepeion was a sanctuary and a healing center built in the name of the god of healing, Asclepius. It was similar to the one in Epidauros in Greece. Although this place was set up in the 4C BC, it had its peak in the Roman period.

Asclepius, son of Apollo, the god of healing, was a famous physician. His mother, Coronis, a princess of Thessaly, died when he was an infant. Apollo entrusted the child’s education to Chiron, a centaur, who taught Asclepius the healing arts. Asclepius, when grown, became so skilled in surgery and the use of medicinal plants that he could even restore the dead back to life. Hades, ruler of the dead, became alarmed at this and complained to Zeus, who killed Asclepius with a thunderbolt. Hygiea was the daugther of Asclepeion. Hygine word is derived from her name. 

The healing center, Asclepeion, had been something very similar to a modern natural healing clinic. Patients were given exercises, drugs, mud baths, herbal remedies, or could take the honey cure, drink the waters of the spring or be treated by suggestion. They could walk among the trees and be calmed by the scent of pine. Over the gate had been inscribed the words: “In the name of the Gods, Death is forbidden to enter”. Terminal patients were not allowed for this ancient healing center. Reputation was so important that they did not want anyone hear that somebody died here. Snakes were sacred to Asclepius because of their power to renew themselves. That is why there was a relief of snakes at the entrance to the sacred area of the medical center symbolizing health. 

Among the famous physicians of the Asclepeion was Galen. Galen was the most outstanding physician of antiquity after Hippocrates. His anatomical studies on animals and observations of how the human body functions dominated medical theory and practice for 1400 years. Galen was born in Pergamon. A shrine to the healing god Asclepius was located in Pergamon and there young Galen observed how the medical techniques of the time were used to treat the ill or wounded. He received his formal medical training in nearby Smyrna and then traveled widely, gaining more medical knowledge. Galen dissected many animals, particularly goats, pigs and monkeys, to demonstrate how different muscles are controlled at different levels of the spinal cord. He also showed that the brain controls the voice. Galen showed that arteries carry blood, disproving the 400-year-old belief that arteries carry air. Galen was also highly praised in his time as a philosopher. He closely followed the view of the philosopher Aristotle that nothing in nature is superfluous. Galen’s principal contribution to philosophic thought was the concept that God’s purposes can be understood by examining nature. Galen’s observations in anatomy remained his most enduring contribution. His medical writings were translated by 9th century Arab scholars. Galen used herbal remedies. Today in pharmacy the ‘galenical’ is derived from his name. Galenical stands for a medicine prepared by extracting one or more active constituents of a plant.

The Colonnaded Road connected Asclepeion to the city. Originally it was 2,700 ft. Today only a small part of this road is visible. The Propylon was located at the end of the colonnaded road and dates from 2C AD. It had 12 steps and opened into a large courtyard, which was surrounded by stoas on three sides. It had beautiful acroteriums one of which can be seen in the Bergama museum. Stoas originally had Ionic capitals but after an earthquake in the 2C AD, some Corinthian capitals were also used. The Library was for both educational and entertainment purposes with many medical books for the physicians and other books for use by the patients. The Theater is a small building in Roman style with a capacity of 3,500 people. It was mainly used for performances to entertain the patients when not receiving treatment. 

The Sacred Fountain provided water believed to have had healing power. Sleeping (incubation) rooms were used to make the patients sleep and analyze their dreams. The Tunnel is a vaulted subterranean passageway. It is 262 ft long. Under the floor ran water, which provided relaxing sounds. On the ceiling there are 12 windows to provide sunlight inside the tunnel. The purpose of the tunnel is to make a treatment with the sound of water and provide a cool place for the patients in the hot summer months. Before patients enter to this tunnel, they drank a sedative and slept here in the dormitories while non-poisonous snakes crawl among them all night. They were told that the serpent god, Asclepius would talk to them in their dreams and give them a diagnosis. It was believed that the snakes carried the healing power of Asclepius. If a snake wanders on you while you are sleeping, that was a divine sign that the healing power was coming to you. Once patients woke up, they told their dreams to the priests who prescribed their treatments. Finally, the patients made sculptures of the body parts that needed healing and offered them to Asclepius.

The Round Treatment Center was a two-storied building with six apsidal sections. Today only the lower floor remains. The walls and the floor were covered with marble and the roof was made of wood. Water coming through the tunnel, recesses for washing and the sun-terrace show that this room was also used for the treatment of patients. 



The Temple of Asclepius
was erected by the Consul of the time in the 2C AD. A famed ancient medical center built in honor ofAsklepios, the god of healing. It was also the world’s first psychiatric hospital. The main part of the temple was cylindrical and covered by a dome. The floor and the walls were decorated with marble mosaics. There were many statues of gods and deities related to health including those of Asclepius himself. Hygenia and Telesphoros are also depicted here. Hygenia symbolizes health and Telesphoros curement. Telephoros was child god first discovered in Pergamon, later on worshipped in some ancient sites too. This building can be accepted as one of the earliest structures with a dome in Anatolia. The Asklepion gained in prominence under the Romans in the 2nd century AD, but a sacred site existed here as early as the 4th century BC. Many of the treatments employed at Pergamon, in complement with a sacred source of water that was later discovered as having radioactive properties, have been used for centuries and are once again finding modern application.Quite unlike modern hospitals, everybody who was anybody was dying to get in to the Asklepion: patients included Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, and Caracalla. But then again, the Asklepion was more like a modern spa than a hospital: therapy included mud baths, music concerts, and doses of water from the sacred fountain. Galen, the influential physician and philosopher who was born in Pergamon in 129 AD, trained and then later became an attendant to the gladiators here.

Access to the Asklepeion is via the Sacred Way, which at 807m (2,690 ft.) long and colonnaded originally connected the Asklepeion with the Acropolis. The sacred way becomes the stately Via Tecta near the entrance to the site and leads to a courtyard and fallen Propylaeum, or Monumental Gate. Reachable through an underground tunnel is what is traditionally called the Temple of Telesphorus, which served as both the treatment rooms and the sleeping chambers, an indication that sleep was integral in the actual healing process. At various spots in the center of the complex are a total of three pools and fountains, used for bathing, drinking, and various other forms of treatment. The northern colonnade, with 17 columns still in place, leads from the library to the restored theater, set into the slope of the hill. The theater hosts classical plays during the annual Bergama Festival. The semicircular Roman Theatre flanks the colonnaded promenade on the northwest corner of the site. Hours of therapy also probed the meaning of the previous night’s dreams, as patients believed dreams recounted a visit by the god Asklepios, who held the key to curing illness. The treatments included psychotherapy, massage, herbal remedies, mud and bathing treatments, the interpretation of dreams, and the drinking of water.  

There was also an amphitheater close by. Amphi means double, meaning double theater. It is between the two amphitheaters of Asia Minor. Amphitheaters were especially constructed for Gladitioral Games. Some days are Arena was filled with water for naval battle plays. Water is supplied from the pond close by.

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