Pergamum Turkey: Acropolis, Asclepion, and Great Altar of Zeus!
Theatre of Pergamon

PERGAMUM ANCIENT CITY TURKEY

Hi everyone! We continue our blog series with Pergamum City in Turkey! In this content, we will dive into history and explain the Ruins & the Church of Pergamum, Acropolis, Asklepion, and the Great Altar of Zeus and Athena at Pergamon!

Below are the topics that you will explore on this content;

HISTORY OF THE CITY OF PERGAMUM

The Ancient City of Pergamum is located in the Bergama district of İzmir. Today’s Bergama Town takes its name from this ancient city. The word Pergamon / Pergamum means steep rocky castle. According to legend, the name of the city comes from Pergamos, the sons of the mythological hero Neoptolemos and Andromache.

City of Pergamum has hosted many civilizations with its 8500-year history. In addition, many important discoveries in history (parchment, pharmacy, natural herbs) were made in this city and the foundations of modern medicine were laid in Asklepion, Pergamon. At the same time, the family doctor of the Roman Emperors, Galenos, was born in Pergamon.

The ancient city of Pergamum is located within the borders of Ancient Mysia in the northern Aegean region of Western Anatolia. The first research and excavation work in the Pergamum, which was included in the Unesco World Heritage list in 2014, started in 1878 by the German engineer Carl Humman, who worked in the railway laying.

Excavations and repair works continue today. Until nowadays, it was thought that the History of Pergamum dates back to the 5th century BC. However, in the comprehensive research conducted here and still ongoing; The artifacts unearthed show that the History of Pergamum dates back at least to the 8th century BC.

Pergamum Church, with its historical and cultural assets, is one of the most visited destinations by local and foreign travelers. Also, this city is on the Unesco World Heritage list with its breathtaking history and stunning artifacts. You can read our content on the link to see the full list: UNESCO SITES IN TURKEY!

FOUNDATION OF PERGAMUM CITY

According to the foundation story of Pergamum City told in mythology; The first settlement here was established by the hero named Telephos, who was born after Auge, the daughter of Aleus, King of Tegea. When King Aleus of Tegea came to visit the city of Delphoi, he was warned by the famous oracle of the temple in the city; “When his daughter got married and had children, a great evil would come to him in the future by one of his grandchildren”.

Upon this, Aleus sent his daughter Auge to the Temple of Athena as a nun to prevent her from getting married and having children. However, the prophecy, which cannot be changed, started to show itself one day when Heracles fell in love with Auge, Princess Auge was pregnant from Heracles.

Taking this dangerous situation into account, King Aleus put his daughter on a ship without mercy, leaving her alone in the raging waters of the Aegean. After a long journey that lasted for days, the ship carrying the Princess of Tegea drifted between the waves and approached the lands of Mysia in Asia Minor, reaching the place where the Kaikus (Caicus-Copper Stream) River flows into the sea.

King Teuthros of Mysia found Auge, took pity on the princess and adopted her. Then took her into his harem, and made her one of his favorite women. When Auge, who was pregnant from Heracles, gave birth to her child, she left her little baby in a forest. But Heracles, who came here later by coincidence, found his own child and named him as Telephones.

After a long time, Telephos grown-up and became a mature boy, traveled to Greece and reached Tegea, where he killed the two sons of King Aleus, whom he met here. And thus the oracle voiced by the Delphoi priest became true.

According to the mythological narrative, Telephones, who later participated in the Trojan Wars; reached the level of heroism, and at the end of this long-lasting great war, he returned to the land where he was born and raised with his soldiers and became the king of Mysia and he established the first settlement in Pergamum.

For this reason, the Attalos, who founded the Kingdom of Pergamon, believed that their lineage extended to Telephos, from there to Heracles (father of Telephos) and Zeus (father of Heracles/Hercules), the father of gods.

THE KINGDOM OF PERGAMON (Hellenistic Period)

Pergamon, a small settlement built on the acropolis at the beginning of the 4th century BC, was captured by the Persians and left under the rule of the Spartan King Demaratos. The Greek-origin Tyrants who ruled Pergamon paid very high taxes to the Persians and participated in the rebellions of the Ionian and Mysian satrap Orantes.

After Alexander the Great won the Granikos War against the Persians in 334 BC, his conquest of the Acropolis of Pergamum along with his domination of Asia Minor lands gave him a great strategic advantage. After the death of Alexander in 323 BC, the lands he seized were shared among the generals.

The Western Anatolian lands passed under the rule of Lysimakhos, one of the generals whom Alexander trusted. After the Battle of Ipsos, which he won in 301 B.C., Lysimachus brought his treasure of 3000 pieces of gold here in order to secure it in the Acropolis of Pergamum, which was built on a steep hill surrounded by safe walls. And, appointed Philetairos, whom he trusted very much, as governor for the protection of the acropolis.

Lysimachus was defeated against King Antiochus of Syria and died in Korupedion near Manisa at the age of 80 in 281 B.C. In this period, we can say that the first Kingdom of Pergamon started with Philaiteros, though not officially. It is seen that Philaiteros started the first important zoning movement in the Acropolis of Pergamum by taking advantage of his 9000 pieces of silver treasure.

Philaiteros, who died in 263 B.C., was replaced by his brother’s son Eumenes-I, who is also known as his adopted son, and he continued his stepfather’s policy and the proper structuring of the city. Historical sources show that these two rulers, who were the first founders of the Kingdom of Pergamon, were worshiped by the people after their deaths.

Upon the death of Eumenes-I in 241 B.C., his son Attalos-I enters the throne of the Kingdom of Bergama. Attalos’s entire life was spent with wars with enemies that coveted the strengthening Kingdom of Pergamon. The greatest victory of Attalos, who was a good soldier as well as an excellent ruler, was his battle against the Galatians, who came from Europe and known as a barbarian society.

In 279 B.C., with the help of the King Nicomedes of Bithynia, the Galatians, who settled in central Anatolia, were constantly raiding the other kingdoms in Anatolia and receiving ransom from them in the form of taxes. After this victory, which was written in golden letters in the history of Pergamon by defeating the Galatians, Attalos established the kingdom on strong foundations, and in the respect of this victory, he decorated the city with statues depicting it.

When Attalos died in 197 BC after his 44 years lasted power, his son Eumenes-II replaced him, and the people of Bergama lived in peace and prosperity in this new king’s time, who continued his father’s positive policy. In the same period, the Roman Empire, which had since turned into a great power in the west, started to invade the Western Anatolian lands, most of which were in the hands of the Syrian Kingdom.

Antiochus, the King of Syria, was severely defeated in the Battle of Magnesia in 190 BC. Meanwhile, the moderate policy of the Kingdom of Pergamon against the Romans ensured the friendly approach of the Roman emperors towards Pergamon. And, this friendship was further strengthened in a short time and enabled Rome to leave a part of the Western Anatolian lands taken from the Syrians to the Kingdom of Pergamum.

One of the most important construction activities carried out by Eumenes is that he surrounded the city with solid walls and decorated it with magnificent buildings. The famous Library of Pergamum, the lower agora, the gymnasium, and the great altar of Pergamum, considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, are among the main structures built during his period.

When the Kingdom of Pergamon officially joined the Roman lands in 130 BC, the artists who escaped from Pergamon took shelter in the city of Aphrodisias in Caria. Although Attalos-II, who took the throne at the age of 60 after the death of Eumenes in 159 B.C., had a good rule during the short-term power, the Bithynia King Prusias, who took advantage of his old age, caused serious damage to the city.

When the old King Attalos-II died in 138 B.C., his nephew, Attalos-III, who was known as an evil and ruthless ruler, passed to the Pergamon Throne. Historical sources state that this cruel king tested herb and snake venom on criminals and even killed his uncle by poisoning. When Attalos-III, who ruled on the throne of the Pergamon kingdom for five years, died in 133 BC, he asked Pergamon to be left to the Romans according to his will.

Thus, the city of Pergamon became one of the cities of the Asian province of Rome and this period, which was known as the “Kingdom of Pergamon” or “The Kingdom of Attalos” in history, has come to an end.

ROMAN EMPIRE PERIOD

Pergamon, during the Roman period, continued to be one of the privileged cities in Asia Minor with its culture and art concepts. During this period, the Library of Pergamum became legendary with the books it contained, but thousands of books that made the library famous were given to Cleopatra during the Emperor of Mark Antonius and sent to the Alexandria Library in Egypt.

Pergamum City was one of the most developed cities in terms of culture, art, and urban architecture compared to other settlements in Anatolia. Famous scientists and artists had made this city their home. With the population that developed in the Roman period, the settlement area expanded from the acropolis to the plain and from there to the Asclepion settlement.

BYZANTIUM PERIOD AND CHRISTIANITY IN PERGAMUM

In the early periods of Christianity, the presence of one of the 7 churches in Asia Minor in Pergamon made this city one of the most important Christian cities in Western Anatolia. It is known that a small-scale Christian community was formed in Pergamum in the 1st century A.D.

According to the letters of St. Yoannes (St. Jean) in the “Revelation” section of the Holy Book (Bible), the first bishop of the Christian community that formed in Bergama was a religious man named Gaius/Galen.

The second bishop named Antipas, who was actually a dentist and came after Gaius, was later burned to death by Pagans in hot oil. Historical documents also indicate the following information about the period of Roman Emperor Decius, who ruled between 249-251;
– He punished and killed the Christians of Bergama,
– The Roman Governor Quintilianus came to Pergamon Asclepion after crucifying and murdering the bishop named Pionius in Ephesus. And in Pergamon, the Bishop of Thyatira (Akhisar), Bishop Papylus, who opposed “the sacrifice to the gods”, his deputy Carpus and Agathonice, a Christian woman from Bergama burned alive in Pergamon Theater.

The city joined the Archbishop of Ephesus in the Byzantine Period, and changes and repairs were made in the Acropolis walls and other old buildings during the Byzantine Period. For example, at the northern end of the acropolis, the walls that were repaired using bricks and Khorasan, and the ruins in the form of a tower on the upper side of the theater are among the structures added in the Byzantine Period.

Apart from these, it is necessary to count a few churches belonging to this period, which unfortunately turned into ruins, especially in certain parts of the acropolis. However, the most important Pergamum Church built in the Byzantine Period is the “Red Basilica” (Red Hall), which was built inside the structure called the Temple of Serapis and dedicated to Saint-Jean.

Pergamon was attacked by the Arab armies in the VII. and VIII. centuries. It was destroyed and burned! Later on, it was captured by Karesioğulları in 1306 and became one of the two important centers of this principality. In 1341, it was under the rule of the Ottomans.

MUST-SEE PLACES IN ACROPOLIS OF PERGAMON

Pergamum Acropolis, built on a hill with a height of 275 meters and on the skirts just below it, is one of the most magnificent and highest Acropolis in ancient history. The people who lived here in antiquity developed strategies of defense against possible attacks by taking advantage of the strategic position of the hill.

The Kestel (Ketius) and Bergama (Selinus) streams on the east and west sides of the Acropolis made the lands here fertile. For this reason, the upper Acropolis, which was the center of the kingdom, acquired an official identity. It is possible to call this noble district of the city. In Homer’s immortal epic Iliad is stated that Zeus, the father of the gods, came from Olympos and watched the Trojan Wars from the famous hill of Pergamon.

The other must-see places in the Acropolis are as follows;

HEROON AT PERGAMON ACROPOLIS

It is a cult place named Heroon, which consists of a prayer room and a single courtyard built in the name of the Pergamon kings who were deified in the Hellenistic period. Read more about Heroon!

PALACE OF ATTALOS-I

It was built right next to Eumenes’s palace. It was built around a courtyard surrounded by small rooms between 241 and 197 BC. Unfortunately, hardly any visible image from this structure has survived to this day.

PALACE OF EUMENES-II

In front of the entrance to the palace, there is a courtyard paved with smooth stone blocks. There are rooms on both sides of the courtyard used by the soldiers responsible for the security of the palace entrance. Read more about the Palace of Eumenes-II!

TEMPLE OF TRAJAN

One of the most magnificent buildings of the Roman period in Pergamon was built in honor of Emperor Trajan. Read more about the Temple of Trajan!

LIBRARY OF PERGAMON AND INVENTION OF PARCHMENT

Strabon wrote that this library was built during the time of King Eumenes-II. It is known as the only Hellenistic library found until today. Read more about the Library of Pergamum and Invention of Parchment!!

TEMPLE OF ATHENA

This sanctuary, built in the name of Athena, the protector goddess of the city, is the oldest temple of the Bergama settlement. It was built in Doric order, just like the Parthenon in Athens. Unfortunately, not much is left today as the materials of this building were used in the construction of other buildings in the later periods (part of Roman Recycling). This Hellenistic sanctuary, made of andesite stone, surrounded by two-step staircases on each side, was surrounded by 6 columns at the front and back and 10 columns on the sides, rising on a crepitoma. It is known that it was built by Philetairos and expanded during the Eumenes-II period.

THEATRE OF PERGAMON

The 10,000-seat Theatre of Pergamon Acropolis, known as the steepest theater in ancient history, is located on the southern slope of the acropolis. This theater was known as the most magnificent theater of Asia Minor in ancient times. Read more about the Theatre of Pergamon!

TEMPLE OF DIONYSOS

Because Caracalla was blessed here, the temple was also named Caracalla Temple. Located in one of the most beautiful corners of the Pergamon Acropolis, the entrance to the temple with 4 columns leads to the “high floor of the god”. A marble statue of the head of Asclepius, the god of health, unearthed during the excavations of the Temple of Dionysos, is exhibited today in the Museum of Pergamon Turkey as well as the altar of the temple.

GREAT ALTAR OF ZEUS

The reliefs of the famous altar were noticed by chance by the German engineer Carl Humann, who undertook the construction of a railway that was wanted to be passed here in 1871. Read more about the Altar of Zeus at Pergamon!

Altar of Zeus

HISTORY OF EXCAVATIONS IN PERGAMON ANCIENT CITY

Pergamum Acropolis is undoubtedly one of the most important and highest Acropolis in ancient history in terms of strategic location. Kings like Alexander the Great, who dominated the settlement built on this high hill, likened it to an “eagle’s nest”.

The first excavations in the Pergamon Acropolis were carried out between 1878 and 1886 on behalf of the Berlin Museum by German researchers Carl Humann (1839-1896) and Alexander Conze (1831-1914), whose main profession was engineering.

During the road works between the Heroon and the Upper Agora in 1874, Carl Humann noticed some fragments of the famous Zeus Altar and it was smuggled into Berlin. So, the historical significance of the Pergamon Acropolis came to light after this period and periodic excavations have been carried out until today.

During the excavations carried out by Carl Humann between 1878-1886, the section called Upper City in the acropolis was unearthed first. After these first excavations, the works stopped for 4 years.

And, the second comprehensive excavations were started by the Germans in 1900 and continued until 1913. The second excavation was conducted under the direction of Dörpfeld, who also carried out important research in Troy, and two scientists such as Hepding and Schatzmann helped him in these excavations.

During these excavations, the Zeus altar, the Athena Temple, the Agora, and the remains of important buildings belonging to the Attalos dynasty were unearthed. The researches, which was stopped in 1913 with the outbreak of World War First, were resumed in 1927 and continued until 1936 with a team headed by a German archaeologist Theodor Wiegand (1864-1936).

Under the Acropolis, the Red Basilica (Red Hall) and the place called Pergamon Asklepion, which is almost like a second city, is located where the present Pergamon settlement is located. With the start of the Second World War, German scientists stopped the excavations and left Pergamum, and the excavations, which were restarted under the direction of Erich Boehringer (1897- 1971) in 1957, brought to light very important findings of the history of Pergamon and continued until 1968.

Archaeological excavations and restorations carried out regularly after 1972 with German-Turkish cooperation continue today, using the latest modern technological methods of our age.

After Erich Boehringer, the German scientist Wolfgang Radt, who led the Pergamum Excavations on behalf of the Istanbul German Archeology Institute and who made his signature on very important findings related to the history of Pergamon.

The artifacts unearthed in the Pergamon Archaeological site, which started to be excavated since the end of the last century, are exhibited today in the Berlin Pergamon Museum, Bergama Museum Turkey, Istanbul Archeology Museum, and Paris Louvre Museum.

MOST ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT PERGAMON

Where is Pergamum located today?

Pergamum Ancient City is located in the Bergama district of İzmir. Pergamum Ancient city is about 110 km away from Izmir, 210 km away from Canakkale/Troy, and 385 km away from Istanbul.

What does Pergamum mean in the Bible? 

Pergamum is translated from the Greek name Pergamos to the Latin Language. And, also commonly known as Pergamon. It is mentioned twice in the Holy Bible, both times in the Revelation, as the northernmost city of the seven to which the Apocalypse was pointed (REVELATION 1:11 and 2:12).

What is the Pergamon Altar? 

The Pergamon Altar of Zeus, built on an area of 69×77 meters in the Hellenistic Age(Ancient Greek Age), was undoubtedly known as the most magnificent structure of the Bergama Acropolis.

Above all, as the Roman historian, Lucius Ampelius wrote four hundred years after the construction of the altar; Since this work was made in the name of Zeus, the father of the gods, it was one of the most important works of the ancient period. In addition to its architectural structure, what made the altar famous was the extraordinary reliefs and friezes showing the war of the Gods and Giants called “Gigantomakhie” on the outer walls.

Where is the Pergamon Altar Today?

Excavations were started in 1878 by German engineer Carl Humann. During the four-year excavations, 132 panels + 2100 pieces of marble reliefs of the Zeus Altar showing the battles between the Gods and the Giants (Titans) and some other architectural pieces were taken to Berlin, Germany.

With the restoration and reconstruction works carried out in Berlin, replicas were made and brought to Bergama and assembled. The original pieces of Zeus Altar were kept in Berlin. And, these pieces makes the Bergama Hall in Berlin Museum, one of the most important rooms of today’s Berlin Museum.

Where is the Pergamon Museum?

There are 2 main Pergamon museums. One of the Pergamon Museum is located in the Bergama district of Izmir, Turkey. The other Pergamon Museum is located in Berlin, Germany. In addition, the world-wide famous Zeus Altar(original pieces) is in the Berlin – Pergamon Museum.

PERGAMUM ANCIENT CITY TOURS

Pergamum Ancient City is not as popular as Ephesus Ruins or Cappadocia. It is mostly preferred by travelers with a special interest in ancient sites and history. Group Tours are almost impossible to find due to the lack of demand. Therefore, there are two ways to visit Pergamon Ancient City; Booking a Private Tour and taking your own schedule, and visiting it on your own.

If you are not on a very limited budget, it worths having a guided – private tour to Pergamon Ancient City. There are Pergamon Ancient City Tours from Izmir, Kusadasi, Canakkale, Gallipoli, and Troy. These private tours include; door to door transportation, licensed tour guide, entrance fees, and other local taxes. So, travelers able to visit & explore in comfort without last-minute surprises.

If you are one of those who are thinking about visiting Pergamon Ancient City with a Private Tour, you might contact our team to prepare an itinerary for you and a quotation!

FINAL THOUGHTS

Turkey has a larger and richer cultural structure you can imagine. There are hundreds or even thousands of historical and cultural places that can be visited and seen. Continue reading our blog posts and benefiting from useful information to plan your trip smoothly. If you ever need help with creating your itinerary or have questions, do not hesitate to contact our team!

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