Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Bergama (Pergamon)

The modern town of Bergama is not particularly picturesque town and I certainly wouldn't recommend it as a destination from which too base your holiday, however it has a fascinating history making it perfect for a day trip. 
The older part of the town has some old style town houses and its not overly touristy so can be a nice place to observe the Turks going around their day to day business. Attractions at Bergama include two large archaeological sites, a museum of archaeology and a gargantuan brick temple earmarked as the throne of the devil in the coming Armageddon.

Museum of Archaeology in Bergama
The museum at Bergama is well established having been built on the orders of Fevzi Çakmak in 1932. Recently it has been refurbished to a high standard. The exhibits are mostly from nearby Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman remains. Outside the front of the museum there is a collection of sculptures and decoratively carved Islamic tombs and grave markers. Inside there are more sculptures many of which have had their heads removed and apparently stolen by western collectors. By far the most interesting exhibit for me was about the altar of Zeus of which there is a reconstruction and a collection of photographs and drawings. The original was removed by German Archaeologists in 1878 and shipped piece by piece to Berlin where it was re-built in the museum of Berlin, an act of cultural theft and vandalism that still shocks over one hundred years later. The original location of the alter is visible on the Acropolis. The museum also contains a nice collection of 19th century Bergama kilim rugs. The local villages still produce high quality handmade kilim rugs with patterns and designs that are specific to Bergama.

The Acropolis
The Acropolis was for me the most impressive of the two sizeable archaeological sites and can be reached by a brand spanking new cable car. It sits on top of hill overlooking the town and a recently completed dam. Once you have ignored your way past the standard ramshackle collection of touting gift shop owners you can enter the sizeable remains of the old citadel which includes temples, alters, monumental tombs, theatres and military buildings, not to mention some beautiful and far reaching views. Highlights were the partially restored temple of Trajan and the theatre of Pergamon, which is gigantic, apparently accommodating 10,000 people in one go, it is also jaw droppingly steep! A visit to the Acropolis makes for a pleasant and fascinating afternoon stroll which took us about two hours. 
On the other side of Bergama are the remains of Asklepion an ancient medical centre, in its time one of the most important in the world. It was constructed in the 4th century BC and as well as the temple of Asklepion it it has an interesting history in medical research including early experiments with water therapy, music therapy and dream analysis.

Red Basilica 'the throne of the devil'
The enormous Red Basilica (Kizil Avlu) can be found in the centre of Bergama, and is hard to miss as it is by far the largest building in town.
The basilica has a certain eerie quality, partly because its a giant derelict building in the centre of town and partly because its referenced in the Bible as being one of the seven churches of the apocalypse, and is referred to by St John in the book of Revelations as 'the throne of the devil'.

Rev 2:12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges
Rev 2:13 I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's throne is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.

Purportedly built around the early 2nd century the temple was dedicated to the pagan Egyptian god Serapis. Like many older religious buildings it was recycled firstly as a church by the Byzantium empire in the 4th century, and latterly as a mosque. The building was badly damaged by Arab raiders in 716 AD and a smaller church was built inside. The current day mosque is situated in a tower to one side.

Getting there
Most day trippers come by bus and organised tours. If your coming by car Bergama is easily found on the main road between Ayvalik and Izmir. The two archaeological sites have designated parking, but parking near the museum and around town is tight and you will normally arrive back at your car to find a parking attendant hovering, but the parking charge is reasonable so not to worry.


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