December 26th, 2008 – by: sayohat
Red Basilica of Bergama at dusk
I found myself eating lentil soup at a cafe across from the bus station on Christmas morning. I was the only passenger on the bus when we left the station at 10:30am, but eventually we picked up a few more. I was headed to the ancient city of Pergamum or Pergamon, which is now in the city they call Bergama
. I was not planning on visiting here but so many people recommended it I decided to give it a try. The bus ride was very pleasant, through wooded pine forests and a small mountain pass within sight of sweeping views of the sunlit Aegean below. We passed through a cozy town by the name of Küçükkuyu that was sitting on a pristine bay with nearby beaches and access to the forests above the town.
Entrance to the Asclepion
The non-forested land was dotted with olive groves facing the sea, their silvery leaves swaying in the wind and exuding that cool Mediterranean vibe. We arrived in Bergama around 3:15, a little too late for the heavy duty sightseeing but enough time to take in the archeology museum and the ruins of the Red Basilica as well as a stroll through the winding streets of the city. Although the population was stated as 65,000 souls, Bergama had a pleasant village vibe to it. I stayed at the Gobi Pension, a cozy guesthouse near the downtown and run by a friendly old man and his son. I didn't see the other tourists there but I ended up having a good phone conversation with my parents and with Mark, which was Christmas enough for me. I enjoyed a filling dinner of Bergama köfte and lentil soup before settling in for the next day.
I had a decent breakfast at the guesthouse and set out to first visit the Asclepion, an ancient medical center and inspired by the local favorite son, Galen, who pioneered much early medical research. The entrance to the place was a long column-lined Roman bazaar that led to a central pillar stump with the symbol of Bergama, the snake. This was a symbol of healing as the snake sheds its skin, so too here the idea was to heal oneself and metaphorically shed the old skin. There was still a fountain in the center of the site where supposedly healing waters flowed. Of course I filled up my water jug and drank aplenty! Also impressive there were the colonnaded library and the amphitheater. Bergama is also known for its use of the original parchment paper, on goat skin hides, and several artists displayed their beautiful paintings and rendering of famous documents on the pergamon, or goatskin parchment in the nearby souvenir shops.
Me at the Acropolis in Pergamum
After a filling lunch of stuffed eggplant with meat and stuffed zucchini and chicken at a cozy inn, I took a cab up to the Acropolis overlooking the city. The Acropolis was even larger than any of the previous ruins I'd seen and even after three hours I didn't see everything. Temples here honored Trajan, Athena and Zeus and the centerpiece was the altar of Trajan which featured grand marble columns with stunning views of modern Bergama and surrounding countryside. I wandered around the grounds, exploring various nooks and crannies of the site. A particular favorite of mine was the arsenal, from where I could see the vast farmland below and a snow-dusted mountain in the distance. The ruins of an aqueduct were visible several kilometers away, and it was so tranquil.
The amphitheater at Pergamum
I sat down for awhile and just took it in. Another highlight was the 10,000-seat amphitheater, again with mind-blowing views. Several small temple ruins were scattered about the place and even further down the mountain was the agora, but it was getting late so I didn't visit that portion. I couldn't stop snapping pictures from every angle. It was definitely worth the detour. I caught a ride down the mountain from a French couple and wandered back to the guesthouse through back streets past tiny shops selling things like doorknobs, light switches, flower bulbs, jeans and clock parts. I couldn't resist another sampling of Turkish baklava and coffee. For dinner I stuck close to the hotel and ate next door at Kervan where I had a heaping platter of kebaps, pides and chunks of beef and chicken. I spent the evening hanging out in the reception area watching a Turkish drama show and chatting with the mixed crowd on the sofa there. I would need the rest, for my next stop in İzmir would be a change of pace!