The Site of Ancient Pergamum – City of Science & Satan…?
Perched atop a windswept mountain along the Turkish coastline and gazing proudly over the azure Aegean Sea, sit the ruins of ancient Pergamum. Although the majority of its superb intact monuments now are housed by Berlin Pergamum Museum, enough remains of the acropolis for the visitor to sense the former greatness of the city that once rivaled Alexandria, Ephesus and Antioch in culture and commerce, and whose scientific advancements in the field of medicine resonate through the corridors of today’s medical treatment facilities. Juxtaposed sharply against this image of enlightened learning is that of “Satan’s Throne,” as described by the Evangelist John of Patmos (Revelation 2:12-13), which some scholars interpret as referring to the Great Altar of Pergamum, one of the most magnificent surviving structures from the Greco-Roman world.
Pergamum rose to prominence during the years of the Greek Empire division following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC when his empire was divided among his generals, with General Lysimachus inheriting the then-settlement of Pergamum and its wealth. Due largely to its strategic position along land and sea trading routes and in part to the wealth of the Attalid kings who ruled the kingdom, the city enjoyed centuries of prosperity that continued when it passed peacefully to Rome’s control in 133 BC. From that point on, Pergamum’s fate was inextricably linked to that of Rome, and it rose and fell together with the great Roman Empire.
The commanding panoramic view from Pergamum’s 305-metre-high perch makes it easy to understand how this city once dominated the entire region. It was a proud city in its time, and it had reason to be so. Its monuments and building were constructed of high-quality white marble in the finest Hellenistic style, and its library rivaled that of the famed library of Alexandria in Egypt. In the mid-second century AD, it became known throughout the Mediterranean world as a center of ancient medicine, largely due to the presence of the eminent Roman physician Galen (129–200 century AD), who was born in ancient Pergamum.
Acropolis of Pergamum
The oldest and most beautiful section of Pergamum is also its highest. The Acropolis of Pergamum rises over the ruins of the city that cascades down the steep slopes to the valley below. One of the most dramatic structures of the Acropolis was what scholars believe to be the Temple of Zeus, the massive foundations of which are all that remain on the southern slope of the site. The altar believed to be associated with the temple, known today as the Great Altar of Pergamum, was moved to Berlin in the 19th century by German archaeologists.
Between the Temple of Zeus and site of the Great Altar of Pergamum there are the remains of the Temple of Athena, constructed at the end of the 4th century or beginning of the 3rd century BC, and dedicated to the city’s patron goddess.
Just beyond the temple is the magnificent structure that was the city’s famous library. According to the writings of Plutarch the estimated 200,000 documents of both papyrus and parchment were stored here. It was certainly one of the largest collections of written material in the ancient world and was famous throughout the Mediterranean. It also housed one of the most extravagant wedding gifts of all time: Marc Antony is said to have presented Cleopatra with a sizable portion of the Pergamum library’s collection, in part to restore Alexandria’s own collection that burnt down in flames during Julius Caesar’s occupation of the city.
The best-preserved ancient sacred structure on ancient Pergamum’s Acropolis is the Temple of Trajan, built during the reign of Emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD) and dedicated to his deified predecessor. Towering over the surrounding structures and ruins, its commanding presence is a testament to the strength of the imperial cult.
It is hard to imagine, looking at its enormous height, that this was actually one of the smallest sacred structures in the temple precinct of the Acropolis. The sheer size and majesty of the building against the dramatic backdrop of the valley below and the ocean and sky beyond is truly awe-inspiring.
Theatre of Pergamum
Every ancient Greek city worth its name boasted a theater. A place for entertainment and civic gatherings, the theater was a focal point of public life in the Greco-Roman world. The architecture of the nearly intact theater of Pergamum not only attests to the city’s importance but also provides what is surely one of the most spectacular settings of the ancient world. Cascading sharply down the precipitous slope of the Acropolis toward the sea, the theater is one of the steepest of its kind. The 10,000 visitors would have occupied the 80 rows of horizontal seating. Like many ancient Greek theaters, the theater at Pergamum is an acoustic marvel: an actor who was speaking normally on the stage could be heard even at the top of the cavea (seating structure).
Asclepion of Pergama
During the 2nd century AD, Pergamum’s fame as a center of healing and medical science eclipsed its reputation for anything else. Its most celebrated citizen during this period was the physician Galen, whose work and research was largely responsible for providing the foundation from which modern western medicine was to spring. The Asclepion at ancient Pergamum was one of the most famous in the ancient world, and this ancient version of a medical spa attracted pilgrims from all over the Mediterranean region who came seeking the restorative powers of its thermal waters and medical treatments for various ailments and injuries.
Red Basilica (Serapis Temple)
Pergamum’s other notable structure is the great temple of the Egyptian gods Isis or Serapis, known today as the Red Basilica. It consists of a main building and two round towers within an enormous temenos or sacred area. The temple towers flanking the main building had courtyards with pools used for ablutions at each end, flanked by stoas on three sides. At this temple in the year 92 AD Saint Antipas, the first bishop of Pergamum ordained by John the Apostle, was a victim of an early clash between Serapis worshipers and Christians. An angry mob is said to have burned Saint Antipas alive inside a Brazen Bull incense burner, which represented the bull god Apis. The execution of their bishop certainly would not have endeared the city to its Christian inhabitants, and the Biblical reference to the city is reflective of the general tension between Christian and pagan communities at the end of the first century A.D.
The early Christians viewed Pergamum as a bastion of all that was loathsome to Christian beliefs. In the Book of Revelation, John conveys a message from the risen Christ to seven Christian congregations in Asia Minor, all of which are located in modern Turkey. Pergamum’s congregation was one of these, and Christ’s message to the faithful praises them for adhering to their faith while living in the place “where Satan dwells.”
As part of the Roman Empire, Pergamum’s decline mirrored that of the empire as a whole.
Like the rest of the region, it eventually came under Byzantine and then Ottoman rule. By the late 19th century, excavations had begun at the ancient site, and today it draws people from all over the world.
Main Historical Sites & Destinations Around Izmir & Kusadasi
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excavations, including Bergama, Iasos, Bayrakli and Izmir's Agora… more
♦ Ephesus Open Air Museum - contains the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean. Only an estimated 15% has been excavated… more
♦ Ephesus Archaeological Museum was reopened in November 2014 after extensive renovations. It houses finds from the nearby
Ephesus excavation site… more
♦ Basilica of St. John was built in the 6th century AD, under emperor Justinian I, over the supposed site of the apostle's tomb. It was
modelled after the now lost Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople… more
♦ Temple of Artemis – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, once stood 137 m x 69 m with 127 marble pillars each 18 m high. The temple earned the city the title Servant of the Goddess… more
♦ The House of Virgin Mary. Located on the top of Nightingale mountain, the House of the Virgin Mary
Turkish: Meryemana), is located in a nature park between Ephesus and Seljuk, and is believed to be the last residence of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. The peaceful site is sacred to both Christians and Muslims, and is visited by many tourists and pilgrims… more
♦ Village of Sirince. Once known as Kirkince, the village was built by the Greeks around 800 years ago and since the population
exchange in 1924 has since been inhabited by Muslims from Thessalonica. Indeed its habitants gave this name on purpose as they did
not want to be bothered by foreigners not to share the beauty of their village.… more
♦ The Site of Ancient Pergamum – City of Science & Satan…? Perched atop a windswept mountain along the Turkish coastline and gazing proudly over the azure Aegean Sea... more
♦ Didyma - Priene - Miletus - the three towns of Priene, Miletus, and Didyma make up part of Ancient Ionia, homeland of many of the ancient world’s greatest artistic and scientific minds, and each endowed with haunting ruins... more
♦ Pamukkale & Ancient Hierapolis. Deriving from springs in a cliff almost 200 m high overlooking the plain of Curuksu in south-west
Turkey, calcite-laden waters have created an unreal landscape, made up of mineral forests, petrified waterfalls and a series of terraced
basins given the name of Pamukkale (Cotton Palace)... more
♦ Aphrodisias is one of the oldest sacred sites in Turkey. The site has been sacred since as early as 5.800 BC, when Neolithic farmers came here to worship the Mother Goddess of fertility and crops... more