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Where 'old town' means old town

Bergama (Pergamum), turkey

storm 19 °C
View Turkey 2012 on 50inturkey's travel map.

Bergama reminds me of a bit of a slightly down-at-heel, old, Australian country town that is all the more delightful for its lack of gentrification. There is nothing pretentious or ‘touristic’ about this place so we feel like we are getting the ‘real deal’ here.

That’s not to say that tourists don’t come – they do. The town is the base for exploring the ancient city of Peragamum which includes the Acropolis and the Asclepion. However, most tourists pass through the town on day trips with less stopping to explore beyond these sights.

The Acropolis (developed in the 3rd. and 4th. centuries BC) is quite extensive, stretching some 3km down a steep hillside to the town of Bergama itself. It contains, what by now seems the usual array of, temples, a theatre, agoras (commercial areas), gymnasiums, palaces and houses. The theatre is unusually steep as it is set directly into the gradient of the hillside.

We are almost finding we have become blasé about ruins with another column top or sarcophagus impressing us less than was the case initially. However, we are also getting better at ‘reading the ruins’, recognising a stoa from an agora from a hamam and spotting the difference between Doric, Ionian and Corinthian columns. Consequently, we no longer feel the need for guided walks which means we can move at our own pace.

We had a spine-tingling moment atop the Acropolis. We visited on a Friday, the holiest day of the Islamic week. As we were at the highest point of the windswept ruin gazing over the town, the midday call to prayer began in the numerous mosques below. While we have heard this call on a regular basis the sound seemed to fill the air more than it had before. It was quite ethereal, as if the town was singing to us or rising up to meet us somehow. If you closed your eyes there were shades of the eeriness that pervades Midnight Express.

We walked the 3kms, through the full extent of the ruins back to town. I must confess that this was not really for the exercise or the history but more because I couldn’t face the cable car trip back down in the windy conditions (vertigo at work). However, our walk meant we had the lower reaches of the site to ourselves and that we exited into the backstreets of the old town. No ‘restorated’ houses here – these were old homes in operation in whatever condition they happened to be in. Steep lanes, women in doorways, washing flapping, kids at play and not another tourist in sight. A great little sojourn by happenstance.

Following lunch, where I discovered a new dessert – künefene, we journey on to the Asclepion. The Asclepion is touted as the first hospital or medical centre in the region. It’s more like a health farm really. Set on the plain near the town where the calming winds and natural springs supposedly brought solace and health to those who needed it. The main treatment program seemed to consist of taking patients to underground sleeping rooms, where they recounted their dreams to seer-like priests. These priests would interpret their dreams and determine treatment on the basis of this diagnosis. Consequently, Bergama still holds a psycho-analysis conference annually.

The Asclepion was surprisingly intact compared to many of the ruins we have seen. There is also a theatre and library within the complex, testament to the therapeutic powers of the arts I reckon.

Supposedly, death was forbidden to enter the Asclepion. We think the high success rate may also have had something to do with the fact that pregnant women and the terminally ill were not to be admitted!

We have been using the local dolmus (public minibus) service to get around quite a bit in Bergama. This has been a bit of a challenge at times as English has not been as widely spoken. However, with a map in our hands, we have always managed to find at least one friendly Turk on board who has been able to let the driver know where we need to alight. The dolmus system is pretty good. There is no timetable but buses run regularly (every 10-15 mins). There are no set stops, you just hail the bus to get on and call out when you want to get off. There are no tickets, you just pay at some point on your journey. Beginning, middle or end, it doesn’t matter but everybody pays. There are no sections within the route, a single fare takes you as few or many stops as you wish to go - 1.5 to 2TL (= $A.70 to 1.20) depending on the town.

Bergama has proved to be a really interesting wayside journey and we thank our friend Kitty for recommending it so highly. Brian thinks the place is great because he managed to 2 pairs of socks for 1TL each (about A$0.70). He's considering taking orders and shipping them to friends.

Posted by 50inturkey 02:39 Archived in Turkey

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