A comfortable ride on a public bus got me from Ayvalik to Bergama in a relatively brief hour and half. I have been pleasantly surprised at both the quality of the buses and the ease of getting from one place to the next.
Bergama is the modern-day version of the ancient town of Pergamum. Pergamum is supposedly cited in the Book of Revelations as one of the seven churches of Asia. A town one sort or another has existed here since the Trojan days, but Pergamum’s time was between the period of Alexander the Great and the Roman era. Bergama, as the quiet market town is now called, is where you come to visit the ruins of Acropolis, Asclepion, and the Crimson Basilica. These are names that I had heard of, but really didn’t know anything about, so just like studying for an exam, I tried to cram some knowledge in the night before I set out to explore the ruins.
A Turkish breakfast to start the day
I stayed in a small family-run hotel which I swear was run by a Turkish look-alike version of Peter Jackson (at the time he filmed LOTR). The small, family-run hotel I stayed in provides breakfast in the morning. The one thing I’ve found is that most family run places don’t like to serve breakfast until 9am. While that’s actually kind of nice on days that you want a slow start, it’s a right pain in the bum when you want to get up early to hit the sites before the tour group crowds arrive. Using hand signals, I managed to request an 8am breakfast with the lovely lady who works at the guesthouse. She really is a sweetie, and we manage to have complete conversations, me in English, and her in Turkish – always involving lots of hand signals. To confirm the breakfast time, she grabbed an old wind-up clock, and changed the time to show 8.30. I concede on my preferred 8am and give the thumbs up.
Next morning, I sit down to breakfast and have this amazing spread laid out before me. (No photos, sorry!) It’s a typical Turkish breakfast similar to what I have had everywhere: a basket of freshly baked bread, butter, little pottles of homemade preserves (one with sultanas, the other sour cherry) and cheese spread (made with a feta-like cheese and chopped green chillies). There was also a boiled egg, slices of cheese (similar to feta and cheddar), a small bowl of olives, slices of cucumber and tomato, and a dollop of yoghurt. It was way too much, but she hand-signaled that I would need it for my big walk today at the Acropolis. We manage to have complete charades-based conversations. And she’s one of the few older-generation women that I have met at this point that really tries to engage with me.
After consuming as much of my breakfast as I could manage, it was time to make my way to the Acropolis – a very convenient 10 minute walk away. I wanted to get there early before the expected onslaught of packed tourist buses.
My plan was to take the cable car up (saving a 4-5km road walk), and walk back down taking a steeper shortcut through some old ruins. Tour groups normally spend maybe an hour there before moving on to the Asclepion, the other ruins that I’d leave for tomorrow. I figured I’d spend 3 hours at the Acropolis, including the walk down. I ended up taking over 5 hours, which included getting lost and bush-crashing my way back home!
So what is the Acropolis? I’m glad you asked, as I really didn’t know much beforehand. It was essentially a fortified city on top of a large, steep hill. There was a large amphitheatre, several temples, a library that once housed over 200,000 books, a market, and an artillery store
The restored remains of several structures still exist. The foundations of the buildings run down the hill almost to the modern city and I had a great view looking up at the Acropolis high up the hill when I enjoyed my first street-side dinner.
Arriving just after opening time and before the tour buses arrived, I made a beeline for the spectacular Hellenistic Theatre, the highlight of the ruins, so that I could take my photos before other people arrived. It was pretty amazing to be sitting in the middle of the Theatre, all by myself (for 5 minutes, anyhow), with a gorgeous view out of Bergama town and the countryside, and trying to imagine would it would have been like back in the day sitting amongst the 10,000 people that the theatre could hold.
It’s the steepest one of all the theatres that were built in the ancient world. Pleased to say I hiked up and down it twice.
The Temple of Trajan (or what was left of it) was another popular site at Acropolis.
After spending a few hours walking around the upper part of Acropolis, and as the buses started to roll in, it was time to start the descend down to the Lower Acropolis.
What amazed me as I explored these ruins (which were just as interesting, if not more so than the main ones in the Upper Acropolis) – is that there was NO one else around. Most people who come to the ruins, either take the cable car or drive up and down. It appears that very few people bother to walk down– and that means that they are missing half of the ruins, including the gymnasium and some restored mosaic flooring (now undercover in what they call the Z Building).
That was all fine by me as I had the entire place to myself. Only problem was – my phone battery had died, and I was reliant on that for most of my photos. (My normal camera lens just died and I only have my zoom lens. That’s great for zooming in – but useless for anything large or up close. So for the moment, I’m reliant on my phone and that chews up my battery so fast. Very frustrating!)
Who knew that they even had gymnasiums back then? This is where they ‘trained their bodies and their souls’. This particular one is the biggest known gymnasium in the Hellenistic era, and was built on 3 terraces. The lowest for children, the middle one for ‘lads’, and the top one for adult males. I guess the women were let off the hook! And just like modern-day gyms, there were a few add-on facilities: bathing rooms, a roofed music listening hall and a feasting hall.
It was a beautifully warm sunny day and I loved having the entire ruins of the Lower Acropolis area to myself for the hour or so that I was there. That is, until I came to the last of the ruins, and had to follow the path through the shrubby and rocky hillside to get down. Somehow I had lost the path. Actually, I think the path just fizzled out. Even after retracing my steps at one point, I couldn’t see where it disappeared to! The security guard I passed further up the top explained I was to follow a path, turn left and exit near the house with the red roof. Even though I had a beautiful vista in front of me, there was no sign of a red roof. Never mind, I knew I wanted to go down, and I could just follow the line of the cable cars down. It couldn’t be that hard, right?
Well, it wasn’t exactly hard. But it was no walk in the park, either. There was no path to follow, and there were rocks and stone hidden under the grass, and there were prickly, thorny plants that I had to be wary of. I felt like a bloody mountain goat bush-crashing my way through, trying not to twist an ankle on one of the rocks. I’m sure the people in the cable cars up above must have raised an eyebrow. As I made way to the flattish area near the bottom, I realised that there was a high fence all the way around, topped with barbed wire. Bloody hell – how was I going to get out? There was no way I was climbing back up, I knew that much. I followed the fence line, towards the cable car place. I figured the Turkish police might be waiting for me by the time I got there. Luckily for me, part of the fence had been pushed over and I was able to get through and on to the road.
And that explains how I ended up spending 5 hours at the Acropolis rather than the 1-2 hours that most people spend there. In spite of getting a bit lost at the end (just part of the adventure) it was a great day. The sun was out and it’s definitely warming up. It was a great day!
When I got back to the hotel mid-afternoon, the woman at the hotel brought me a bowl of a thick soup (corba) and fresh bread for a late lunch. She indicated that it was good thing that I had such a big breakfast after my long walk. She was right!
The ruins of Asclepion
The next day I had a slow start to the day. A leisurely breakfast followed by a Skype chat and a wander in the town to try to find a replacement camera lens. Mucking around all morning was a bad mistake (as I knew it would be!). By the time I finally made my way to the Asclepion ruins, my heart sank when I saw the carpark full of buses. As soon as I walked in, I was confronted with 100’s of iPad-toting tourists of certain nationalities that are more interested in standing in front of every broken column and piece of ruin rubble to have their pic taken than to actually listen to their guide or look around and appreciate where they were. Argh! Never mind, knowing that they would only last 2-3 minutes before moving on, I just had to patiently wait to get each of my photos.
The Asceplion was the ancient medical centre and had a few surprising approaches to their treatments, which included mud baths, use of herbs and ointments, enema and sunbathing. Diagnosis was often done by dream analysis – patients would sleep in the ‘sleeping rooms’, describe their dreams in the morning, from which practitioners would work out the most appropriate treatment. There was a renowned medical school in Pergamum.
The treasure trove
Each day I walked past a few antique/souvenir shops. This guys always waved out, said hello and wanted a chat.
And of course, he invited me in to have a look at his store. I politely made excuses for the first few days, but promised that I would before I left. And I did eventually make good on my promise. And this is what I found – a treasure trove of goodies! The shop was about 3 times as big as it appears below. Every inch of the ceiling was taken up with hanging lamps, every inch on the wall was taken up with hanging painted plates, jewelry and other knick-knacks. I have never seen so much crammed into one shop. Did I buy anything? Well, the photo below is him wrapping up a hand-painted ceramic plate that will look good in my kitchen. 🙂 He tried his hardest to get me to buy something else – he reckons business has been very slow so far. But one plate was enough!
I liked Bergama, and stayed a couple of days longer than planned. I guess this can be attributed to several things: I was staying in a nice family-run hotel which had nice outdoor tables and balconies on which I could eat and relax, and the people running it were friendly and helpful. I met a few travellers there and even scored an invitation to stay in Germany. The ruins were so accessible and such an integral part of the Bergama township. The whole town just had a nice vibe about it.
Somebody else thought so too!
Here are some other warm-fuzzy pics for you to enjoy.
And of course, I can’t have a post without a food pic.
If you still haven’t seen enough photos, particularly of crumbling old ruins, there are more in the slideshow below!