The Pergamon Acropolis and Asklepieion of Ancient Greece
by Elizabeth Willoughby
Well positioned on a 275-metre high promontory 100 kilometers north of Izmir in western Turkey, the ancient Greek acropolis of Pergamon overlooks the Aegean Sea from 26 kilometers inland. Happily for the people of Pergamon, when Rome conquered them in 130 BCE, little changed. The city continued to be governed by local citizens, retained its established style of noted artistry and kept on with its cultural activities unaltered – except for the library, the second richest one in antiquity next to Alexandria's. Pergamon's library was believed to have contained around 200,000 papyrus and parchment manuscripts until Mark Antony decided to give them to Cleopatra.
Many of this major Hellenistic center's treasures have been uncovered thanks to a handful of excavation expeditions since the late 1800s. If you're visiting Turkey's Aegean coast, don't pass up a day trip to this site, as well as to Ephesus, another famous city of antiquity about 80 kilometers south of Izmir.
The acropolis is divided into three terraces. The lower and middle terraces were for the middle class citizenry, while the upper terrace was home to the king's palace and high ranking residents, the library, temples, a steep theater for 10,000 people, and the Altar of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of Antiquity. Only the foundation remains of the Altar. The 132 marble panels depicting the war between the Olympian gods and the giants that were excavated from there are now in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany, incorporated into a striking reconstruction of the entire structure.
On the plains below, Pergamon also overlooks the sanctuary of Asklepieion (Asclepius was the god of health and life), one of the most important health centers in Roman times, along with the two in Epidaurus and Kos.
Just south of the acropolis theatre, patients were examined by Asklepiades (priest doctors) at an arched gate inscribed with "Death is Forbidden to Enter in Asklepieion as Respect to the Gods". Dying patients and pregnant women were refused entry. The acropolis was connected to Asklepieion by an 820-meter covered walkway, which provided weather protection to the ailing that were permitted entry. Then came a columned road, where vendors on either side sold various votives and other health products to patients on their way to and from the sanctuary.
Once inside, patients entered a 70-metre tunnel that led to sleeping rooms. Water from the holy spring ran down the steps of the tunnel. This trickling sound added to a tranquil atmosphere helping patients fall asleep. When they awoke, the Asklepieions would interpret their dreams to determine what treatment was required.
Treatments included water, sun and mud baths, herbs and diet remedies, physiotherapy and sports, massages with vegetable oils and creams, bloodletting and emptying of the intestines. For urgent matters, surgical operations also took place.
Red Hall and Red Basilica
A few minute's drive from the acropolis is the Red Hall and Basilica. In ancient times, this was the biggest building complex in the city. Evidence such as cult images and a podium hint that it served a sacred purpose, probably to worship Egyptian gods. Visitors would have entered from the west wall through blind arcades into the large courtyard surrounded by colonnades. Priests and attendants could continue through the east side's center façade and temple pediment, which was the gateway into the sacred area. Restoration projects are ongoing.
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