Basically Bergama is a modern city with the characteristic features of a typical Turkish village. Its fame and exceptional fascination for the tourist derive from the presence in the vicinity of the vestiges of ancient Pergamum (Greek, Pergamon), one of the most famous cities in the Ancient World. The site where the ancient settlements developed is situated in a fertile plain irrigated by the waters of the river Bergama Cayl (the ancient Selinus) and of the rivers Kestel and Bakır. Even though historical mention of Pergamon has not been ascertained prior to the 4th century BC, the opinion generally held is that the origins of the city are by far earlier. Various archaeological finds datable to the Stone Age testify to the antiquity of the first human settlements. The history of what then became one of the most flourishing Hellenistic cities began with the dismemberment of the immense Persian empire, after the death of Alexander the Great. Lysimachos, who received the western part of Anatolia, chose the impervious site of Pergamon as the hiding place for a considerable treasure. Philetairos, a faithful follower, succeeded in preserving the integrity of the treasure and the possession of the city when Lysimachos died, despite attempts on the part of Antiochus I. His grandson Eumenes I proclaimed the independence of the new realm of Pergamon (3rd cent. BC), which with his successors, in particular Eumenes II, shone in the fields of economy, the arts, the sciences and culture. With the death of Attalus II, in 133 BC, the Kingdom of Pergamon, lacking natural heirs, was pacifically taken over by the Roman Senate which thus reaped the harvest of old agreements and alliances. Under the Capitoline standard the city enjoyed a great new period of development which manifested itself in the construction of splendid buildings and in the restoration of various monuments of the past. Later Marc Antonius presented Cleopatra with the city's rich library, the books of which, of incalculable value, were eventually destroyed in a fire in Egypt. The decadence of Pergamon, now known as Pergamum, followed the disintegration of the Roman empire step by step. Seat of a diocese in the Christian period, it was surrounded by new city walls by the Byzantines who reused material of Hellenistic and Roman provenance in its construction. After 716 Pergamum was taken over by the Arabs, and passed under the control of the Turks in the first half of the 14th century.
The history of the archaeological excavations began in the second half of the 19th century when the archaeologists C. Humann, A. Conze and R. Bohn brought to, light the upper portion of the city. Later excavations, conducted between 1900 and 1913 by W. Dörpfeld, H. Hepding and P. Schatzmann, uncovered the lower levels. Work undertaken by T. Wiegand between 1927 and 1936 hoped to find a precise identification for some of the illustrious buildings of the past. The most recent excavations began in 1957 and were directed by E. Boehringer with excellent results, while further investigation is in course to restore in their entirety all that remains of the monuments and artistic treasures of the past.
The vestiges of numerous private and public buildings and temples have been found along the vast extension of the Acropolis, which occupies the highest part of the city. This is where the famous Library built in the time of Eumenes II (2nd cent. BC) once stood. It soon became famous throughout the Ancient World for its wealth of volumes, estimated at over 200,000, and was long a rival of the equally famous Library of Alexandria in Egypt. The enormous statue of Athena, now in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, once stood in the Library.
The ruins of the Temple of Trajan, built to honor the cult of the deified Trajan, lie on a terrace that dominates the remains of the library. It was a Corinthian temple, with a row of six columns on the short sides and nine on the long sides. The remains of two statues dedicated to Trajan and to his successor Hadrian, under whom the construction of the temple was terminated between 117 and 118 AD, were also found here.
The vestiges of the majestic Temple of Athena have been shifted to right over the theatre. The Propylaeum of the temple with its elegant double columned portico has been faithfully rebuilt in the Berlin Museum. The temple, originally decorated with fine reliefs, was erected in the 3rd century BC, in line with the architectural canons of the Doric order and had six columns on the short sides and ten on the longer ones. The nearby Theatre was probably built in the Hellenistic period during the reign of Eumenes II (2nd cent. BC) although some hypotheses date it as far back as the 4th century BC The imposing structure is enumerated among the most scenographic in antiquity. The steep cavea, set against the slope of the hill, was divided into six sectors in its upper part and seven below, and had an audience capacity of 10,000 with perfect acoustics. Not far from the theatre is the Temple of Dionysios, built in the 2nd century BC and restored in the imperial age by Caracalla, after the original building had been gutted by fire.
Among the other outstanding elements on the acropolis mention must be made of the scanty traces of what remains of the Altar of Zeus. Built to celebrate the victory over the Galatians during the reign of Eumenes II (2nd cent. BC) it has been moved and faithfully rebuilt in Berlin, one of the highlights of the Pergamon Museum. The fine frieze depicting episodes of the Gigantomachy, and counted among the greatest masterpieces of the Pergamene sculptor's art, was also taken to Berlin together with the structures of the altar.
The ruins of another Hellenistic temple dedicated to the cult of Hera can also be seen in the vicinity. Built under Attalos I, at the turn of the 3rd century BC, the obvious restorations date to Roman times. Other buildings that lie immediately below the acropolis include various constructions used as a gymnasium and for baths.
At the foot of the slope of the acropolis, right where the river Bergama Cayl flows, stand the imposing vestiges of the so-called Red Court or Red Basilica, originally a Serapeion built under Hadrian (2nd cent. AD). The curious name derives from the intense color of the bricks with which it was built. Signs of later transformation, in the Byzantine period, into a basilica can still be seen. Two subterranean galleries consented the outflow of the waters of the ancient Selinus. In the environs, a Roman bridge with three arches can be identified.
The so-called Sacred Way, once flanked by columns, leads to what remains of the Aesculapium, without doubt the best-known temple of ancient Pergamon. The temple already existed in pre-Roman times and was consecrated in honor of Aesculapius, god of medicine. All that is left of this imposing complex in which healing and worship went hand in hand, are the ruins of the Propyleia erected in the 2nd century AD, a few re-erected columns and traces of the library, a circular temple originally covered with a dome, as well as rooms destined for baths. The annexed Theatre held up to 3,500 spectators and is still used for summer spectacles.
See also: Church of Pergamum