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F + 5 : Hallo Berlin? Hier Pergamon! Wann gibt ihr uns den Altar zurück?

Updated: Aug 21, 2022

At 6.47 am, just as the sun rose behind the hills of Dikili, we pulled into the harbour. It is change over day. Group One will leave and Group Two join. But three of Group One will join us for the day tour to Pergamon, the ancient hill city about 30 km inland. To avoid the day time heat, we opted for an early start and met Serhan, our guide, at 8 am.

There are only Trawlers in the port. No Leisure Boats. The Coast Guard Station is to the left


Dikili is a fishing harbour with lots of trawlers plus a coast guard station. The night before, the Turkish Coast Guards intercepted a boat full go illegal immigrants heading to Lesbos - all black people from Central Africa. There were about forty, sitting outside the Coast Guard building, guarded by young officers in their blue navy fatigues. Silly me tried to take a photo but the Coast Guards were stern. "Sir! No photo! Military Area!"


A few minutes later we were on our way to Pergamon, or modern Bergama. Its Acropolis towers 335 meters above the surrounding plane. We did not have to walk up though. Thanks to President Erdogan, there is now a cable car that took us up. Hope there will be more tourists later today, otherwise this cable car is a bit of a white elephant. The ride was comfortable. Once arrived we gathered around Serhan for a short lecture on Pergamon's history and its architecture.

Model of Pergamon around 200 BC with Acropolis and the bigger town at the foot of the hill


Pergamon was a late bloomer and became only important once Alexander the Great had liberated it from Persian rule in 334 BC. It was ruled by the Attalid Dynasty from 281 - 133 BC. With the money from their silver and gold mines, they transformed their town into a major cultural centre. Cleverly, they aligned their foreign and defence policy with the upcoming Roman Empire and were its staunchest ally in Asia Major. The grateful Romans rewarded them with more and more territory. It was a clever strategy. Not having to spend much on defence allowed them to use the money for other purposes. Reminds me a bit of the game Europe plays with NATO. In his will, Pergamon's last king, Attalus III, left his kingdom to Rome, convinced they would conquer it anyway and to avoid a war. Quite a feat!

The Library of Pergamon was as famous as the Library of Alexandria but little is left today - we will have to travel to Ephesus to see how it may have looked like


The Library of Pergamon was one of the town's jewels. It had as many scrolls as its rival in Alexandria, something the Ptolemy Kings in Egypt did not like. They decided to ban the export of papyrus to Pergamon. No paper - no library. The Ptolemy forgot to take human ingenuity into account. The people from Pergamon came up with an alternative solution and split goat skin into fine sheets they could dry and write on: Pergament or parchment was invented - or so the story goes. We know today that parchment was invented a few centuries earlier in central Anatolia. Be it as it may, since parchment could not be rolled like the papyrus scrolls, the pages had to be sewn together which gave us books. Ha!


Goat skin streched on a wooden frame


Under Roman rule, Pergamon was a provincial capital and administrative centre. Roman Emperor Hadrian loved the town and built a temple for his predecessor Emperor Trojan. Roman Emperor were King Gods and all deified. But there was not enough space on the Acropolis any more. The Romans had to build a giant terrace for the new temple which is almost invisible when you stand on it. The flat space looks so natural.

There is not much left of Trojan's temple but you still get a good idea of how beautiful it was. Practical as the Romans were, the caves supporting the terrace had a dual function. Sturdily built, they were the ideal place to lock away the provinces treasuries - looks as if the vaults were invented in Pergamon as well (did not check this statement!)

The Arches of the Caves support the Temple Terrace


As an old Hellenic city, Pergamon also had its own theatre which is probably the most spectacular theatre in the entire Greek world. Built for 5'000 people it is far steeper than any other I have ever seen. But we checked the acoustics and can confirm that it is as good as the one in Epidauros which we visited last year.

Pergamon has the steepest theatre ever

Serhan booking our table for lunch on the steep steps


The master piece of Pergamon is its Altar of Zeus however. Built to commemorate the kingdoms victory over the marauding Celtic Galatians (Gaules) in 228 BC and was erected a few decades later. The precise construction date is unknown. A good guess is around 165 BC. The Altar is 36 meter wide and 33 meters deep and stands today in the Pergamon Museum on Berlin's Museum's Insel.

The Base of the Alter of Zeus - it takes a little Imagination to place the Altar here


How the Altar came to Berlin is a complicated and long story which is well told in Wikipedia. In a nutshell, the German engineer Carl Humann came to Bergama in 1864/65 and made the rescue of the altar his life dream. The Muslim population used the Acropolis as a quarry and the Ottoman government did neither have the money nor the interest to protect buildings of pagan origin. But Realpolitik helped. The Pergamon became a cause celèbre in Germany and the Ottoman Army needed German Guns and Rifles to modernise its armed forces. Eventually, the two government reached a deal and the altar was moved to Berlin into a special museum built for it. Since 1930 it stands on the place you find it today.

The Pergamon in Berlin today - gladly it was safely stored away during the Second World War and did not suffer any damage.


We met two German Architect Doctoral Students from the Technical

University of Berlin measuring the Thermae next to the Gymnasium.

They continue a Century old German Tradition on this Site


The Major of Bergama launched a while ago a campaign to get the Zeus Altar back - It is modelled after the Greek campaign for the Elgin Marbles from the Acropolis which now sit in the British Museum in London. But the chances are slim. The sale of the Pergamon Altar was well negotiated and is carefully documented. Since governments are bound by treaties concluded by their predecessors with other foreign nations, I see little chance for a success in court.

One Piece Marble Sinks at the Gymnasion - Just thought

about using them for the House in Tuscany - amazing!


As an administrative centre in the Roman Empire, Pergamon shared its fate and lost its importance. People though stayed here. When the Seljuk Turks arrived here in the 12th century, they settled over the lower town and named their new city Bergama. There is an amazing continuity!


From the top of the Acropolis we walked all the way down to the Turkish town and then went to the Asklepieion, one of Greece's prominent health centres. It was as prominent as Epidaurus. Galen (129 - 216 AD), the prominent surgeon and physician, practiced here before moving to Rome and becoming Emperor Marcus Aurelius personal doctor. Galen had a lasting impact on medicine and can truly be called the Father of Modern Medicine.

The Basemnt of the Main Treatment Center is carefuly restored


Greek doctors had already a good understanding of many diseases and were masters in herbal medicine. They were also excellent surgeons and knew how do deal with wounds and broken bones. For therapy they used sleep, water and a mixture of drugs.

We were told that the Water from this Fountain gives

you good health - of course everybody had a sip


Already in antiquity, people were willing to pay considerable amounts of money to stay or get healthy. When walking around the Asklepieion, you notice how wealthy it was. It is probably the equivalent of one of our modern luxury hospital-hotels - unless you have enough money you won't get in.

Building such an elegant Marble Colonade definitely

cost some money!


It was time to wrap up the day - it was getting so hot we had to stay in the shade for most of the time. Weather forecast said we are going to see 35 degrees celsius today. It was time for lunch in an air-conditioned restaurant - with Turkish food of course

Muslim Restaurants do not serve Bear - unless you drink

it from a tin cup ...

. Star Dish at Lunch was the Baclava Desert with Goat

Ice Cream - so yummie!


Time to get back to the boat, write this blog and start sailing towards Cesme, Chios and Ephesus. It is going to be a fascinating week.









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