- "I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is . . . "
- - Revelation 2:12-17; St John of Patmos threatens the church of Pergamos.
Bergama or Pergamon / Pergamos (Πέργαμον / -ος) probably derives from a word meaning "hill", like the European "berg". It grew up as a semi-independent Hellenistic city-state under the Attalid dynasty, 281–133 BC. Its ruler Eumenes II beautified and fortified the ramshackle settlement into a fine Acropolis, vying with Athens. He tried to keep on friendly terms with Rome, but in 133 BC came a hostile takeover. However that wasn't the end of the show: Pergamon was only 13 km from the sea and was a trading city, probably with a cosmopolitan population. By 90 AD that included a small Christian community, one of the "Seven Churches of Asia" addressed by St John of Patmos. From around 110 AD Emperors Trajan then Hadrian embellished the Acropolis further, and the best of the ruins are from this period. Some dozen later conflicts didn't do too much damage, nor did modern urbanisation, so they remain the reason to visit and rank as one of the top sights in Turkey.
Bergama is 7 km from a major highway intersection, which is a stopping point for frequent inter-city buses round the clock. With your own vehicle from Istanbul follow O-5 (toll) to Soma then take D240. From Çanakkale follow the coast road D550. An agreeable side road in good weather is to leave D550 just before Ayvalık and take the scenic lane over Kozak plateau.
Buses from Istanbul take 8-9 hours via Bursa for a single fare in 2022 of about 500 TL.
From Izmir, take the local IZBAN train to its north terminus at Aliağa. Bus 835 runs every 30 min from the IZBAN station to Bergama Otogarı and town centre, and the total journey takes 2 hours. You need an izmirimkart since the train and bus don't accept cash.
1 Bergama Otogarı is the inter-city bus station, away out west at the junction of D550 and D240. So it's convenient for buses on long-distance routes but is 7 km from downtown and 10 km from the main sights. See below for the local bus onward, or you might take a taxi or dolmuş. In 2022 passengers describe it as a ghost factory: a creeking empty place with no toilets, refreshments or other facilities, and hardly any staff or buses to be seen. Some buses don't turn into the station but drop you besides the seething highway - crossing it safely is simply not their responsibility. Your dilemma will be whether to do so, or to seek onward transport from the drop-off.
2 Son Durak is the terminus for all the local Eshot buses, including the 835 from Aliağa.
Downtown is navigable on foot, including Red Basilica, the Archaeology Museum, the Asklepion and the base station for the Acropolis cable car.
It's a 3 km hike up the lane to the main Acropolis entrance and top cable-car station, so if you've brought a car use it. The cable car starts near the exit gate and brings you to the main entrance. In 2022 a single is 50 TL, you don't need a return.
Bus 835 from Aliağa calls every 30 min at the main Otogarı then heads into town, so this is your budget connection from the inter-city routes. Predatory taxi drivers will claim it's not running today. Their price should drop sharply when you show them the Eshot real-time bus tracker.
Buses 831, 832 and 833 run north to the mountain village of İncecikler.
- 1 Archaeology Museum, Cumhuriyet Cd 10, ☏ . Daily 08:00-18:30. Small but informative, a good orientation before exploring the big sites. Adult 20 TL.
- 2 Red Basilica (Kızıl Avlu), Bergama Yolu 1, ☏ . Daily 10:00-18:30. Stonking great red-brick ruin, once part of a vast religious complex spanning the River Selinus. It was probably built in the reign of Hadrian, circa 130 AD, as a temple to the Egyptian gods Serapis, Isis, Osiris, Harpocrates, and any other deity that might do him a good turn in the after-life. This red brick style was common in Italy at that time but not locally, so there must have a big importation of skilled labour. At some point the temple burnt out, and in the 5th century a Christian basilica was built within it, but that was destroyed by the Arabs in 716 AD. The temple is flanked by two rotundas: the south (latterly an olive oil factory) is part of the same precinct, the north is nowadays a mosque. There's an extensive underground network of chambers and passageways. Adult 20 TL.
- Kurtuluş Camii is the mosque in the north rotunda, with a separate entrance.
- Education Museum (Bergamalı Kadri Eğitim Tarihi Müzesi) is a converted schoolroom on Dede Sk 100 m north of Red Basilica. It's open M-F 09:00-16:00.
- 3 Old Mosque (Ulu Cami or Yıldırım Cami) was built in 1399 by Sultan Bayezid I - known as "Thunderbolt" (Yıldırım) for his habit of blazing into battles without figuring out how to conduct them. It's had spells of disrepair but has been restored and is still in use.
- 4 Şadırvan Mosque was built in 1550 and restored in 2017. Çukur Han opposite was a 14th century caravanserai, an overnight stop for travelling merchants, but if it's not promptly restored it's going to fall to bits. Taş Han is another caravanserai just south, sadly dilapidated.
- 5 Greek Amphitheatre is the name given to this structure, to distinguish it from the town's other theatres. It's circular and deep, so there would have been a very steep rake to the banks of seating. But nowadays there's no seating, just a few retaining walls, so frankly it looks like a crater.
- 6 Acropolis, Akropol Cd (See "Get around"), ☏ . Daily 08:30-18:30. This extensive site is the main reason to visit Bergama and will take a couple of hours to explore. The suggested route is to start at the top by the cable car station and work down; accordingly the sights are described here north to south. Most date to 2nd century BC, when an ancient higgledy-piggledy settlement was beautified by Eumenes II and Attalus II to try to outshine Athens. The Arsenal at the north tip of the site is scrappy and you only go that far for the views. The Altar to Zeus measures some 35 x 33 m and may have been the "Satan's seat" that St John raged against in Revelation. It was decorated by an ornamental frieze depicting the war between the giants and the Olympian gods. In the 19th century thousands of frieze fragments were re-assembled in the Pergamon Museum of Berlin: what's here is a replica, and naturally there's a campaign to reclaim the original. South of the altar is the upper agora or market place, and the sparse remains of a temple to Dionysus. The structures near the entrance gate are Heroons (tombs of heroes), the stumps of a propylon (monumental gate) and the low-lying remnants of the Temple of Athena. That temple's north side is the likeliest site of the Library of Pergamon, which held 200,000 scrolls, and sought to rival the Great Library of Alexandria. The scrolls were on parchment, forerunner to paper, much easier to handle than papyrus and breaking the Egyptian grip on that product. (Indeed the name "parchment" derives from Pergamon, though it wasn't invented here.) The library fell into disuse after the Roman takeover of 133 BC: Antonius gave the contents to Cleopatra as a wedding gift, probably to re-stock her damaged library at Alexandria. The Theatre of Pergamon is a very steeply-raked amphitheatre with seating for 10,000. The terrain was too steep for a permanent orchestra or stage, so a temporary wooden stage was erected for performances. Built in the 3rd century BC, this is the oldest of the city's theatres but the best preserved. The Temple of Trajan just south of the theatre was started by Trajan circa 110 AD and completed by his successor Hadrian. It's been extensively restored, the sort of elegant Corinthian marble columns you depict on banknotes. That concludes the Upper Acropolis, now descend south. Building Z, halfway down the slope, has beautiful mosaics. Lower Acropolis is less preserved and suffers by comparison to what you've already seen: if you drove up, it's time for one of you to re-ascend the site to bring the car round to the lower gate. Down here are the Temple of Demeter and the Temple of Hera. The Gymnasium complex is on three levels, with the boy novices practising at the base and the top jocks showing their moves and muscles on the upper deck. The Gate of Eumenes II is a fortification tower, and the House of Attalos has mosaics. Exit via the gate in the lower agora, to find yourself back in city centre. 100 TL.
- Viran Kapı is a ruined gateway on the street up to the Asklepion.
- 7 Asklepion, Frieldhelm Korte Cd 1. Daily Nov-Mar 08:00-17:00, Apr-Oct: 08:00-19:00. Aesculapius was the god of health and medicine, and an Asclepeion was a "healing temple", a sort of clinic-cum-spa. Over 300 are known across the Roman world, and Pergamon is one of the best preserved. Traditionally you approached along Via Tecta a great colonnaded "holy way", bathed in the holy waters, and made various ritual observances, prayers and offerings. You listened to the soothing sound of water, or to music in a 3500-seater theatre, or got slathered in mud. And you could sleep over, and the deity might cure you overnight or give instructions in your dreams. You related your dreams to the priests (notably to Galen 129-216 AD), who built up volumes of interpretive lore - of huge interest to Freud 1800 years later as he delved into the roots of mental ill health but somehow overlooked the role of mud. The temple was built around the 4th century BC, when Aristides documented its methods, but what you see nowadays is 2nd century AD, when Hadrian restored the site. The main structures are the theatre, the north and south Stoas (colonnaded walkways that gave their name to "stoic" philosophers), the main temple of Asclepius, the circular "healing area" or Temple of Telesphorus, the Via Tecta and the propylon or ceremonial gateway. Adult 90 TL.
- 8 Kestel Dam impounds a large irrigation lake. The last 200 m of road is closed so park by the gate and walk on. Nice views if there's a good level of water, but in summer you may encounter only a ribbon of pea soup. No swimming or other water activities are permitted.
- Allianoi in the hills 18 km northeast was a spa resort in the Grecian era and developed into a miniature Pergamon under the Romans. But don't make a special trip to the ruins, which since 2011 lie deep beneath the Yortanlı irrigation lake.
The Oxford-based publishing house which took that name in 1951 specialised in scientific and medical books and journals. It enjoyed a good academic reputation and stellar growth, but its boss Robert Maxwell's remarkable juggling of assets between personal, company and other pots got him ejected in 1969. He re-acquired Pergamon in 1974, and other media, by dint of astronomical borrowing secured against, mmm, we'll get back to you on that. The House of Cards tumbled in 1991 when his body was found in mid-Atlantic: he'd fallen from his yacht, just ahead of a showdown with the bank. 32,000 lost their pensions when the scale of his raids was laid bare. Pergamon Press continues as an imprint of Elsevier.
- Football: Bergama Belediyespor play soccer in TFF 3 Lig, the fourth tier in Turkey. They are without a regular home ground as their 14 Eylül Stadyumu (14 Sept Stadium) has closed.
- Aquapark 3 km southwest along the main highway gets poor reviews for hygiene and facilities, but if the kids are having hysterics at the prospect of yet more Graeco-Roman ruins . . .
- Bergama Kermesi is a cultural festival held over a week in mid-June.
- Lots of small supermarkets, Şok is the commonest chain.
- Kınık Cd north side of Red Basilica has shops selling kilims, traditional hand-made woollen carpets.
- Pine pistachio (cam fistigi) is a specialty of Kozak, the plateau north of town.
- Small places line the main street a block west of Red Basilica. Go by how appetising the smell is, not by the decor.
- Sarmaşik Lokantası, İstiklâl Meydani 9, ☏ . M-Sa 05:00-22:00. Open from dawn, this family-oriented diner gets good reviews.
- Pala Kebap Salonu, Kasapoğlu Cd 4, ☏ . M-Sa 08:00-21:30. Authentically shabby place west of Red Basilica. Their kebabs have the edge over their meatballs.
- Les Pergamon, Taksim Cd 35 (200 m north of Red Basilica), ☏ . Within Pergamon Hotel in an Ottoman schoolhouse, most customers come for the dining, which gets mixed reviews.
- Bars lie a little further south down Cumhuriyet Cd. By the Archaeology Museum are Dostlar Birahanesi and Leyla Meyhanesi.
- Wine is grown in this region. The closest vineyard is Uysal in Teğelti (Tiyelti) village west of Asclepieion.
- 1 Bergama Caravan Camping, Atatürk Bvd 150, ☏ . Edge of town site with adequate facilities but grubby.
- Anil Hotel, Hatuniye Cd 4 (opposite Bergama Museum), ☏ . Simple friendly place, some fittings tatty. B&B double 800 TL.
- Athena Pension, Lökçü İmam Çk 15 (200 m northwest of Red Basilica), ☏ , email@example.com. Pleasant old Ottoman house with garden, central but quiet. B&B double 450 TL.
- Odyssey Guest House, Abacıhan Sk 13 (a block north of Red Basilica), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Pleasant traditional house in Old Town near the main sights. B&B double 500 TL.
- Taş Konak Hotel, Taksim Cd 25 (200 m northeast of Red Basilica), ☏ . Agreeable small hotel in an Ottoman house. B&B double 600 TL.
- 2 Hera Hotel, Tabak Köprü Cd 38, ☏ . Charming hotel in a knock-together of two old Greek houses, secluded from town bustle but near acropolis. It's named for Hera the much-wronged wife of Zeus, but she always blamed (and took vengeance on) the other women involved. B&B double 1000 TL.
The city is safe, you just need usual care of valuables, traffic, and sun-protection on the exposed Acropolis.
The mangy stray dogs sometimes snarl at passers-by but prefer to mutilate each other.
As of July 2022, Bergama and the main east-west highway have 4G from all Turkish carriers, but coverage is patchy on the road north across the hills. 5G has not rolled out in Turkey.
- Dikili is the nearest beach resort, with a long sandy beach north and attractive rocky coasts south around the headland to Çandarli.
- Foça and its associated resorts are further south, on the edge of Izmir so they're busy on summer weekends.
- The other Seven Churches of Asia can be toured by making a loop around Izmir through Akhisar, Sardis, Alaşehir and Denizli, then taking in Ephesus.
- Izmir is a busy modern city but with lots to see and do. The raucous Aegean tourist strip starts south of the city.
- Istanbul to Izmir is a long distance itinerary passing through Bergama.
|Routes through Bergama|
|Çanakkale ← Dikili ←||N S||→ Izmir → Denizli|
|END at ←||W E||→ Akhisar → Kütahya|