Bergama: The colorful district of the Aegean
Bergama is one of the most important tourism centers in the Aegean, despite not having a coastal area. Moreover, the district, located at a distance of 107 kilometers from İzmir, is not solely famous for its ancient city of Pergamon. As one begins to discover this beautiful Aegean town and walk its colorful streets, one can immediately see Bergama is not simply significant because of its historic legacy, but also because of its natural landscape and colorful people.
For thousands of years, the Bakırçay River that debouches into the Çandarlı Bay has nurtured many civilizations, which have developed artistically and culturally around its basin. Bergama, which is located between the branches of the Bakırçay River or, as it is alternatively known, the Bergama River, has witnessed the rise and fall of five different ancient cities; the ruins of which have become inseparable from one another.
The first settlement in the town of Bergama dates back to the eighth century B.C. The city, founded on a 330-meter high hill where the ruins of the acropolis can be seen today, were first ruled by the Persians and Alexander the Great. Due to acts of treason, the rulers of the city changed frequently. It became a glorious kingdom between the years of 283-133 B.C.
This was the golden age of the kingdom of Bergama, where important artistic and cultural developments of the human civilization took place. The first important invention of the kingdom was “parchment,” the skin of a sheep or goat prepared as material on which to write. This led to the creation of the first bound book in history. Long before the ancient Egyptians discovered papyrus, the Bergama kingdom had a library that was ahead of the world famous Library of Alexandria thanks to the use of parchment for writing. With the increasing population under Roman sovereignty, the city began to cover a larger area. The rule of the Byzantine Empire was followed by Turkish rule.
The best place to start re-discovering the small Aegean town of Bergama today is the Acropolis. You need to get a taxi to the Acropolis where you will visit the ruins of the Altar of Zeus, the Temple of Athena, the amphitheater, the Library of Bergama and the Temple of Dionysos. Note that in order to see the world’s first and largest altar and the most valuable artifact of the Bergama civilization, the famous Altar of Zeus, you have to visit the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. In 1871, the German archaeologists broke the Altar of Zeus into pieces and reconstructed it in Berlin.
In the upper section of Agora, you can see one of the steepest theaters in the world, the Theater of Pergamon. The stairs of the theater offer fascinating views of Bergama. The columns of the Temple of Trajan and the ruins of the famous library are ideal sections of the ancient city where you can get a glimpse of the essence of the distant past. The Royal Road takes us from the Acropolis to the Lower Agora. As we follow the ruins into the heart of the city, we are faced with the Red Basilica, also called the Red Courtyard. One of the first seven churches of Christianity in Anatolia, the Red Basilica is a distinct monument with its unique design and grand dimensions.
To the west of the ancient city lies the other star of Bergama, the Asklepion ruins. Aside from the theater, the pool and the clinics, the Asklepion ruins include three temples. The Asklepion ruins are home to one of the most ancient medical centers. It is also the first place where the rod of Asclepius consisting of a serpent entwined around a staff was used as the symbol of medicine and pharmacy.
Celebrations until early morning
You will need more time than you would expect to enjoy the town of Bergama. The streets of the modern city are full of surprises. Around every corner, you can see children at play, or an old man climbing an uphill road, or an old house with a wooden door that has an elegant knob. There are two important neighborhoods in Bergama: The Talatpaşa neighborhood spread over the sloped Acropolis containing old Greek and Turkish houses and the Atmaca neighborhood, a home for born to be musicians. The road to the Acropolis is the ideal starting point for those who want to see the Talatpaşa neighborhood.
The streets with rough cobblestone pavements on which colorful houses rest are reflections of the near past. The square called the Big Square is a fascinating place where time stands still and silence is disturbed only by the joyful sound of children at play.
Opposite the Red Courtyard, art shops that sell the famous antique Bergama carpets reside in buildings restored by ÇEKÜL (Foundation for the Protection and Promotion of the Environment and Cultural Heritage). The most interesting buildings in the area include the old Engineering School of Girls, the Küplü Turkish Bath, and the Old Presbytery. The Atmaca neighborhood is a 10-minute distance from the Asklepion. Most residents of the neighborhood are musicians. They earn their livelihood by playing and singing at weddings and other entertainment areas.
Music is inseparable from life in the Atmaca neighborhood. Hüsnü Şenlendirici, one of the best known clarinetists of Turkey, is also from Bergama. Şenlendirici has already acknowledged his love for Bergama in his album “Bergama Gaydası.” Life is always colorful and active in the Atmaca neighborhood, which has become a tourist attraction in recent years. Since the residents work late at night, the day starts at around noon. People sitting at coffee shops in the neighborhood square are sociable and friendly. Children who learn to play musical instruments before they even learn to read are always ready to perform street concerts.
Atmaca residents organize local celebrations on the way to the Asklepion ruins. Celebrations last until early morning hours, fires enrich the scene, Roman melodies fill the air, and people sing and dance incessantly. Visitors from other neighborhoods and foreigners from other countries attend these joyful celebrations.
How to go to Bergama
The closest airport to Bergama is in İzmir. You can take domestic flights from Istanbul, Ankara, Antalya, and Dalaman. Then you can take one of the buses or minibuses that depart from the İzmir Terminal to Bergama.