The ancient city of Pergamon or Pergamum near the city of Bergama, in the province of Izmir, is just 26km from the sea. During the Hellenistic period the city became the capital of the Kingdom of Pergamon and part of the Attalid dynasty in 281-133 BC. It became one of the most impressive cultural centres of the Greek world. Pergamon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Situated high on a hill this formidable city would have been hard to conquer. With commanding views of the landscape around it, there has been a settlement at Pergamon since the Archaic period. Not much remains of the city before the Hellenistic period but Alexander the Great took the territory from the Persians, and when he died in 323 BC, this hilltop fortification fell into the hands of Philatauerus of Tieium, a lieutenant of Lysimachus, a Macedonian general who died in battle.
Philatauerus died in 263 BC and his nephew Eumenes I took the reigns and ruled until 241 BC before Attalus I became the first King and founder of what would become the Attalid dynasty. It was Attalus I who defeated the Galatians in 238 and an independent Pergamon kingdom was formed.
The Attalid dynasty under the brothers Eumenes II and Attalus II expanded rapidly. Until 188 BC it was relatively small but the Attalid’s aim was to create a city to rival Athens. The Acropolis of Pergamon was copied from the Acropolis in Athens. The city boomed and through the collection of taxes and careful administration of Greek cities in their territories, Pergamon flourished.
The Library of Pergamon was renowned as being second only to the library of Alexandria. Under the direction of the two brothers the city gained recognition and status. The dynasty would later come to an end with the death of Attalus III who died without an heir in 133 BC. He left Pergamon to Rome which was contested by Aristonicus who claimed to be Attalus III’s brother. After fighting the Romans with some initial success the territory was finally divided between Rome and Cappadocia. Pergamon enjoyed a brief period as the capital of the province before this title was transferred to Ephesus.
Ownership of the city would be contested and several wars were fought to try and wrestle it from Roman ownership but after an unsettled period it would continue to enjoy its status as a prosperous Roman city.
Eventually it would fall under the control of the Roman Emperor Trajan who was born in 98 AD and lived until 117 AD. Under Trajan and his successors the city enjoyed a renaissance and building works on a grand scale commenced with temples, a stadium, a theatre, forum and grand amphitheatre were constructed. Pergamon became one of the largest cities in the province with around 200,000 inhabitants. Hippocrates was born here, and the city prospered once again.
Unfortunately the city was badly damaged by an earthquake in 262 AD and was sacked by the Goths. It would continue as a major city for some time thereafter but it would never return to its former glory.
During the Byzantine period the city was captured by Arabs, re captured and then lost again. During the period from 641 AD to 1170 the city would also fall to the Selcuks after being almost destroyed and then rebuilt.
Constantinople was sacked in 1204 during the fourth crusade and Pergamon became part of the Empire of Niceae. In 1250 the Emperor Theodore II Laskaris visited Pergamon and it was noted that the fine monuments of the Attalids and the Romans were all but ruins.
After 1300 Pergamon fell under the control of the Ottomans. Many of the stones and artifacts from Pergamon have been removed. German archaeologists transported many of the greatest stone and marble works to the Museum of Berlin with the approval of the Ottoman Empire. It is only after the Second World War that all the historic items of national importance were sent to the Istanbul Archaeological Musuem and the Bergama Museum which now receives any new items.
The fact that Pergamon was constructed high on a hill is probably the main reason that much of the infrastructure remained intact. Many other historical sites were pillaged for construction material for mosques and grand buildings whereas Pergamon has escaped this fate. Whilst early archaelogists whisked off many of the finds of Pergamon to their own countries, had it not been for their interest and enthusiasm and their assistance, the ruins at Pergamon might have looked quite different today.
Visitors to Pergamon can take the cable car up to the city level and wander around this ancient city. There has been a lot of restoration and work is still in progress but it is the sheer scale of this site and its location on the top of a hill that surprises everyone. The amphitheatre location on the side of the hill with breath taking views of the landscape beyond is something that you will always remember about Pergamon.
When you step out of the cable car you will be just a short walk from the ticket office, some souvenir stalls and café’s and bathroom facilities. There is ample parking at the foot of the hill where you can park and walk to the cable car.