The Sea of Marmara and the North Aegean: Places to Explore


Pergamum (Bergama)

The windswept ruins of Pergamum, which surround the modern town of Bergama, are among the most spectacular in Turkey. The attractions here are spread out over several square miles, so if you don't have a car, negotiate with a taxi driver in Bergama (you have to pass through the town anyway) to shuttle you from site to site. Biking is an enjoyable option; some hotels have bicycles on hand for rent or lend them free of charge with the room price.

The run-down but charming old quarter, on the way to the Acropolis, is the best place to stay. It has several clean, economical hotels to choose from and offers good cheap food if you choose to spend a night or two.

Pergamum was one of the ancient world's major powers, though it had a relatively brief moment of glory. Led by a dynasty of maverick rulers, it rose to prominence during the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. Because he was impressed by the city's impregnable fortress, Lysimachus, one of Alexander the Great's generals, decided this was the place to stow the booty he had accumulated while marching through Asia Minor. Then, when Lysimachus was killed, in 281 BC, Philetaerus (circa 343 BC-263 BC), the commander of Pergamum, claimed the fortune and holed up in the city. He established a dynasty known as the Attalids. After defeating the horde of invading Gauls who had been sacking cities up and down the coast in 240 BC, the Pergamenes were celebrated throughout the Hellenic world as saviors. The Attalids ruled until 133 BC, when the mad Attalus III (circa 170 BC-133 BC) died and bequeathed the entire kingdom to Rome. By a liberal interpretation of his ambiguous bequest, his domain became the Roman province of Asia and transformed Rome's economy with its wealth.

The city was a magnificent architectural and artistic center in its heyday—especially under the rule of Eumenes II (197 BC–159 BC). He built Pergamum's famous library, which contained 200,000 books. When it rivaled the great library in Alexandria, Egypt, the Egyptians banned the sale of papyrus to Pergamum, which responded by developing a new paper—parchment, made from animal skins instead of reeds. This charta pergamena was more expensive but could be used on both sides; because it was difficult to roll, it was cut into pieces and sewn together, much like today's books. The library of Pergamum was transported to Alexandria by Cleopatra, where it survived until the 7th century AD, when it was destroyed by the fanatical Caliph Omar, who considered the books un-Islamic.