We boarded a night bus from Istanbul to Pergamum on the evening of March 14, departing at 8pm. Instead of heading east over the Bosphorus, we headed west towards Europe, and then south before crossing over to Asia at the Gallipoli Peninsula. (See the first page for a map of our route.)
The bus was comfortable. Water, tea, and a small snack were free. We pulled over to rest stops every few hours (there was no bathroom on the bus). The biggest drawback was the movie: Mission Impossible 2, dubbed in Turkish was blared over bus speakers. Particularly kudos go to Andy, who was game for this night bus despite having arrived from a ten hour plane ride from JFK earlier in the day.
At around 1am, the bus rolled on to a "RORO" ferry to Asia. The other vehicles included several cars, one military limo, and lots of trucks (see the scrap metal and lumber trucks above). The thick fog made for an eerie atmosphere, the March air was brisk but refreshing. The three of us fell asleep shortly after arriving in the Asian continent.
I awoke at 5:30am to the sunrise over the mediterannean landscape. Our bus left us at the outskirts of town where we hitched a ride on the minibus to the center of Bergama, and saw the ruins of the Acropolis at Pergamum on a hilltop miles away.
The sleepy Turkish town of Bergama sits at the foot of the hill of the Pergamum Acropolis. Pergamum is a major tourist destination, but most tourists come by bus, see the ruins, and leave. Consequently, Bergama is more innocent than most tourist towns, with few facilities and a genial, conservative populace. We stopped at a local shop for breakfast and found that the only thing on the menu was soup -- lentil soup, tripe soup, and head soup. Andy had head soup, I had tripe soup, and Dad... abstained, picking up pastries at a local bakery on our route to the Red Basilica.
After dropping off our bags at the town's only hostel, we headed toward the hill.
Our first stop was the Red Basilica, (on the left in the above picture). Originally an Egyptian temple, it was converted into a church in the 3rd century and is singled out by John in Revelations as the throne of Lucifer himself! (See Revelation 2:1-7.) Today, it's a sleepy ruin with few visitors, and the restored tower on the right is a mosque, sans minaret.
As we approached the foot of the hill, a local offered to drive us to the Acropolis, but we chose to walk instead. It was a great decision. Walking 2.5 miles uphill, we got a real sense of how the size of the ruins, the easily defensible nature of the hilltop location. We also got to appreciate the efforts it must have taken to lug all those stones to build the Acropolis.
Also, we got to see and meet the locals. Although donkey and horse carts are still a common mode of transportation, the children were very smart and proper in their school uniforms.
To the left of the above picture are the restored ruins of the Temple of Trajan. To the right are the only surviving foundations of the Aquaduct that brought water to the Acropolis.
More of the temple, plus the theater of the Acropolis with a beautiful view of the modern town of Bergama. The theater is said to have held 10,000 people, which I didn't believe until I viewed it from the stage.
More of Pergamum. Although little remains of the nearby library, it was once the most fantastic in Europe. Parchment was invented in Pergamum and is named after the city (Pergaminus in Latin).
Another advantage to walking up and down the hill was that it gave us the opportunity to see the entire site. Tourists who ride in by bus see the major ruins and then leave. Walking down the hill, we saw the old Roman roads, underground wells and caverns, flora and fauna, and the city where the inhabitants of Pergamum actually lived (the Acropolis was for defense, entertainment, and community, not residence.) At noon, the mosques broadcast the call to prayer. Echoing across the valley, it was beautiful to listen to, and I managed to record it on my camera, available here in mp3 format. Click here to listen! (0:26, 408kb).
Bergama has more to offer than the Acropolis and the Red Basilica. On the other side of town is the Asklepion, named after Aesculapius, the god of Health and Medicine. The Asklepion at Pergamum was where Galen mapped the human circulatory system in the 2nd century AD.
Hippocrates famously told his students, "War is the only proper school of the surgeon." Galen found the next best thing: he treated wounded gladiators.
And here is the only close-up photo I have of all three of us, posing at the ruins of the Asklepion.
We had originally planned to stay the night in Bergama, but having seen all the sites by 5pm, we decided to move further south. We caught a bus at 5:30pm for Izmir, where we changed buses and set out for Selcuk and the ruins of Ephesus, a total of four hours on the road.
(The peculiar "c" is pronounced "ch," and the proper pronunciation is "Selchuk.")
We arrived at Selcuk in the late evening of the 15th and were quick to get to bed. On the morning of the 16th we woke and had a breakfast of eggs, toast, and beef sausage before setting out for Ephesus, another ruined Greek/Roman city of Biblical significance.
Ephesus was of one of the most illustrious cities of ancient Greece and Rome. An Ionian colony hundreds of years before Alexander the Great conquered Anatolia, it later became the capital of Rome's Province of Asia and had a population of 250,000 at its height. Its most famous sites are the library, the great theater that seated 25,000 people, and the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. (Today, only one pillar still stands.)
In the above picture: the facade of the library, with yours truly standing at the left enterance to give you a sense of its size; and the theater on the right. St. John (the disciple) is said to have moved to Ephesus with the Virgin Mary after being cast out of Jerusalem. He was later expelled from Ephesus by angry worshippers of Artemis.
Andy and Dad outside the theater. Two thousand years ago, the far end of the promenade met the Aegean Sea and the port of Ephesus. Today, the sea lies 3 miles away. The natural harbor silted up in the 6th century and the city suffered irreversible decline. Ephesus was the victim of environmental change.
On the left, one of Selcuk's mosques. On the right, Selcuk castle. In the afternoon we left the ruins to see the city but were unable to enter the castle, which is currently closed but nonetheless glorious (viewed from the ruins of the St. John Basilica.) St. John is believed to have spent the last years of his life in Ephesus writing his version of the Gospel, and the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (527-565 AD) believed that a tomb dating from the 300s was John's, inspiring this once magnificent church. Alas, at 32 meters high with several glorious domes, it was like many churches from the 6th century and very unstable. Turks converted it into a mosque in the 13th century, and it collapsed after an earthquake in the 14th century. A conceptual drawing of the church can be found here.
On the evening of March 16th we boarded another night bus and headed east, leaving the Greek ruins of the Mediterannean west for the old Seljuk city of Konya.
|c. 2005 Christopher Gunson|