Saturday, 26 May 2012

Philosophy on top of Pergamum


It didn’t seem long after we finished fiddling with the “professionally” installed TV units on our seat that suddenly the hostess-boy came to kick us off the bus and onto the side of the road.  The bus apparently doesn’t even bother to take the 200m detour to the actual bus depot in Bergama, but rather it just dumps you on the road and you hike over to it yourself.  After being spotted by a taxi tout who spouted some rubbish about the depot being closed.  Ignoring him, we crossed the busy highway to find the depot open as we knew it would be and waited for the free shuttle bus with a French tourist Mathieu (who conveniently also spoke Turkish as he’s studying Political Science in Istanbul).  He was useful guy to have around, especially as the very same persistent taxi driver followed us and started insisting that the free bus to town had finished for the day and that we must take his taxi, whilst on the other hand he told the locals in Turkish to wait for the free bus.  Mathieu understood every word and translated it to us in French.  After some banter with the not overly intelligent taxi driver outside the ‘closed’ bus depot, we soon boarded the shuttle bus that ‘wasn’t coming’ and the taxi driver gave a sheepish grin and walked off.

We easily found Göbi Pension, where we wanted to stay and Sarah took over the negotiation for the room after Dave turned a little grumpy at the old owner who initially asked a crazy high price… but with her smooth talk and some suave talk in Turkish from our new French friend, all was smoothed over!  We decided not to brave the cold and just eat in the restaurant next door, mainly as we wanted to try the local speciality, Küfere, for dessert – the best way to describe is like Wheaties drowned in warm thick honey, covered in crushed pistachios and stuffed with a soft, white cheese inside – delicious!

The Red Basilica
The next morning our first stop on our walking tour of the town was the Red Basilica (one of the 7 churches in Revelations, but now it’s a mosque…) which was incredibly imposing and had a very eerie feeling since it’s half destroyed and surrounded by the cold misty air, but not really worth the entrance fee as you can see everything from outside the gates.   We continued from there up to the cable car that takes you up to the very steep hill to the ruins of Pergamon, however as we approached we noticed that unfortunately the gondolas weren’t moving.  Sighing with the thought of hiking up the hill we figured it couldn’t hurt to ask if it was by any chance actually open… Lucky we asked as it indeed was, and they had no problem starting the enormous engines just for two tourists!!

Pergama Ruins
Pergamon was amazing and again almost empty so we had fun exploring all the old ruins with one of the largest amphitheatres we’ve ever seen carved into the side of the hill, along with fascinating examples of how the Romains built large archways and covered them in earth, in order to ‘reclaim’ part of the hill due to the steep slopes they were working with.  It’s remarkable what the archaeologists have managed to re-piece together, it’s essentially like working on a massive 3D jigsaw puzzle since massive earthquakes destroyed the majority of the buildings.  We met our French friend Mathieu again at the top and talked philosophy for a good half hour with him until Sarah couldn’t stand the cold anymore and we had to move on just to get the blood circulating again. 

Amphitheatre at Pergamum
It was definitely worth walking back down the hill and not taking the cable car as the entire side of the mountain is littered with ruins – and not just small things. There were massive arenas, houses, mosaics and graves that have been uncovered and again there’s still more work being done.  It was really one of the more fascinating Roman sites we’d ever seen.

After navigating down through the ancient city, we reached the bottom fence and actually had no idea where the gate was to get out and we dreaded the thought that the only exit was back at the top.  Not to worry though, someone else must’ve been similarly stuck at the bottom fence line and they also must’ve had a pair of wire clippers in their back pocket as a human sized hole had been neatly cut out of the fence, so we ducked through the fence to be met by a bewildered looking cow, a grandmother and her grand-daughter who pointed us in the general direction to town.

Asklepion temple tunnel
We continued on our tour and walked to the site of Asklepion which is just out of town.  These ruins surprised us as we hadn’t expected them to be much, but in fact they were well preserved with many complex underground tunnels that ran under entire courtyards, an amphitheatre for ‘therapy’ and a temple.  We learnt that the Asklepion is where the sick came to be healed and drink of the restorative waters and the temple is where people slept for a dose of ‘dream therapy’ (however pregnant women and the dying were not admitted! They were a little too risky for their great percentage healing reputation…).

We ran into Mathieu again just as the rain set in so we hurried back to town keen to find a hot salep to warm up with.  Turns out it was tough to find as it must be a northern Turkey drink, but eventually we found a café serving it as well as some amazing local desserts that we shared together before heading back to our hostel to dry and thaw out and pack for our bus the next morning.

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