The Road to Pergamum
Turkey: A 2000-Mile Road Trip, Part 2
The Road to Pergamum
As we drove into Izmir, the talk about religion, politics, history and the Greek connection continued. The concept of intermixing religion, history and mythology early in the morning was hard to wrap in my mind: History was my least favorite subject in school; Reading the Bible put me to sleep; I read the poetry of Rumi in passing; I read the “Iliad” and “The Odyssey” in my sophomore years because I had to. So the road to Pergamum was long, so to speak. However, the retelling of history was important to our guide in order to introduce the next highlight of the trip. We were driving on a stretch of farmlands, the color of olive green. There hardly was a sign of commerce (shop for tourists) found on the road.
Part of the day’s schedule was to stop at a local village for lunch. The landscape felt so secluded and quiet as we neared the village. Our group was broken into a group of four to join a local family for lunch. Two women were preparing soup when we arrived; the rest of the meal was already prepared. We ate our lunch of Turkish signature dishes: tomato soup, salad (cucumbers, tomato and yogurt), goat cheese wrap, eggplant and rice, stuffed grape leaves, and baklava and tart (something very sweet) for dessert. We ate our lunch in the kitchen/dining/living room combined, while our hosts served and watched. There was no verbal communication between our hosts and us because our hosts did not speak any English, and we did not speak any Turkish. The wedding picture in the room became the center of our non-verbal conversation. By pointing to the picture and other means of non-verbal communication, we learned that a grandmother, a sister, mother-in-law and other family members live in the same house. The other rooms in the house looked no different from what you’d find in the US, except for the bathroom where you’d find a squat toilet. One of my tour mates was trapped in the bathroom, making the loudest spoken word that day.
Not to sound cliché, but for me one of the greatest joys of travel is immersing oneself in another culture. I’m always fascinated by coming to an understanding from misunderstanding. Listening to foreign words that I totally don’t understand and taking the time to read facial expression teach me patience. I thought taking the time to understand each other makes the world a more tolerant and connected place.
Unfortunately, we did not have much time to interact with the locals. We left right after lunch and after taking photos while our hosts smile politely, probably wondering what the hell we were doing taking pictures of their community oven and the roaming chicken. Nevertheless, the lunch excursion was a good way to break the monotony of a long drive.
Our next stop was Pergamum or Pergamon, a powerful kingdom during the Hellenistic period, under the Attalid dynasty, 289-133BC. It was then where I began to understand “the Greek connection” and why our guide kept saying the phrase, “Everything comes from Turkey.” Pergamum remains forever in history as the capital of the ancient Greek Kingdom of Pergamon. Historically it is located on a hill north of the river Bakircay – today, a territory that is not part of Greece - but within Turkey.
We saw signposts indicating, where the king’s palaces once stood, and remnants of the sanctuary of Athena, Trajan and the temple of Dionysus and the Roman Theater. One of its most significant treasures, the Altar of Pergamon, is now in a museum in Berlin, Germany.
The Asclepion, considered the first hospital in history, is well preserved and the most remarkable part of the complex. We passed the ‘Via Tecta’ (a colonnaded street leading to the sanctuary) and saw a circular treatment center, and an underground passageway and the Temple of Asclepius. Asclepius, the founder of Asclepion and his associates applied treatment with snake venom – associated to the winding serpent logo in pharmacy today. Galen, the most famous doctor in ancient Roman Empire, who influenced the development of various medical disciplines – anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology and neurology –, worked in the Ascelpium for many years. The Asclepion must have been the highlight of the trip for some members of our tour group who are in the medical profession.
Although the focus of my trip to Turkey was to photograph the romantic Istanbul and Cappadocia landscape, I began to appreciate our guide's retelling of history. The fact that Pergamum is mentioned in the Bible (the Book of Revelation) as one of the seven churches in Asia, made my standing in the ruins of Pergamum momentous - a feeling that's hard to describe.
As we headed on to Izmir, our final destination for the day, my tour-mate who had been to Ephesus muttered, “you’re going to like Ephesus,” perhaps from seeing my reaction to our visit to the ruins of Troy and Pergamum so far.
To be continued…
Photos by the author