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The Acropolis of Pergamon: Ist Part

We invite you to a guided tour to the Acropolis of the ancient city of Pergamon: the mythical capital of the equally named Hellenistic kingdom and one of the most important cities both the Roman Empire and its successor, the Byzantine Empire.

Photo 1.- City wall and arch of access to the acropolis dated in Roman times (around 270 AD).

After descending from the funicular that until its vicinity it leads we are prepared to enter in its enclosure. This is verified by means of a larg e open gap in the wall of the acropolis: undoubtedly more or less modern because it lacks the slightest sense from the tactical point of view. This sector of the defensive precinct evidences a roman chronology, probably dated in the works of refortification carried out towards AD 270 in prevention of a Goth attack that fortunately would not occur. It is executed in medium size ashlar stone placed on stretcher with some headers: a very common technique in the roman architecture of Western Asia Minor. The original entrance gate is still preserved, covered by a typical roman voussoir arch (photo 1). This door is slightly set back respect the front of the wall in order to allow its flanking without having to lift towers. Less effective than the classic flanking procedure (two towers, one on each side of the door) but also quite cheaper. Also note that many of the gate ashlars, including those of the voussoirs, have deep notches in corners and vertices, in many cases coincident with points of contact between several pieces (joints). This can be explained as the result of the pulling out of the bronze or iron staples that once joined these ashlars reinforcing the structure. A usual form of spoliation in the neglected roman buildings which leaves that characteristic kind of notches in the ashlars.


Photo 2.- Byzantine tower of 12th century flanking the final stretch of road before penetrating the fortified acropolis.


The paved street from the lower levels of the city makes a curve in the vicinity of the acropolis, passing for a few meters parallel to the city wall before crossing it through the rounded arch we described before. This curve, the parallel section and, partially, the entrance gate itself are closely protected by a powerful square tower (photo 2). Constructed of masonry agglomerated with mortar of lime, with abundant rubbles of brick to uniform the rough rows, this square tower is clearly a medieval work, dated in the second half of the twelfth century on the occasion of the fortification work ordered by Manuel I Komnenos. Very possibly this great tower is raised on the remains of a previous, much smaller, roman one, as indicated by the facing of no reused ashlar that can be seen in one of its walls.


Photo 3.- Cella of the temple of Athena in the sanctuary dedicated to this goddess.


The interior of the acropolis is full of ruins of ancient buildings, constituting a very outstanding archaeological site. A few steps to the left of the gap in the wall are the remains of the Sanctuary of Athena: a sacred complex built by Philetairos, the first king of Pergamon (301 - 263 BC), composed of the temple of Athena and the three porticated stoas which flanked it by the north, the south and the east respectively. The temple of Athena was made in Doric order, one of the few of this kind existing in Asia Minor. The bases of the walls of its cella are conserved (photo 3). As for the stoas, only the bases and some drums of the columns of the porticos have been preserved. They enclosed a large, finely-paved rectangular courtyard (photo 4). A 12th century Byzantine tower stands at the end of the whole, very close to the edge of the acropolis terrace, watching the landscape. For its part, the mythical library of Pergamon, the work of the attalid monarch Eumenes II, was built next to the northern stoa of the whole, at a slightly higher ground level. It is probable that the entrance to this library was realized through the upper floor of said stoa, which had to be remodeled of some form to fit it for this purpose. It is not very well preserved: just a few rows of the back walls of the buildings that composed it, which we can see to the right of photo 5, with the northern stoa to the left.


Photo 4.- Tiled patio of the sanctuary of Athena and adjacent Stoas. In the background the remains of the temple of Athena and the byzantine tower erected in twelfth century as a watchtower.

Very close to the sanctuary of Athena, on the right side of the street that we are walking, is the palatial area of the city, erected by the pergamene monarchs Attalos I and Eumenes II. Although the archaeologists have managed to reconstruct the plants of the different buildings and to recover some mosaics of great quality, the existing remains are comparatively poor, being limited to the bottom of the walls.


Photo 5.- Northern Stoa of the sanctuary of Athena and rear wall of the library of Pérgamo (to the right, raised using andesite ashlar).

We approach the Roman part of the acropolis, the place where we can better appreciate the majesty of the Pergamon of the 2nd century AD, when it was distinguished as one of the most populous cities of the Empire with its 200,000 inhabitants. Its date of construction dates back to the reign of Hadrian, the great benefactor of the city. It is a large non-natural esplanade but arranged on a powerful masonry terracing (photos 6 and 7) lightened while supported by vaulted galleries located on two different levels (photo 8). An engineering work such effective as elegant and well built just like evidenced by its excellent state of preservation.


Photos 6 and 7.- Structures of subjection of the terracing on which the Temple of Trajan was built. In the photo 6 we see them from the terraced platform, in the 7 from the stage of the theater, located at a quite lower level. Some byzantine repairs, clearly different to the original Roman ashlar wall, can be seen in the right part of the structure.

The aforementioned esplanade is occupied by the sacred complex of the Trajaneum, where the emperors Trajan and Hadrian, deified after their deaths, were worshipped. This sacred complex consists of the temple of Trajan and three magnificent porticated stoas closing the western, northern and eastern flanks of the enclosure.


Photo 8.- Supporting vaults of the terracing of the temple of Trajan, located in two levels as seen in the photograph.

The temple of Trajan (photos 9 and 10) is, after the Greek theater, the most imposing classical building that can be admired in the pergamene acropolis. It preserves in good condition its powerful plinth of dark andesite ashlar --extracted from the own pergamene hill-- once covered with white marble plates, some of which have been put back in place (right end of photo 9). Some of its columns, the most respected by the inclemency of time and of men, have also been relocated. The magnificent corinthian capitals clearly indicate the monumental vocation of the building to which they adorned. Finally half of the front pediment has been rebuilt, including the corresponding frieze and architrave, both delicately carved. All these architectural elements were carved in a white marble of the highest quality: the same material with which the perimeter wall of the temple cell was built, some of whose rows can be seen to the right of the photo 9, in front of the columns.


Photos 9 and 10.- The temple of Trajan or Trajaneum seen from its SE (photo 9) and SW (photo 10) corners.


The three porticated stoas are similar from the architectural point of view to the colonnade of the temple. The eastern and the northern stoas are the best preserved (photo 11). This latter one stands to a slightly higher level than the rest of the whole due to the planimetry of the hill, relying in fact on an artificial terracing made of ashlar masonry.


Photo 11.- Stoas of the Trajaneum sacred complex.

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The authors of this blog are

History and Numismatics lovers

specialized in ancient coinage.

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