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A Double Dose of Amazing Ancient Ruins in a Single Day

overcast 30 °C

Day 53 Sunday July 16 2017
Pamukkale to Bergama / 365 km

  • SG manages to persuade AG to do a significant detour to one of Turkey's most important archaeological sites of the ancient classical world. Afrodisias. The name appeals. A detour of over an hour in journey time on an already long day. Add to that the duration of our visit and you will understand that SG hopes it is worth the effort.
  • It is. For its remoteness which means fewer crowds ( and today hardly anyone else ). For its beautiful setting in the Anatolian countryside. For its size, for the assortment of ruins in varying stages of retrieval & restoration. And above all for its magnificent stadium. Yes it's overgrown with weeds, but somehow that adds to the charm. Measuring 270 m long and nearly 60 m wide, it has a capacity of 30000 people, nearly twice the city's population at its peak in 2C A.D.
  • Yes, ancient civilisations sure knew how to live well - the baths, the theatres, the stadia, the angoras, colonnaded streets, large ceremonial buildings and of course a constant supply of slaves to do the building, the farming & the serving.
  • Here at Afrodisias, archaeological work is very much in active progress. This is unusual. A large workforce of manual laborours & professionals are working & living on site - classical language experts, architects, civil engineers and archeologists. We meet a couple of classical archeologists from Oxford. They are spending a long hot summer here - in their nirvana.
  • They explain that excavations carried out during the 1960's were not sufficiently rigorous by today's scientific standards. In part, some of the current project is addressing the imperfections of previous discoveries & classifications. They also emphasise that it is very often preferable not to restore or reconstruct completely but rather to leave as a ruin in its rightful place, a small piece of a larger whole.
  • This is probably the reason that we encounter good & bad restorations all over the world. Even on this trip we have seen reconstruction of old churches & touch ups of ancient frescoes that are simply so pristine as to be unrealistic.
  • The archaeologist's aim is appropriate ' anastylosis ' - this is defined as the re-assembly of existing but loose parts. According to best practise, the extent of reconstruction should be determined by the proportion of preserved antique pieces. Defects & cracks should be left visible as far as possible to indicate age and history.
  • For instance here in Aphrodisias, the monumental gateway ( Tetraplyon ) has been reconstructed because it is an astonishing 85% original. With so many pieces still in existence, total reconstruction is absolutely the right archaeological approach.
  • Archaeology, a useful science in our contemporary world? Or a waste of time and money - only of interest to academics, historians & classicists? SG admits: when young and studying Latin, she could not imagine a career more boring than spending years doing digs, often in inhospitable & remote places & studying tiny fragments of stone & ceramics. But a revelation has taken place, albeit gradually. She now understands how essential archaeology is to our contemporary world and to civilisations of the future.
  • A senior German archaeologist on the project team is standing amidst precious ancient rubble and directing the day's work - how long will his project take, AG jokingly asks - at least another 100 years is the reply. His work must be like solving a huge and complex jigsaw puzzle of the smallest of pieces - a puzzle that he knows he can never finish.
  • It is clear that an archaeologist may be short of funding, but never of work.
  • Our visit to Afrodisias has been enlightening. We will look upon restoration of old buildings with freshly critical eyes. Regardless of whether you are fortunate enough to meet any archaeologists on site, Afrodisias is absolutely worth the detour.
  • Its getting hot - again. We must be on our way. We leave the extensive Anatolia region & continue our journey via the great port of Izmir to the Northern Agean. Today's destination is Bergama ( known in antiquity as Pergamum because it was a centre of large scale production of pergamena - a type of parchment made of stretched animal skin ).
  • One of Bergama's main attractions is the Acropolis located high up on the hill above the modern town. With the exception of the Temple of Trajan which was built during the reigns of Roman Emperors, it is largely a site of ancient Greek ruins.
  • Greece, geographically so near and yet so far. Culturally so close and yet so estranged. In this part of Turkey and even in parts of Central Anatolia such as Goreme, the mingling of Greek & Turkish influences is clear.
  • Understand history and the reasons are apparent. There's has been much changing of identity and loyalty over the centuries. Turkey was part of Ancient Greece, Imperial Rome & the Byzantine Empire. Modern day Greece was part of the great Turkish Ottoman Empire until 1830 when it gained freedom. Until the population exchange of 1923 there were Greek speaking Muslims living in Greek territory and Turkish speaking orthodox Christians living in Turkey.
  • Why was there a population exchange between Greece & Turkey and what did it involve? Turkey already weakened by the Balkan Wars, picked the wrong side in World War 1. It emerged a greatly diminished power and vastly reduced territory. Western powers, including Greece jostled to cherry pick the spoils of the now defunct Ottoman Empire. Ultimately Turkey rejected the Treaty of Sevres 1920 imposed upon it by the western allies . Instead it fought the Turkish War of Independence under the command of Mustafa Kemal, who under the name of Ataturk became became Turkey's iconic leader until his death in 1938.

Ataturk was a man of vision. The kind we need more of today. He genuinely had the interests of the Turkish people in his heart. Under his benign and enlightened despotism he transformed Turkish society into a modern nation state. Check out his achievements on Wikipaedia - the list is impressively long.

  • But mistakes were made. The population exchange of 1923 was part of the post war agreement to settle the Greek / Turkish issue, an attempt to prevent future ethnic tensions. The aim for both Greece & Turkey was to create homogenous nation states. Muslims living in Greece were expelled to Turkey and Christians living in Turkey were displaced to Greece. Regardless where they were born, how long they had lived there, what language they spoke. Their religion was the deciding factor. Numbers of affected people vary according to which version you read. But it is estimated about 1.5 million people were displaced back to Greece and around 500,000 Muslims living in Greece were forcibly relocated to Turkey. Imagine that happening now! How times have changed.
  • Cyprus - at the time of the population exchange in 1923 Cyprus was already a British colony and so was unaffected. But once it gained independence from the UK in 1960 tensions and aggressions between Greece and Turkey resurfaced. Exactly the type of problem that Ataturk endeavoured to avoid through the 1923 population exchange.
  • Today Cyprus is still a country divided by ethnicity, religion and EU politics. Looking at the map you can see why the Turks refused to allow Greece to take control.
  • SG admits previous ignorance. She doesn't think she is alone. Modern history is not taught enough in schools. How many times did we & our children learn about the Vikings, Roman Britain and King Henry VIII!
  • A long digression. Apologies. Back in Goreme a few days ago, locals referred to former 'Greek' villages. Now the reason is clear.
  • The road to Izmir impresses. It is Turkey's third largest city and its main Agean (Mediterranean) port. Turkey is spending its EU windfall well. Isn't that re-assuring.
  • As we approach this heavily populated area, the car brands become more expensive, service stations get bigger and traffic is generally heavier. It is a shock to our system.
  • The BP station even has a Starbucks! Now that's a pleasant surprise. We savour our first flat white in a long while.
  • As we continue on from Izmir we see the Agean Sea for the first time. It is also several weeks since we last drove a coastal route - actually not since the early days of our trip along the Black Sea Coast.
  • We arrive in Bergama mid afternoon. Our pension the Attalos Hotel is located in an old residential part of town. A 10 minute walk to both the cable car up to the Acropolis and the Red Hall. It may not be easy to find by car, but it is very convenient, quiet & charming. Enter the large double door and you walk into a lovely courtyard around which are 2 levels of comfortable and recently restored bedrooms. The owner speaks little English but has long worked in Germany as an engineer. German is our mutual language.
  • AG is doing well. Two ancient ruins in one day. Ascending by cable car is slightly incongruous. It feels like we are missing something - skiis perhaps? A round trip costs £3 per person. You could go up one way and walk down through the various ruins, if time permits. Surprise, surprise this is not an option for us. The site shuts at 7 p.m. And so does the cable car.
  • The weather has deteriorated during the day - it's still hot but it has become very windy. The 5 minute ride up is a bit concerning. High winds in ski areas often cause cable cars to stop temporarily until the gusts dissipate. We feel that the wind we are experiencing today would have already broached those tolerance levels in Europe. Safety standards are self evidently a great deal slacker here in Turkey. There is not even staff in attendance to supervise the loading of the cable car. The only signage visible warns only of leaving behind possessions. Good grief it's our lives we're worried about, not our belongings.
  • So with crossed fingers and not a little anxiety, we access the Acropolis where we pay out yet more money on the museum entrance fee. That pan Turkey museum pass might be a very good idea.
  • As previously stated, every individual site of ancient ruins has its own special appeal . It's hard not to visit them all. FOMO... But if you are in Bergama you should very definitely come to its Acropolis. The appeal is its setting, the stunning views, the fine examples of appropriate archaeological restoration and the amazing Hellenistic theatre dating back to 2C B.C.
  • Our amateur photos cannot do justice to its sheer scale - the squeaky bum moment ( AG's words ) when you emerge through the tunnel at the top of the vertiginous auditorium. It is built into the hill and overlooks modern day Bergama, way down below. It has a capacity of 10000 people. There are at least 150 tiers - we know because we walk down & climb back up. The one puzzling thing about the design is that the theatre faces west, directly into the afternoon & evening sun. The audience would have had the bright sun directly in their eyes. So what time of day were the performances held and was the stage illuminated by massive flame torches?
  • Must find an archaeologist to ask!
  • We wander back to the cable car through more astounding ruins. We are in awe of the quality and sophistication of the structural engineering required in the construction of the Temple of Trajan . Dating back to 2C A.D. it is the only remaining Roman ruin on site.
  • And our impressions as we leave the last Turkish ruin of our visit? The culture, the art, the quality of workmanship, civic pride, the architecture, the engineering, the lifestyle of those in authority and connected to it, the sport & leisure facilities, the theatres, the stadia - and all that 2 millennia ago. It certainly puts into perspective the progress that we think we have made and the levels of civilisation we claim to have achieved since those ancient times.
  • The wind has not abated, if anything as dusk approaches it has become stronger. We cross fingers and ride down. There are no staff in sight.
  • We are having supper in the nearby Pergamon Boutique hotel this evening. Again a small insignificant doorway leads onto a large elevated garden with views. Another reasonable & cheap meal in gorgeous surroundings. Once more we are the only overseas visitors. Turkey needs you!

Ornamental Archway - Afrodisias

Ornamental Archway - Afrodisias

Magnificent Afrodisias Stadium

Magnificent Afrodisias Stadium

One of Pools at Roman Baths, Afrodisias

One of Pools at Roman Baths, Afrodisias

Theatre in Afrodisias

Theatre in Afrodisias

Pieces of Wall Frieze Identified, Classified & Stored for Re-Construction - Afrodisias

Pieces of Wall Frieze Identified, Classified & Stored for Re-Construction - Afrodisias

Archaeology - One Giant & Infinitely Insolvable Jigsaw Puzzle

Archaeology - One Giant & Infinitely Insolvable Jigsaw Puzzle

Agora at Afrodisias - a Focus of a Major Archaeology Project

Agora at Afrodisias - a Focus of a Major Archaeology Project

Archaeologist Directing the Day's Dig

Archaeologist Directing the Day's Dig

Oxford Archaelogist Contemplating Unpublished Ruin - Afrodisias

Oxford Archaelogist Contemplating Unpublished Ruin - Afrodisias

Old Bergama House in Need of TLC

Old Bergama House in Need of TLC

Incongruous Cable Car Ride Up to Pergamum Acropolis

Incongruous Cable Car Ride Up to Pergamum Acropolis

Bergama House Overtaken by Fig Trees

Bergama House Overtaken by Fig Trees


Classic Pergamum

Classic Pergamum

Vaulted Foundations to Roman Temple at Pergamum - Amazing Engineering

Vaulted Foundations to Roman Temple at Pergamum - Amazing Engineering

Amazing Standards of Archeological Reconstruction at Pergamum

Amazing Standards of Archeological Reconstruction at Pergamum


AG in the Cheapest of Seats - Pergamum Theatre

AG in the Cheapest of Seats - Pergamum Theatre

Is This How the Phrase 'Up in the Gods Originates'?

Is This How the Phrase 'Up in the Gods Originates'?

[img=https://photos.travellerspoint.com/896073/36168F83DE30EA65B76EAAFB041371B2.jpg thumb=https://photos.travellerspoint.com/896073/Reconstruction atr

Posted by sagbucks 13:12 Archived in Turkey

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