Sunday, 27 April 2014

Days 398 to 400: Bergama and Back to Istanbul

Another day, another set of incredible Roman ruins.

This is Bergama, or more precisely, the ancient Greek and Roman acropolis of Pergamon. As Acropolises tend to do, it sits on top of a hill, overlooking the modern Turkish town of Bergama. I say modern, Bergama has got an awfully charming old part of town, which is spread around the base of the hill

We arrived after a journey that, ludicrously, took the same amount of time to get from Nadia and Bowman's apartment to Izmir bus station as it did to get from the bus station to Bergama. Bergama too has an otogar, a bus station, situated on the outskirts of town, about 7 kilometres out, but mercifully the bus driver, after pausing at the otogar (one person got out) carried on into the town centre, whereby everybody got out. What's the point of the otogar again?

We'd intended just making an overnight trip of Bergama, but by the time we'd arrived, we recognised there wasn't nearly enough time to visit the Acropolis, so we added a day to our plans and explored the old part of Bergama instead. It's got a 2nd century Roman basilica - the "Red Basilica" - built from brick and half-ruined, that is quite an impressive sight, although sadly was fenced off for restoration works.

Just opposite that, we noticed a man surrounded by cats. In his hand was a bag of meat, and he was chucking bits to cats that should have been grateful, but instead just seemed to have a over-developed sense of entitlement. In Istanbul and Izmir, we noticed that there are a lot of stray cats, and they almost all look very healthy. Frequently by the doors of shops or homes are plates of cat food. In Izmir, Bowman explained to us that they are almost regarded as city pets, and are universally treated well. This goes for the dogs too, which all seemed to be fat and and friendly things that laze about on the streets. The man with the bag had a lot of meat, and each cat was surrounded by several large pieces. From every nook and cranny, new cats would appear - the man started throwing meat onto the rooftops as families of cats were nestled there. It was a remarkable sight, and as the man moved on, cats continued to follow him, Pied Piper style, despite the amount of meat he'd left behind, as though the next bit of meat would be the really good bit.

Anyway, the next day we visited the Acropolis. The best way to visit is to get the one-way ticket for the cable car.

Which, as good cable cars should do, brings you to the top. And then you simply explore.

Pergamon started off life as a Greek city, flourishing in the arts for over a century before the Romans took over in 133 BC. This wasn't a universally popular takeover, and the city went into decline, but the Romans poured their energies into it, and by the 2nd Century AD was graced with lots more temples and public buildings. With the bulk of the people living at the base of the hill rather than on the Acropolis itself, the population reached up to 200,000 - 150,000 more than present day Bergama. By the mid-3rd Century, decline again set in, with a double whammy of an earthquake and these good-for-nothing Goths from Germany coming in and trashing the place. What this all means for us today is that Pergamon has the usual series of temples, homes, and a large, steep very theatre, all in ruined form of course. After the ruins of Ephesus and Hierapolis, by the time we'd reached Pergamon we worried that we might be a bit "ruined-out"; after all, Roman ruins do kind of look similar, and these would be our third in six days. But they held our interest, and being on top of a prominent hill offered great views.

Instead of taking the cable car back down, we just walked. Along the hillside are further ruins, a really quite substantial collection of residential buildings and a gymnasium. The route led us into the old town of Bergama, where we quickly found a kebab shop - we were pretty hungry by this point.

We returned to Izmir, very briefly, and flew back to Istanbul the following day. After our spectacular week there before, Istanbul wasn't really in the mood for our swansong. It mostly rained, and our hostel was functional but gloomy. The streets came alive in the evening when Fenerbahce were confirmed as league champions, and on our one full day, we visited Topkapi Palace which was exactly as I remembered it from 2001 - fine, but not very compelling. There was a bit of malaise around our evening-and-a-day: our time in Turkey was over and we were just waiting for the next stage in our trip - Spain, starting with Madrid the following morning. Goodbye Turkey, you've treated us well, and we look forward to returning.

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