The Asklepion may not be as dramatic as the Acropolis, but in some ways it is even more extraordinary. One of the most important healing centres of the Roman world, it had baths, temples, a theatre, a library, treatment centres and latrines in its heyday. Remnants of many of these structures have been preserved on site, and what we see now is quite similar to how the centre would have appeared in the time of Emperor Hadrian (117–138 BC).
Said to have been founded by Archias, a local who had been cured at the Asklepion of Epidaurus (Greece), Pergamum's Asklepion offered many different treatments, including mud baths, the use of herbs and ointments, enemas and sunbathing. Diagnosis was often by dream analysis.
The centre came to the fore under Galen (AD 129–216), who was born here and studied in Alexandria, Greece and Asia Minor before setting up shop as physician to Pergamum’s gladiators. Recognised as perhaps the greatest early physician, Galen added considerably to the knowledge of the circulatory and nervous systems, and also systematised medical theory. Under his influence, the medical school at Pergamum became renowned throughout the ancient world. His work was the basis for Western medicine well into the 16th century.
The Roman Via Tecta, a colonnaded sacred way, leads from the entrance to the sanctuary, where you’ll see the base of a column carved with snakes, the symbol of Asclepios, the god of medicine. Just as the snake sheds its skin and gains a ‘new life’, so the patients at the Asclepion were supposed to ‘shed’ their illnesses. Signs mark a circular Temple of Asklepios, a library and, beyond it, a heavily restored Roman theatre.
There are latrines over a channel in the southwest corner of the main courtyard and a sacred well in its centre. From here pass along the vaulted tunnel to the treatment centre, a temple to another god of medicine called Telesphorus. Patients slept in the round temple hoping that Telesphorus would send a cure or diagnosis in a dream. The names of Telesphorus’ two daughters, Hygeia and Panacea, have passed into medical terminology.
Soft drinks and snacks are available from an on-site snack bar.
To get here, turn into Galenos Caddesi between the small park and the Kurşunlu Mosque on Cumhuriyet Caddesi (look for a street sign pointing the way to the Asklepion and 'Katlı Otopark'), and head 2km uphill.