Posts Tagged ‘ancient greece’

Legendary Turkey and Pergamon

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

Janet Jones is Chair and Professor of Classics at Bucknell University, and an active field archaeologist specializing in Greek and Roman art and architecture, ancient urbanization, ancient technology. She’s also one of our favorite Smithsonian Study Leaders. Here, she reflects on the ancient Greek city of Pergamon, in what is now Turkey. Click here to learn more about Janet and here for more on traveling to Turkey.

The first time I visited Pergamon (or Pergamum), I was 16. I was in Turkey as a high school exchange student and visiting some of the ancient sites along the west coast of Turkey with my host family. I remember sitting at the top of the theater, gazing out over the modern city of Bergama, hawks soaring below me, and thinking that I couldn’t imagine a more magical landscape. Perched there, at the top the world, I felt weightless, like I could fly out into space if I didn’t hold on. I looked to the terraces above me and, dizzy, I looked down to the orchestra of the theater far below and felt it anchor me to the hill.

The Greek theater of Pergamon

The Greek theater of Pergamon could seat up to 10,000 people and had the steepest seating of theaters in the ancient world.

There was so much I didn’t know about Pergamon when I was 16. But that visceral experience of the city was something I have never forgotten, even as I have learned about the city in great detail. I didn’t know then that the designers of the city had planned that very experience — that they had sited the theater with its unforgettable view to serve as the linchpin for a radical departure in city planning. I didn’t know that Pergamon had an experimental design, a radial plan playing off the shape of the theater. No plodding rectangular grid plan for the innovative rulers of this feisty Hellenistic kingdom. And I didn’t know that Pergamon had a high tech aqueduct system with pressure pipes and secure underground tunnels to bring water from mountain springs up to the city on the ridge. The monumental center of Pergamon along the ridge top was high value real estate, visible for miles, and it sent out clear messages of power and wonder. This powerful little kingdom could handle all comers. Just ask the Gauls!

I sat there that day on my vertiginous perch wondering how anyone could watch a play from such a height. I had just read the Oresteia in English class that spring. I tried to imagine figures cloaked in white dancing and singing the choruses of the tragedy down in the orchestra of the theater and other figures in great masks with dramatic expressions, mouth openings functioning as megaphones, casting the words of Aeschylus upward on the wind to the seats at the top. How could one concentrate on a play in such a place?

I recall one more thing about that day so long ago. That was the day that I decided to be an archaeologist. Many years and many journeys and much thinking about cultural landscape later, that sense of awe remains. My heart still races when the ridge top site of Pergamon comes into view and I get a catch in my throat when I climb to the top of the theater and look down at the hawks flying in the clear blue skies over the Caicus River valley far below.

 See Pergamon for yourself – join our Study Leaders along the Turkish coast this summer and fall.

 Or, check out our other options for travel to Turkey.

The New Acropolis Museum

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

The Acropolis at night.

Archeologists continued to excavate with great results at Greece’s Acropolis since 1865, when construction of the first Acropolis Museum began. A new museum was opened in June, 2009, showcasing the many new artifacts discovered on the site since the first museum opened. Highlights of the new museum include the Gallery of the Slopes of the Acropolis, which houses artifacts found in the sanctuaries and settlements along Acropolis’ slopes, including items in use by everyday Athenians. The floor of this gallery can become transparent, allowing visitors a view of archaeological excavations still ongoing below.  The Archaic gallery features statuary and other sculptures, which visitors can view from all sides in natural light. The Parthenon Gallery  provides a fantastic view of the Parthenon itself, as well as an opportunity to view its famous frieze up close.

But there’s plenty to see and do in Greece besides the Acropolis Museum. Families traveling to Greece on our Voyage to the Lands of Gods and Heroes can do their own mock archaeological excavation, learn how the ancients navigated by the stars, compete in their own Olympic events, and take a treasure hunt through the streets of Athens.

What’s the most interesting thing about the ancient Greeks? Please share.