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. Here, she reflects on the ancient Greek city of Pergamon, in what is now Turkey. Click here to learn more about Janet and traveling with her to Turkey.
The theater of Pergamon could seat up to 10,000 people and had the steepest seating of theaters in the ancient world.
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.
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! (more…)