This famed ancient medical center, built in honor of Asklepios, the god of healing, was also the world's first psychiatric hospital. Many of the treatments employed at Pergamum, enhanced by a sacred source of water that was later discovered as having radioactive properties, have been used for centuries, and are once again finding modern application. The treatments included psychotherapy, massage, herbal remedies, mud and bathing treatments, interpretation of dreams, and the drinking of water. The Asklepion gained in prominence under the Romans in the 2nd century A.D., but a sacred site existed prior to this as early as the 4th century B.C.
Oddly enough, everybody who was anybody was dying to get in; patients included Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, and Caracalla. Therapy included mud baths, music concerts, and doses of water from the sacred fountain. Hours of therapy probed the meaning of the previous night's dreams, as patients believed dreams recounted a visit by the god Asklepios, who held the key to curing the illness. Galen, the influential physician and philosopher who was born in Pergamum in A.D. 129, trained and then later became an attendant to the gladiators here.
Access is via the Sacred Way, which at 807m (2,648 ft.) long and colonnaded originally connected the Asklepion with the Acropolis. The Sacred Way becomes the stately Via Tecta near the entrance to the site and leads to a courtyard and fallen Propylaeum, or Monumental Gate. Don't miss the focus of the first courtyard, an altar inscribed with the emblem of modern medicine, the serpent. To the right of the courtyard is the Emperor's Room, which was also used as a library. The circular domed Temple of Asklepios, with a diameter of 23m (75 ft.), recalls the Pantheon in Rome, which was completed only 20 years earlier. Reachable through an underground tunnel is what is traditionally called the Temple of Telesphorus, which served as both the treatment rooms and the sleeping chambers, an indication that sleep was integral in the actual healing process. At various spots in the center of the complex are a total of three pools and fountains, used for bathing, drinking, and various other forms of treatment. The semicircular Roman Theatre flanks the colonnaded promenade on the northwest corner of the site.