Viran Gate Of The Asclepion in Pergamon-Turkey
Archaeologists have identified 320 Asclepion Healing Centers around the world, whereas the main healing center was in Epidauros, a small city in Ancient Greece. Two other important and famous healing centers were on the Greek island of Kos and on the west coast of Türkiye, in the Pergamon (Turkish: Bergama) district of Izmir.
The Asclepion in Pergamon, which is thought to have been founded in the 4th century BC and became famous in the 2nd century AD, is also known as the place where Galen started his profession. Galen was the court physician of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who was also considered as one of the most important Stoic philosophers. Galen was not only one of the most important physicians of the Ancient Roman period, he was also a scientist and philosopher, in a nutshell a polymath (https://via-hygeia.art/blog/in-praise-of-wholeness-or-where-are-the-polymaths-gone/). He and many famous doctors from Pergamon were treating their patients in this aforementioned healing center dedicated to the Asclepion archetype.
One of the most interesting points for us was that the Asclepion Healing Center was connected to the city of Pergamon. This connection was provided by a path called the ‘Via Tecta’ (Sacred Way), which was covered with a vault and protected the patients from adverse weather conditions. It is as if Pergamon, which represents the material world, and the Asclepion Healing Center, which symbolizes the spiritual realm, were united by this 1 km long road.
Before the patients set foot on the ‘Via Tecta’, they were examined by priest doctors (Asclepiades) at a large arched door known as the ‘Viran Gate’. People with a terminal illness or pregnant women were not allowed to enter. According to a rumor, there was an inscription on the Viran Gate saying “Death Is Forbidden To Enter The Asklepieion As A Token Of Respect To The Gods.” In our opinion, these words meant that the archetype Hades, who represents death and the underworld in mythology, was not invited to the sanctuary. The last part of the ‘Via Tecta’ was arranged as a road with columns during the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, and there were shops selling votive items on both sides of the road. The ‘Via Tecta’ (Sacred Way) ended at a monumental entrance, the Propylon.
Entering the Asclepion Healing Center the great courtyard was surrounded by galleries from three directions as north, south and west. The ground of the field was earth. One of the treatment methods was to have the patients walk barefoot here (https://via-hygeia.art/blog/feet-as-sensors/).
At the northwest end of the north gallery, there was a semicircular theater with a capacity of 3,500 people. In Hellenistic and Roman times, catharsis was kept alive and laughter was encouraged to support the healing journey.
The square building to the east of the north gallery was the emperor’s hall and also used as a library by physicians and patients.
The western gallery was built during the westward expansion of the Asclepion sanctuary in the 2nd century BC. It is estimated that the hall located at the south end of the western gallery was the “Banquet Hall”.
The seventy-meter-long underground tunnel connecting the place called the sanctuary and the circular structure where the treatments are made attracts attention in terms of its structure and usage. In the ceiling of the tunnel, there are holes drilled at regular intervals to allow sunlight to enter. However, the tunnel, where the sounds of running water and the suggestions of physicians could be heard, was not only used as a passageway, but also as a treatment area. Physicians, who reached the patients with their voices in the tunnel, continued their suggestions during sleep. They believed that the resulting dreams had a therapeutic effect.
As soon as the patients entered the door of the Healing Center, the treatment began. First, they were examined, then rested, then they were washed with holy water and dressed in a special white garment to prepare for treatment. People from all classes, having all kinds of illnesses were coming to Asclepion. Patients who came here but could not be treated were not allowed through the Viran Gate. If the condition of the patient receiving treatment worsened, the patient was sent away from the Asclepion.
Written & Translated into English by HYGEIA