The Mysterious Healing Centre of Asklepion in Pergamum
Asklepion is an ancient healing complex located at the base of the Pergamon acropolis in Turkey built in honour of Asklepios, god of healing. The Asklepion was a term used in ancient Greece to define a type of temple, devoted to the god Asklepios, which acted as a healing centre.
The site in Pergamon was founded in the 4 th Century BC around a sacred spring that still flows. Over the next centuries, it became one of the best-known healing centres of the ancient world, second in importance only to Epidaurus in Greece and was also the world's first psychiatric hospital. The influential physician Galen was born in Pergamon and practiced here in the 2 nd Century AD, having first made his medical reputation treating warriors in the gladiatorial games of the city.
Many of the treatments employed at Pergamon, which were in complement with a sacred source of water that was later discovered as having radioactive properties, have been used for centuries and are still believed to cure all illnesses. Its sacred springs were once visited by such luminaries as the Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius, as well as countless ordinary people seeking cures for their physical and mental ailments.
According to ancient myth, the god Asklepios had the power to raise people from the dead and he himself was restored to life by Zeus: for this reason he was thought to also have a snake form. Tame snakes were kept in his temples as this reptile was regarded as a symbol of regeneration, due to the shedding and regrowth of their skin.
Patients approached the healing temple via the Sacred Way, a path that started their journey to health. An underground passage led to it so that the patients went down a short flight of steps into a tunnel: cubicles were located on either side of the passage and patients spent the night there. In the morning, they would tell their dreams to the priests/doctors to facilitate the diagnosis of their disease. The patients then ascended to the temple, which had a circular shape so that they could walk in a never ending procession; the pillars supporting the vaults had individual tubs for bathing.
Treatments included psychotherapy, massage, herbal remedies, mud and bathing treatments, surgeries and the drinking of water, which were prescribed according to what dreams the patient had experienced – it was believed that dreams recounted a visit by the god Asklepios, who held the key to curing all illness.
There was even a theatre at the Asklepion, to entertain the patients who would often stay for weeks. All of this was done in the belief that healing was a sacred art and that people’s souls needed to be mended as well as their bodies.
Thousands of people still travel to Asklepion every year in the hopes of being healed. Tradition says that the ancient therapies based on both psychological and physical treatments were highly successful in restoring health.