Thanks to Homer’s “Iliad” -- the story of the 10-year Trojan War, sparked, supposedly, by the theft of the beautiful Helen, wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, by the Trojan prince Paris -- has echoed down the ages, picked up and magnified by those who’ve come after, not least the makers of “Troy,” the old-fashioned saga of Classical heroism starring Orlando Bloom, Eric Bana and Brad Pitt that hit cinema screens in 2004.
Few stories have gripped the imagination like that of Troy, with the rulers of medieval Italy and even Britain tracing their ancestry back to Aeneas, one of the heroes who sailed away from the city after its eventual fall. That had surprising consequences for Turkey, where the Ottomans were keen to present themselves as successors to the Byzantine emperors, who, in turn, saw themselves as the successors to the Roman emperors. By that logic, the link with Aeneas looped back to Turkey, and Mehmed the Conqueror is said to have visited the supposed site of Troy in 1462 and contemplated establishing his capital there.
Troy, then, is a site that carries a great weight of history and mythology on its shoulders and, not surprisingly, was one of Turkey’s first world heritage sites. Unfortunately, the ruins that visitors find today struggle to live up to what is expected of them. Troy is no Ephesus, where even those with little knowledge of archaeology can readily imagine the busy city that once stood on the site. Instead, Troy is basically a large mound with the remains of some nine lost cities sitting on and around it.
Sites that have been continuously inhabited are often very confusing to ordinary visitors because it’s so hard to distinguish the different layers of settlement from each another. But where the final occupants were the Greco-Romans, the result has often been that the remains of the last city on the site are clear and dramatic. The ninth and final city on the site of Troy was, indeed, Roman. However, not a great deal remains to be seen of it, not least because the attention of early archaeologists tended to focus on the hunt for the much earlier Troy of Homer and the heroes.
While wandering around the site today you’ll come across a trench where you can pause and contemplate the archaeological shenanigans with which Troy is associated. Although it is the German Heinrich Schliemann who hogs the limelight for having found Homer’s Troy, in fact it was the rather less self-serving British archaeologist Frank Calvert who first identified a mound named Hisarlık, near Çanakkale, as the probable site of Troy. Schliemann then obtained permission to dig it up, going on to slice trenches right through the layers of habitation that lay beneath the soil and to identify first what is now called Troy I, then Troy II, as Homer’s city (nowadays Troy VI, which lasted from circa 1700 to circa 1250 B.C., is the preferred candidate). At some point he claimed to have uncovered a cache of gold that he dubbed Priam’s Treasure after the king of Troy at the time of Helen’s abduction. This he smuggled out of Turkey and eventually sold to Germany, whence it was seized by the Russians at the end of World War II. For the time being, it languishes in Moscow, claimed by Turkey but not, as yet, returned.
The new route
Today, a route round the site has been marked out with everything clearly labeled. Specific features to look out for include sturdy walls of stone and brick; the remains of a sanctuary probably devoted to the gods of Samothrace, which is visible on the horizon; the ruins of a palace; a dramatic ramp; and a small Classical odeon or mini-theater. The views out over Homer’s “windy Troad” to the sea from the top of the mound are breathtaking, but the reality is that for many visitors their lasting memory of Troy will be of the replica wooden horse designed to stand near the entrance in 1975 by artist İzzet Senemoğlu, which tends to go down a treat with children and their parents.
A much-needed museum for Troy is on the cards but yet to materialize.
For most visitors, Troy is as much as they see of the Biga Peninsula, the area known more romantically in the past as the Troad. However, there are several other minor sites to see in the area, including that of Alexandria Troas, on a hilltop above the small seaside resort of Dalyan. Here, amid olive trees and fields of golden wheat, archaeologists have uncovered the remains of an agora and a temple with more, presumably, to come as they continue their efforts.
Down in Dalyan, colorful fishing boats tie up behind a bust of Atatürk that stands in an enclosure marked out with pieces of old marble column, suggesting perhaps that Dalyan was originally the port for Alexandria Troas. The Blue Guide, however, says that the site was extensively quarried for stone to build the Sultanahmet Camii, amongst other İstanbul edifices, and that these pieces may just have been left behind.
The drive to Dalyan from Geyikli, near Ezine, runs past a number of small beach resorts and through Odunluk, where a huge brick warehouse stands as a reminder of the days when this was the embarkation point for ferries to Bozcaada.
Temple of Apollo Smintheus (Khrysa) and Gülpınar
Just downhill from sleepy, forgotten Gülpınar lie the remains of a much bigger archeological site that is known mainly for the ruins of a temple dedicated to Apollo Smintheus (Lord of the Mice), to which is attached a curious story. Supposedly, an oracle told Cretan sailors to settle where they were attacked by “the sons of the Earth.” Waking to find their equipment gnawed by mice, they interpreted this as a sign to build the new city of Khrysa here. Even without the story, Khrysa would be worth visiting to see the extensive ruins spread out over a pretty, tree-shaded site. But, sadly, it’s not a very welcoming place. It’s bad enough that almost all the inscriptions on the site are boarded up, but the most important finds here, the friezes from the temple that include the earliest known representation of the Trojan War, are kept locked up and can only be seen in July and August, when the archaeologists are at work, despite the presence of a custodian.
Beyond Gülpınar lies Babakale, said to be the most easterly point in Asia, where a small fishing harbor is dominated by the austere remains of a huge castle, supposedly built by prisoners on the instructions of Sultan Ahmed III after he took refuge here from a storm and learnt how dreadfully the locals suffered from piracy. Built in the 1720s, it was the last hurrah of the Ottomans, who never attempted another castle afterwards. Today, there’s little to see inside the walls, so instead you might want to grab a fish lunch in one of the three restaurants overlooking the harbor. Afterwards, a quick stroll behind them will bring you to a small shop owned by one of Turkey’s last hand-makers of knives. The mosque was built in 1725, at the same time as the castle.
WHERE TO STAY
Most visitors to Troy stay in Çanakkale, which has accommodations to suit all budgets. On the weekends, when Çanakkale is crammed to capacity, staying in Troy could make a pleasant alternative.
hotel Hisarlık, Troy. Tel: 0286-283 0026
Hotel Sunset Troia, Dalyan. Tel: 0286-658 8585
Karayel Hotel, Babakale. Tel: 0286-747 0497
Otel Denizhan, Babakale. Tel: 0286-747 0102
Tashkonak Hotel, Odunluk. Tel: 0286-658 8800
Uran Hotel, Babakale. Tel: 0286-747 0218
Varol Pansiyon, Troy. Tel: 0286-283 0828
HOW TO GET THERE
Dolmuşes to Troy leave from Çanakkale’s minibus terminal opposite the big Friday marketplace. To get to Alexandria Troas, take a bus to Ezine, then a dolmuş to Dalyan from Ezine bus station. Dolmuşes to Gülpınar run from Ezine and Behramkale/Assos. Onward connections to Babakale from Gülpınar are few and far between.