Modern day Turkey can rightly lay claim to some of the greatest ancient treasure troves on the planet. The closest archaeological site of note from Istanbul is the ancient city of Troy. Situated by the entrance to the Dardanelles Straits, and in close proximity to Canakkale, many tourists have been lured to Troy on the back of the recent Brad Pitt movie, and its storied past, starting with Homer’s Iliad.
Most Gallipoli-bound Kiwis will have the opportunity to take in a supplementary excursion to Troy, given its handy location to the ANZAC tourist trail. Some visitors come away from Troy somewhat disappointed and underwhelmed. There is no doubt that the excavated ruins of Troy certainly wouldn’t trump “Miss Ephesus” in an archaeological beauty pageant. Much of ancient Troy remains buried and broken by the ravages of time. But, the sheer age of Troy, spanning 4000 years of civilisation, firmly justifies a visit.
Strictly speaking, there was and is no specific city of Troy. Instead, a successive series of ancient settlements rose and fell on the site, that we now call Troy. The ancient site has been studiously classified into nine different settlement periods. Troy I dates back to the Bronze Age, and successive settlements , some more powerful than others, kept Troy firmly on the ancient world map all the way through to 300 AD. It was during the final throes of the Roman Empire period that Troy IX brought down the curtain on the settlement’s long history of continuous inhabitation. Troy ceased to exist; its residents either decamped for greener pastures or were overwhelmed by hostile forces and natural disasters. Earthquakes were, and remain, and ever present threat in this part of the world.
It was during the 13th Century BC, that ancient Troy witnessed its most daring and indelible invasion. The decade-long Trojan War was waged against the powerful trading base by the Greeks, who built a giant wooden horse to deceive and ultimately rout the Trojans. Hence the saying, “ Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” A huge replica horse lords over the entrance to the ancient settlement today. You can climb up and inside the horse and admire the views from the windows on its side. Many history buffs and pedants bristle at this tacky, but wildly popular, installation at the ancient site.
( The Trojan Horse that was used in the shooting of the Brad Pitt “Troy” movie, takes pride of place on the waterfront at Canakkale.) On a more poignant note, every year in August, Turkish school children gather around the main entrance of Troy, to release a white dove from the replica horse, to celebrate peace.
For the best past of 1500 years, the ancient structures around Troy were forgotten about, and nature steadily swallowed up the settlement’s remains. It was during the final years of the Ottoman Empire, that a German archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann, approached the Ottoman rulers in Istanbul, and was granted permission to excavate the site. Schliemann remains a controversial figure, because even though he successfully unearthed ancient Troy, he also looted the site of its ancient jewellery.
During the big dig, he stumbled across a trove of gold and silver jewellery that was believed to be King Priam’s. He ruled the roost at the time of the Trojan War. Schliemann spirited the ancient bling back to his German homeland. They were snatched by the Russians during World War II, and just as Greece is demanding the British return Elgin’s marbles to Athens; the government of Turkey is pleading for Moscow to return King Priam’s jewellery to Troy.
A visit to the ancient ruins is far more rewarding and comprehensible, if you have a guide in toe. In addition to the entry pass, you can hire a guide at the main entrance. For an easy-to-absorb overview of Troy’s storied past, the Excavations House is a great starting point. Beautifully designed models and superimposed artist images, bring to life the shape and style of Troy, over its nine periods of settlement. A circular path weaves you around most of Troy’s excavated sites, with clearly marked signposts, indicating the period age of the ruins, and just what they are. A popular stop is to admire the unearthed ruins of the Palace Complex, from 1300 BC, when the Trojan War broke out. Another eye-pleasing photo stop is at the Roman Odeon, which was built 2000 years ago.
Canakkale is just 30 minutes away from Troy, located on the shores of the Dardanelles, at its narrowest point. Only 1200 metres wide, the strategic slither of water connects Canakkale with the evocative expanse of Gallipoli Peninsula. Passenger ferries criss-cross the water, around the clock. The town has an attractive waterfront promenade, bursting with al fresco cafes, walkers, fishermen and panoramic vistas across the water to Gallipoli.
More Ancient Sites?