Sunday, October 6, 2013

Visiting Troy

The main reason that we stayed in Canakkale was to make the trek out to the archaeological ruins of Troy. It was something that I'd wanted to do for quite awhile, but I'd skipped it on my original backpacking trip around Turkey because rumor had it that there's not a lot to see. (Consider this sentence from the Lonely Planet Turkey guide: "It has to be said, if it wasn't for the name -- and its legendary associations -- almost nobody would visit this place.") We'd put it off until our last month in Turkey, but it was still something I really, really wanted to do before we moved away, and I'd even read Homer's The Iliad in the spring to prepare. :)

Getting to Troy is a little complicated. We went the do-it-yourself route, using Lonely Planet's advice to take the dolmus (minibus) from the depot under the bridge that spans the river (the bridge is on Ataturk Caddesi, and the depot is on the north side of the bridge -- it's easier to find than it sounds). We stopped by the afternoon before, and the guy told Cagatay that the bus left at 8am. It turned out that wasn't true, and the next morning, the guy denied he'd ever said that (which was weird, considering they're both native Turkish speakers). It was only later that we found a posted bus schedule, hidden the first time by the dolmus -- I'll post a photo of the one that we found mid-July, but I would recommend trying to find it yourself to make sure it's still the same schedule. (Click on the photo to see a larger, more readable version.)

All three signs are the same -- the first column (Cannakale'den) shows the times the dolmus leaves from Canakkale, and the second column (Truvadan) shows the times the dolmus leaves from Troy. The note at the bottom is irrelevant to our purposes. The bus drops you off right at the entry to the archaeological site, so that part's pretty easy.

The only other options for getting to Troy on your own are to rent a car or to pay for a VERY expensive taxi. You could also join a group tour, one that would most likely take in both the Troy ruins and the Gallipoli battlefields -- and while we eventually made it to Troy and everything after that was fine, in retrospect, perhaps we should have gone that route.

Anyway, so we finally made it to Troy, albeit it on a later bus. Troy! It's not Turkey's greatest archaeological site, not by far, but I still thought it was pretty awesome. We bought a guidebook at the official on-site souvenir shop before we started out (Troia/Wilusa guidebook by Manfred O. Korfmann), but it turned out the informational signs at Troy are very good and had the exact same information.

Homer's Troy is thought to be Troy VI, the sixth settlement built on the site. According to a diorama next to the giant Trojan horse in Canakkale, this is what Troy looked like then:

According to the Iliad, the Trojans mostly stayed within their city walls while the Achaeans camped outside, besieging them for 10 long years. Troy was and is located a little bit inland, so when things get going in year 10 in the Iliad, the armies fight on the wide plain between the city and the Achaeans' ships. It's a little hard to envision on the ground, of course, which is why I loved this photo of the ruins of Troy that we saw in Canakkale's archaeological museum:

When we were there, it was a clear day, and from Troy, we could even see across the water to a couple of the Gallipoli monuments, vague and hazy but there. It's one of the things I most love about Turkey, the constant reminder of all the important things that have happened over the ages on this same stretch of land. C'mon, we trampled the same ground as Achilles and Odysseus and Helen! It kinda blows my mind. (Okay, I know what you're thinking, Homer cribbed heavily from other, older legends and his characters were a product of that, but regardless if the likes of Achilles, Odysseus, Helen and the rest actually existed, this area of the world is where these stories were born, and that's still awesome.)

Anyway, so the first thing you see when you get to the archaeological site is, perhaps appropriately, the walls of Troy VI, and thus the walls that defended the Trojans from those pesky Achaeans. There are very few structures remaining at Troy, and it's arguably the most notable:

Then, up and around the bend, you come to the site of Athena's Temple, where there's absolutely nothing left but a few bits of masonry on the ground. But some of the carvings were fun -- we thought one looked like Yoda, another like Lego blocks.

The short version of Troy's history as an archaeological site is that for a long time, most people believed that The Odyssey and The Iliad were not true stories but legends and so didn't think that Troy existed. But in the 1800s (and the late 1700s, for that matter), all things ancient Greek and Roman were in vogue in Western Europe, and so there were some who went in search of Troy anyway, notably German businessman Herman Schliemann, who began working at the site in 1871. 

But Schliemann's methods were roughshod and apparently he was more interested in finding notable artifacts than properly excavating the site. He believed that Homer's Troy was the bottom level of the site and so carelessly dug through the other layers -- the first area he worked in was this 40-meter-wide trench, now called Schliemann's Trench, which ended up exposing a city wall of Troy I, from the Early Bronze Age, plus the foundation of several houses from that period. To be honest, I'm not sure which is which in the photo:

Nearby, Schliemann also found a hoard of gold artifacts (later named Priam's Treasure), and because he found them in a burnt layer next to an impressively large ramp, he believed that he had found Homer's Troy and the famous Scaean Gate. However, it was later established by other archaeologists that these bits belonged to Troy II. According to the guidebook, the treasure was found at the site of the small tree on the left; the ramp is coming up from the right, and the gates would have been at the top. There's a cool 3-D reconstruction comparing the gate from then to now at this University of Cincinnati/University of Tubingen website dedicated to Troy.

There's also a small amphitheater from Troy IX, but probably our biggest highlight after Schliemann's area was meeting one of the local residents:

Probably my biggest disappointment with Troy was that, while the signs mentioned that Schliemann's ramp was NOT the Scaean Gate, nothing ever talked about where it might have been. It's arguably the most recognizable bit of Homer's Troy -- Priam and the other elders of the city watch the battle from there, Priam and Helen bond there, Hector tells Achilles he is fated to die there -- so I decided to make my own guess. The last thing you see as you walk around the archaeological site is the pathway that would have led to Troy VI, which the guidebook says "must have been the main gate in this period." Sounds like the Scaean Gate to me. :)

The last thing you really see is -- or the first thing, depending on how you go about it -- is the wooden Trojan horse, built in 1975 by Izzet Senemoglu. While I preferred to style of Canakkale's horse, this one was much more climbable!

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