Saturday, December 16

Visiting Legendary Troy

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Every year thousands of holiday makers in Turkey visit Troy; remarkable when you consider that Troy is only “thought” to be the site of the ancient city that Homer called Ilium and even more remarkable when you find out that it’s a really difficult site for casual visitors to appreciate because what you get is not the remains of one ancient city, but nine, one on top of the other.

For a long time Troy was thought to be the stuff of legend but some historians were convinced that Troy had existed and many excavations were carried out in Turkey looking for proof. The work of one of them, a German archaeologist, Henirich Schliemann forms the basis of what visitors to Troy see now.

Troy is situated on the Aegean coast of Turkey, some 340km from the city of Izmir and roughly the same distance from Istanbul. Many visitors base themselves in Canakkale (from where they also visit the Gallipoli Peninsular) and there are lots of companies offering trips from the town. In addition many people holidaying in the west of Turkey may find their hotel offering trips to Troy. Canakkale is about 30km from Troy.

The small town of Truva is close to the site but has really evolved to service the tourists who visit Troy. There are a couple of small pensions in the town that would be useful for enthusiasts would who like to spend more than just a few hours at Troy. There is a souvenir shop (“I saw the piles of rubble at Troy”) and somewhere to get a drink or a snack.

In 1998 Troy was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site; it was the culmination of years of excavation work not just by Heinrich Schliemann but several notable archaeologists after him.
The story of the Troy that most people will know of is related in Homer’s classic work “The Iliad” and Ilium is the Greek name for Troy. However, Homeric Troy is only the seventh civilization to have built a city on the site. The first one dates back to 3000-2600 BC and the most recent was the Hellenistic city of Ilium in the first century BC.

It is the legend of Homer’s Troy that draws most visitors to the site. The Trojan wars started when Paris (he and Hector were sons of Priam the King of Troy) kidnapped Helen, wife of Menelaus, the King Of Sparta; he said that he had a right to Helen because he had been awarded her by Aphrodite in return for giving the goddess the golden apple (this was awarded to the most beautiful goddess). Menelaus enlisted the help of the Greeks (including Agamemnon, Achilles and Odysseus) to get his wife back.

The ensuing wars lasted ten years. Some of the most famous legends come from the Trojan wars; Hector killing Patroclus, Achilles Killing Hector and the very famous story of how Paris killed Achilles. Achilles’s mother dipped her son in the River Styx to make him invincible, but in doing so, the only part of his body that was not submerged was his heel. Paris knew this and shot him in the heel his most vulnerable point.

After a decade of battles Odysseus came up with the idea of the wooden horse; the idea was that they would leave a wooden horse at the gates of the city, with a message that it was a gift. However, there would be Greek soldiers inside the belly of the horse who would creep out when night fell. The prophetess Cassandra tried to warn the Trojans that something was going to happen but they still gladly accepted the gift and wheeled it into the city. As planned, when it became dark the soldiers crept out and set fire to the city a signal for more soldiers to resume the attack on Troy. The city fell to the Greeks and became Ilium.

It was this period of Troy that Schliemman was interested in. He was convinced that he would find proof that Troy really had existed and was not just fictional. He was a wealthy man and paid a vast sum of money to buy an excavation licence from the Turkish government, and on paying men to do the hard work while he took the credit in 1870 for finding what is thought to be the seventh city of Troy. Sadly Heinrich Schliemann is not the hero he could have been; while many people come to Troy to see the remains, the really interesting finds were taken out of Turkey and are now in the Pushkin Museum in Russia. There has been an ongoing dispute as the Turkish government try to recover the treasures from Troy. Furthermore, Schliemann may have been an archaeologist but he was only interested in Troy VII the Homeric era. So desperate was he to prove that Troy had existed on this site (and perhaps to capture the treasures left behind) that he damaged some of the structures from later eras that might also have been of historic interest. One historian described Troy as ” a ruin of a ruin” because of the brutal way in which Schliemann demolished the parts he was not interested in. It could be argued that Schliemann was just a gold digger rather than an archaeologist.

Entry to the site costs around 6 Euro but admission is usually included in the cost of organised tours. You can visit without a guide but, for reasons that will be evident, I would not recommend it. We visited with Trooper Tours, a company based in Cannakkale.

The first thing you come across is a replica of the Trojan horse that you can go into. Beside this is the Excavations House where the original archaeologists slept and ate. Here there are some useful displays explaining a little about the local geography why Troy was used by successive civilizations and about the nine cities that have been found here. The photographs are now quite faded and it would be nice to see the display updated I am sure that it would be possible to find graphics that would make it easier to visitors to understand the complex remains they are about to see. Around Troy there are signs that briefly explain what each excavation is but they are not very helpful.

What is there to see? Part of the outer walls and fortifications can be seen but aren’t always obvious without a guide. Some things are easier to relate to than others. The Odeon dates from the Roman period and is pretty obvious. It’s a small amphitheatre and our guide suggested we sit there to hear some stories from the Trojan Wars. Another sight which was easy to relate to but perhaps not that thrilling was a ramp from the second city of Troy to this day I have not been able to establish why it is so important. The Troy VI palace is certainly impressive as is the temple attached to it. One thing that people were interested in was the Skaean gate where Hector and Achilles fought their duel (as immortalized in the movie “Troy”). Excavations are still ongoing at the site and you may find one of the archaeologists willing to stop and chat about their work.

With nine cities one site, it can be quite difficult to take in what you are seeing. Some of the deeper trenches have signs put up at various heights indication which period that part dates from.

Overall I was a little disappointed with my experience of Troy, partly because of the tour guide but also because it is such a confusing place to visit. I had also been hoping to see some of the treasures unearthed there but those that aren’t in Russia are housed mainly in museums in Ankara, with a small number displayed in a museum in Canakkale.

Troy is really best for the history buffs, people who can appreciate the timeline and have a bit of knowledge of the periods involved. Even if your children really love the legends and the movies, expecting them to see them made real at Troy is asking too much. It certainly was for me.

The site is quite open and exposed so it’s very hot in summer. Cover up or wear plenty of sun protection; a hat is a good idea. Buy water before you go in as there is nowhere to buy it inside the site. Good walking shoes are recommended some of the paths are quite slippery, even in dry weather.

Yo u can book in advance before arrival or book through most hostels and hotels in Canakkale though they operate from the Yellow Rose Pension

You can reach Troy by dolmus from Canakkale; they run roughly every thirty minutes in summer. However, organised trips will help you understand Troy much better.
Recommended but with reservations


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