Although by no means Turkey’s most spectacular archeological site, Troy – thanks to Homer – is probably the most celebrated. Known as Truva or Troia in Turkish, the remains of the ancient city lie 30km south of Çanakkale, 5km west of the main road. If you show up without expectations and use your imagination, you may well be impressed. Modern excavation work has greatly clarified the site, so that nonspecialists can now grasp the basic layout and the different settlement periods.
Until 1871 Troy was generally thought to have existed in legend only. The Troad plain, where the ruins lie, was known to be associated with the Troy that Homer wrote about in the Iliad, but all traces of the city had vanished completely. In 1871 Heinrich Schliemann, a successful German/American businessman turned amateur archeologist, obtained permission from the Ottoman government to start digging on a hill called Hisarlık, where earlier excavators had already found the remains of a Classical temple and signs of further, older ruins.
Schliemann’s sloppy trenching work resulted in considerable damage to the site, only rectified by the first professional archeologist to work at Troy, Carl Blegen, who began excavations in 1932. Schliemann was also responsible for removing the so-called Treasure of Priam, a large cache of copper, silver and gold vessels, plus some fine jewellery, which he smuggled to Berlin where it was displayed until 1941. The hoard disappeared during the Red Army’s sacking of the city in May 1945, resurfacing spectacularly in Moscow in 1993: it’s now exhibited in the Pushkin Museum there. Legal wrangles to determine ownership are ongoing between Germany and the Russian Federation – with Turkey putting in a claim too.
Whatever Schliemann’s shortcomings, his unsystematic excavations did uncover nine distinct layers of consecutive urban developments spanning four millennia. The oldest, Troy I, dates to about 3600 BC and was followed by four similar settlements. Either Troy VI or VII is thought to have been the city described by Homer: the former is known to have been destroyed by an earthquake in about 1275 BC, while the latter shows signs of having been wiped out by fire about a quarter of a century later, around the time historians estimate the Trojan War to have taken place. Troy VIII, which thrived from 700 to 300 BC, was a Greek foundation, while much of the final layer of development, Troy IX (300 BC to 300 AD), was built during the heyday of the Roman Empire.
Although there’s no way of proving that the Trojan War did take place, there’s a fair amount of circumstantial evidence suggesting that the city was the scene of some kind of armed conflict, even if it wasn’t the ten-year struggle described in the Iliad. It’s possible that Homer’s epic is based on a number of wars fought between Mycenaean Greeks and the inhabitants of Troy, who were by turns trading partners and commercial rivals.Read More
The site entrance is by the car and coach park. Here and at nearby shops you can buy a map/guide, A Tour of Troia by Dr Manfred Korfmann, the archeologist who, between 1988 and his death in 2005, oversaw the site’s excavation.
Just beyond the gate stands a 1970s reconstruction of the Homeric wooden horse. You can climb a ladder up into the horse’s belly and look out of windows cut into its flanks (which presumably didn’t feature in the original design). A few paces west, the city ruins cloak an outcrop overlooking the Troad plain, which extends about 8km to the sea. A circular trail takes you around the site, with twelve explanatory panels going some way to bringing the ruins to life. Standing on what’s left of the ramparts and looking across the plain, it’s not too difficult to imagine a besieging army, legendary or otherwise, camped below.
Most impressive of the extant remains are the east wall and gate from Troy VI (1700–1275 BC), of which 330m remain, curving around the eastern and southern flanks of the city. The inward-leaning walls, 6m high and over 4m thick, would have been surmounted by an additional brick section. A ramp paved with flat stones from Troy II (2500–2300 BC), which would have led to the citadel entrance, also stands out, as does the nearby partially reconstructed Megaron Building (protected beneath a giant canvas roof) from the same era, the bricks of which were turned a bright red when Troy II was destroyed by fire. Schliemann erroneously used the evidence of this fire to conclude that this had been Homer’s Troy and that the hoard he discovered here made up “Priam’s treasure”.
The most important monument of Greco-Roman Troy VIII-IX, or Ilium, is the Doric temple of Athena, rebuilt by Alexander the Great’s general, Lysimakhos, after Alexander himself had visited the temple and left his armour as a gift. The most famous relief from the temple, depicting Apollo astride four pawing stallions, is now in Berlin. Troy was an important religious centre during Greek and Roman times, and another sanctuary to the Samothracian deities can be seen near the westernmost point of the site, outside the walls. East of this are a Greco-Roman odeion and bouleuterion (council hall).
The ruins of Alexandria Troas, an ancient city founded by Alexander the Great’s general Antigonos I, in 300 BC, lie around 30km south of Troy and 2km south of Dalyan village. Currently being excavated by archeologists from the University of Münster, the site consists of mostly Roman ruins surrounded by 8km of city wall; a sacred way linked it to the Apollo Smintheion sanctuary, while another avenue lined with shops (now uncovered) served the ancient harbour at Dalyan. The modern road roughly bisects the city; just west of this are the site’s most obvious features, including the agora temple, its columns and reliefs set aside for restoration; a huge structure of unknown function; and a partly dug-up odeion with two massive arched entrances. On the other side of the road are a basilica and one of several baths, with clay piping exposed. If the warden is present and you can understand Turkish, a free guided tour is available: if not, you can wander the site at will.