Archaeological site of Troy

Between myth and historical reality

Address

Tevfikiye Village, Intepe/Çanakkale, Turkey

GPS: 39.958574910975, 26.239428573386

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Troy is in history and in the imagination one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. The ruins of Troy can be found on the hill of Hisarlik, near the entrance to the Dardanelles (or Strait of Gallipoli) – a maritime passage connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. This flourishing city once enjoyed a strategic commercial location between Europe and Asia, northwest of present-day Turkey. It is doubtless one of the most enigmatic and complex places for archaeologists to study in the contemporary era.

The first human occupation of Troy dates to more than 5,000 years ago. Recent studies reveal that nine cities or occupations (Greek, Roman, Ottoman …) would have succeeded each other on several levels of buildings. Each archaeological layer belongs to a distinct historical period, named chronologically from Troy I to Troy IX on 80 metres of strata before the city was abandoned in the Byzantine period. Several wars, earthquakes and fires explain the accumulation of remains, as well as the different periods of occupation of the site of Troy throughout history.

This major site of Greek and Roman mythology was overlooked for a long time before arousing the interest and curiosity of historians, archaeologists, adventurers, and amateur travelers. From the 18th century, many of these explorers set out in search of Homeric Troy based on the ancient stories of Homer (the Iliad and the Odyssey) on ancient Greece and Virgil (the Aeneid). These works and poems evoke a story that still resonates today, namely the legendary Trojan War. It would have occurred around 1300 BC, probably corresponding to level VI or VII-A of the foundations of the lost city. After a relentless siege of 10 years, the Spartan troops from Greece would have finally penetrated the city of Troy with the help of a ruse imagined by a central character of Greek mythology, Ulysses (or Odysseus). The ruse involved hiding the best Greek warriors of Sparta and Achaia (regions corresponding to the current peninsula of the Peloponnese) in a wooden horse given as war booty, as a sign of submission to their enemies (this animal was the sacred symbol of the gods for the city of Troy). By naively bringing this god into their fortified city, the Trojans unwittingly fell into a trap that led to their own destruction. The city was then set alight by the Spartans in the middle of the night. The pile of stones and ancient foundations, still present on the site of Troy, have been studied to only about 20% by archaeologists.

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  • The Megaron (house), the Odeon (theatre), the sanctuary, the ruins of ancient palaces, the towers and gates of the city of Troy, masterpieces of the past
  • The imposing remains of ramparts and fortifications protecting the citadel (some parts of the cyclopean wall are 5 metres thick); the stone and mud brick foundations; the ancient ditch system protecting the lower city for over 2 kilometres
  • The multi-millennial history of Troy, allows one to imagine the grandeur of the place at the time; the Homeric epics and ancient settings of the Iliad in the collective imagination; the different layers of constructions evoking the chronological evolution of the city (from -3500 to the Bronze Age to the 14th century corresponding to the Ottoman period)
  • The replica of the mythical Trojan Horse (accessible to children)
  • The ancient potteries of the Pithos Garden; the tumulus of Dardanos (hiding a funerary tomb) founded in the 5th or 6th century BC
  • The archaeological museum of Çanakkale, 30 kilometres north of Troy, where objects from the Troy excavations can be viewed
  • The Gallipoli peninsula in the north; the island of Bozcaada (Tenedos in Greek) in the south
  • The hikes around Mount Ida (Kaz Dağı)
  • The ancient remains of Neandria (a port city of Alexandria of Troy) south of the archaeological site of Troy, near the town of Ezine
  • The stories of the Trojan War told by Homer were written more than 400 years after the end of this Dantean military siege. A mixture of myths and legends, this episode is undoubtedly the biggest war the world has ever known in the Mediterranean basin. In recent centuries, many hypotheses and controversies have tried to question the location or the very existence of Troy. Recent research has lifted the veil on these questions, although many other mysteries remain. For example, the episode of the Trojan Horse is the subject of many variants and interpretations in different ancient accounts, according to the French archaeologist Amandine Marshall.
  • The conflict of the Trojan War pitted Greek leaders (led by Agamemnon, King of Mycenae) against Priam (King of Troy). According to the legend of Homer, a love affair caused the siege of the city, which had the reputation of being impassable. Paris, the youngest son of King Priam, kidnapped Helen, who was the wife of the King of Sparta (Menelaus, brother of Agamemnon). This event led to the formation of a great Greek coalition to go on an expedition against Troy to take revenge for the suffered affront. Several heroes distinguished themselves in this series of battles, such as the great warriors Hector on the Trojan side and Achilles, who fought like a god on the side of the Greeks.
  • The hill of Hisarlik began to be associated with the legendary site of Troy at the beginning of the 19th century, thanks to the Englishmen Daniel Clarke and John Martin Cripps. Most of the scientists did not believe in this theory, persuaded that this city did not exist and that it was simply the fruit of the imagination of Homer. In 1822, the Scotsman Charles Maclaren was the first to identify and affirm the exact position of ancient Troy at Hisarlik. Sir Charles Thomas Newton (British archaeologist and curator at the British Museum) uncovered the city of Mycenae, the ancient capital of the Homeric kingdom of Agamemnon. From then on, the interest in Troy intensified. Collaborating with the diplomat Frank Calvert, passionate about archaeology, they carried out the first surveys on the hill of Hisarlik. Their research drew to a close when they ran out of funds and resources.
  • Troy was extensively excavated in the 1870s by Heinrich Schliemann, a wealthy and controversial German adventurer. Schliemann was a cultured businessman who had no archaeological expertise but showed unparalleled determination to carry out the first excavations. In his quest for glory, he made a trench that damaged a large part of the site. Moreover, he got his hands on the Trojan treasure that he nicknamed Priam’s Treasure after the mythical King of Troy. The treasure included an important collection of jewels (including two perfectly preserved diadems), as well as gold, silver and bronze coins and objects. He hid the loot in the care of his wife who managed to bring it back to Berlin without the knowledge of the Turkish authorities. In 1945, the treasure was again stolen, this time by Soviet troops during the siege of Berlin in the Second World War. The jewels, coins and objects are now on display in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and is the subject of a major dispute over ownership between Germany, Russia, and Turkey. Recent studies have revealed that Priam’s Treasure does not correspond to the Homeric city but comes from a much earlier period (before 1200 years).
  • The city of Troy would have established close relations with the Hittite Empire, based in Central Anatolia. According to Rüstem Aslan, director of the archaeological site, about 5,000 inhabitants populated the city before its invasion by the Spartans and included a fortified citadel built on the hill of Hisarlik (30 metres high mound surrounded by a wall of 8 to 10 metres high) and a lower city protected by defensive ditches (suggesting a much larger city).
  • Since ancient times, the city of Troy was the object of a pilgrimage dedicated to the mythological heroes of the Trojan War. Temples and sacred altars were built to honour these fighters. Tumuli were erected to cover funeral chambers around the Homeric city, overhanging the Dardanelles. These hills of earth and stone shelter burial tombs or cremation sites attributed to the greatest warriors of the Trojan War (including Patroclus, Hector, Achilles, and Ajax). For several centuries these sanctuaries have hosted rituals and funeral ceremonies of pilgrims until the appearance of Christianity in 333 (ending the cremation of the dead). These places have largely contributed to the birth of the myth around the legendary city of Troy.
  • Excavations have uncovered the presence of a third sanctuary in 2019 in the southern entrance to the ancient city of Troy. Other discoveries (remains of pottery and wooden beams) suggest that the site was occupied by man for longer than historians had previously claimed. A new layer, called Troy 0, would indeed be dated to 5,500 years ago, suggesting that the city was founded around 3,500 BC, several centuries before the construction of the first step pyramids in Egypt. The first foundation of a village on the site of Troy is attributed to King Ilios in the historical region of the Troad and ancient Phrygia (corresponding to ancient Anatolia). At that time, the city was much closer to the sea as evidenced by traces of marine sediments in the soil. This revelation reinforces even more the veracity of the myth of Homeric Troy.
  • The use of a local guide to get the maximum commentary, information and explanations on the historical remains of the city of Troy is highly recommended.
  • If your itinerary takes you through the city of Çanakkale, don’t miss the life-size replica of the Trojan Horse (the one used in the 2004 movie Troy with Brad Pitt). You can also visit the archaeological museum of Çanakkale where artefacts from the archaeological site of Troy are exhibited.
  • The Istanbul Archaeological Museum exhibits many relics from the excavations undertaken by the German Heinrich Schliemann in the 19th century. Its collections of objects testify to the nine periods of occupation of the city (from Troy I to Troy IX) and allow us to better understand or comprehend the history of Troy before visiting to the archaeological site.

Where to eat

  • Doyum Pide ve Kebap Salonu
    (very good kebabs)
  • Yengec Restaurant & Motel
    (seafood)
  • Sevk-Et Steak House
    (varied and generous meat portions)

Where to go

  • Kilitbahir Castle
    (15th-century defensive fortress)
  • Çanakkale Maritime and...
    (testimony of ancient battles)
  • Behramkale
    (historical and vivid)

Where to stay

  • Troia Pension & Camping
    (simple and convenient)
  • EDE Apart Otel
    (family apartments)
  • Hotel des Etrangers
    (charming stopover)