Troy: The Ruins of the Legend at the Real Site

Troy: The Ruins of the Legend at the Real Site

During the seven-hour trip by bus from Istanbul to Troy I looked at Turkey s spectacular scenery: wide fields of yellow flowers; followed by hills covered with shades of green, then wide spaces of rose fields until we reached the Strait of the Dardanelles which we crossed on a big ferry boat to the other bank where the city of Cannakale (Cannacale), the nearest to the ancient area of Troy, lies. Though we finally reached the outskirts of Troy, two things prevented us from exploring that historical city, which dates back to the age of Homer who portrayed it in his famous epic poem, and we had to wait until the following morning to see the ruins of Troy, which, but for the stratagem manifested in that big wooden horse sanding at the entrance of that legendary town, nobody would have been able to approach.

At the bus door, the handsome assistant driver told us Troy was a few steps away. We got off the bus to find ourselves on the way , with Troy five kilometres away. My colleague Sulaiman Haidar and I were astonished to discover that we had to walk that distance and I burst into hysterical laughter. We left Istanbul seven hours earlier, passed by many cities and towns, stopped many times, travelled hundreds of kilometres by road and crossed the Adriatic Sea, but instead of reaching Troy we were on the side of the road, as seen in American films. The mood of American films intensified when I found a wooden building on the other side of the road which I thought contained a café and some shops, but when I came nearer I found it completely deserted.

We stood almost hopelessly at the beginning of the road to Troy having been told by the girl who booked the bus tickets from Istanbul that she didn t know the phone number of any taxi firm in the area where we stood. At last we breathed a sigh of relief when a Turkish man with rural features stopped his car and waited to see a relative of his. He kindly agreed to give us a lift to Troy, but after travelling for not more than five kilometres he suddenly stopped in front of a bazaar telling us that was the end of his trip. He tried in Turkish to tell us something, but as we didn t understand anything, the shopkeeper explained that Troy is a national reserve which is open for only a limited number of hours. That was the second surprise. As he pointed out, tourists stay in small motels in that village and visit Troy in the morning. So we spent the night in a small rural house in the village, surrounded by thousands of birds which kept on hovering over us and singing.

We explored the village, which was used as accommodation for farm workers in the fields around, who parked their agricultural tractors in front of small popular cafés to have tea or coffee, with birds singing continuously.

As we approached the ancient city, the famous enormous wooden horse was in the distance.

Days went by, but Troy was still closed ! Ulysses had to think of a stratagem. He suggested that the campaign leaders invite the cleverest carpenters and sculptors to make a large hollow horse where some of the bravest Hellenistic fighters would hide. He would then deceive the fleet that he had sailed with the campaign s soldiers. In the dead of night, the Trojans drew the horse inside their city as a reminder of that all-out, bloody war in which their best youth were killed. In the last watch of the night the hidden champions emerged from within the horse and the army broke into the mighty city, under whose walls people were humiliated and souls perished and buried. Thus wrote Homer telling the story of the Trojan Horse in his famous epic poem the Iliad. But we have to go back a little to understand the story right from the start.

Legendary Troy was a big city ruled by King Priam, and according to Homer, the king s son, Paris, was asked to judge a beauty contest among the Greek goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphorodite. He declared the latter the winner of the contest as she had promised him to marry him to the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris visited Menelaus, the king of Sparta, later, and he fell in love with his wife, Helen, who was known as the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris abducted Helen or she went with him to Troy, which enraged Menelaus, and the Greeks (called Ilium by Homer), vowed to take revenge on Paris and the Trojans. Accordingly, a campaign was launched led by Agamemnon, Menelaus s brother, and included Achilles and Oysseus (Ulysseus in Latin) and others.

The Greeks laid siege to Troy for ten years, but they failed to capture the city which was fortified with huge stone walls. Finally, Odysseus ordered the workers to make an enormous wooden horse in which a number of Greek armed infiltrators were concealed, and the rest of the Greeks feigned retreat, leaving behind the horse standing outside the city walls. As the horse aroused the Trojans curiosity, they drew it inside the city, ignoring the warnings of their diviner. That night the Greek soldiers emerged from within the horse and opened the city gates for the other Greek troops to enter. In this way the Greeks carried out a massacre which the Trojans were the victims of and sacked and burnt the city. Aeneas, Virgil s epic poem hero, and a few Trojans survived the massacre, but Paris was killed and Helen returned to Menelaus.

Between myth and history

Apart from these myths, little is known about Troy s history. Archaeologists say Troy was founded in the early Bronze Age, which started in Asia Minor in about 300 BC. The city is located on a fertile elevated plain north-west Turkey, and was near the southern tip of the strait known today as the Dardanelles. Archaeologists discovered nine cities one beneath another. The second and the sixth cities in particular achieved prosperity, as Trojans were engaged in agriculture, sheep farming and the wool trade. They did business with the Mycenaeans, who lived in Greece and with other peoples along the coast of Asia Minor on the Aegean Sea.

Little is known about the real Trojan War, either. Archaeologists found evidence that the Greeks probably sacked Troy in a campaign similar to the one described in the Iliad, but the motive for this campaign is unknown. Greek scholars believe that Troy fell in about 1184 BC, whereas many archaeologists suggest that the seventh city, which was destroyed in about 250 BC, was the city referred to in classical Greek literature.

The German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann was the first to carry out excavations at Troy after some persons spotted a small heap six kilometres from the Dardanelles which looked similar to the spot described in the Iliad. Schliemann started his excavations in 1870. He found evidence of the presence of a number of cities built at that site over a long period of history. At the end of the excavation area he discovered the ruins of an ancient walled city, imposing buildings and hidden treasures of gold and silver. He mistakenly believed that that city, which he called the second Troy, was the one described by Homer.

In the 1890s, the German archaeologist Wilhelm Durbfeld, a former assistant to Schliemann, conducted other excavations at Troy and was the first to reveal the presence of nine cities found one beneath another at the same site. He believed that city was the same one described in the Iliad. This city, which he called the sixth Troy, was larger than its predecessors, with high walls, large rectangular houses, probably built round a central palace.

In 1932, Carl Plegin, an American archaeologist from Cincinnati University in Ohio, USA, carried out new excavations at Troy which lased for six years, following which he confirmed Durbfeld s results, except that he believed Homeric Troy was the seventh city, saying that the sixth city represented an important stage in its development, but it wasn t Troy as reported in Greek mythology. That period marked the arrival of many immigrants who had cultural characteristics in common with the Mycenaeans in Greece. The sixth city was destroyed by an earthquake in the14th century BC. The next (seventh) city had poorly-built, closely-spaced houses and was less prosperous than the earlier cities, and it was sacked and burnt. Though Plegin believed the seventh city was Homeric Troy, archeologists haven t been able to prove that it was the ancient city.

The Troy site remained deserted from the twelfth to the eighth century BC, except for a small village built by some Greek settlers there, in addition to a city (the ninth) built in the fourth century BC and called Ilium by the Greeks. It existed for about seven centuries and was deserted in about AD 400. It remained hidden until it was uncovered by Schliemann.

The ruins of Troy

Having reviewed the annals of history, we found it appropriate to tour the area to see for ourselves the ruins of that historic city. The first thing we saw was the large wooden horse. Tourists who climb its empty stairs and look through its side openings look very small, as if they were looking through the windows of a high-rise tower. I went inside the horse trying to see how it accommodated the soldiers. As I climbed the stairs hidden in the horse s abdomen I found myself in a huge empty space with some small wooden windows through which the soldiers watched the Trojans. Behind the large horse was a cobbled pathway lined with some roses and shrubs which led to a passage shaded by high, 100-year-old oak trees. Then appeared the ruins of Troy, which the Turkish government designated as a national reserve and heritage site in 1996. The place was previously used by the inhabitants of the surrounding area as a quarry.

As we moved among the ruins of a high stone wall, I imagined how the people and soldiers of Troy took shelter in it from the Spartans who failed to enter the city for ten years. The narrow dusty footpath led us to stairs which we climbed giving a panaromic view of he ruins. From this height King Priam and his army used the wall to repel Greek attacks during the Trojan War about three thousand years ago. As we descended the wall we continued walking between two walls, noting that the left wall was different in shape from the right one, which I knew later that it was a huge sandy base of a Greek temple whose few ruins contain decorated pieces of the wall with inscriptions. According to historical sources, this temple was built in 334 BC by order of Alexander the Great on his passage through the Troy area.

The Blood Spring

We walked further until we reached another set of stairs which we climbed and saw two solid walls at the end of which was a set of solid stones incompatible with the wall stones. Some historical sources suggest that the solid stones were the site of the western gate through which the Trojans drew the large wooden horse and took it to the court of King Priam. But some archaeologists, especially those who look at the legend of the wooden horse as just an epic poem, don t find strong evidence for that. Near that site, or the western gate, we saw a small building believed to be one of the buildings of King Priam s castle, but some archaeologists say it was one of the palace storerooms, as indicated by the pottery jars excavated nearby.

A few steps to the right of the building there are some walls which reflect the character of the Hellinistic period. Some archaeologists suggest that the ruins of the fountain nearby indicate the presence of an old temple which dates back to the pre-Greek period. We saw the remnants of two springs nearby, one of which was called the Blood Spring , and the blood was stored in a hole which leaked it to the spring. The other was an ordinary water spring.

As the area passed through nine stages of building and rebuilding and witnessed successive civilizations the Roman, the Byzantine, etc.- that was clearly seen there. We saw two Roman amphitheatres, one of which was a small round one for music with stone seats forming a platform, believed to go back to the end of the first century BC. Behind that amphitheatre we saw some house walls, in addition to the ruins of a huge old house, some of the columns of which were still erect.

Helen... Love also kills

Without Homer s Iliad, nothing would have been known about the history of that legendary city or Helen, the most beautiful of Troy s women, because of whom that bloody war was waged.

Helen, the fruit of glamorous love, daughter of Zeus, the womanizer and charming Leda, whom the supreme Olympian gold turned into a white swan who walks with a swinging gait along swamps and brooks. This baby girl was the ink with which he signed the declaration of war.

That s how Homer described Helen, for whose sake one of the most famous war in history was waged: Her legendary beauty was painted in the sky and decorated with gold. Her looks feed on the souls of lovers and drink from the water of their lives without being greedy, however countless her lovers are. It wasn t her intention to kill these aggrieved souls, nor is she guilty when her looks kill, as her lowers are killed whenever she looks here and there. That s innocent killing.

Homer described how she was brought up in the home of a prince who married her mother Leda after being forsaken by Zeus, Helen s father, and how she led a life of luxury, not accepting a husband below the level of the king of Sparta. That was before Paris came from Troy as the son of he king of Troy to visit King Menelaus. He fell in love with her and she decided to go with him to Troy, which triggered a ten-year drama ending in entering Troy using a stratagem.

I kept on imagining the location and surroundings of the palace where Helen and Paris lived, I looked at the ruins of the houses where the Trojans lived and the very few signs which show how they were clever at arts and some handicrafts, such as pottery, inscriptions on metal, etc. Most sites, except amphitheatres and the remnants of temples, towers and gates, were obliterated. I was only able to imagine the full shape of Troy when I saw visualized paintings of it looking its best in the Archaeological Museum in Cannakale.

On the road to Cannakale we were accompanied by a bazaar owner who said he went daily to Troy where he rented a small hotel to tourists and sold guidebooks and souvenirs, in addition to fast food and coffee. His parents lived with him; his father was an artist, some of whose works we saw, including an imaginary portrait of Helen. He pointed out that the majority of the inhabitants of the village next to Troy worked in agriculture; some depended on tourism. The following day we saw many implements, pieces of stone statues and tombs and murals in the city of Cannakale, which is adjacent to Troy, and is one of the most important historical cities as it lies on the Dardanelles, which is the closest crossing point between Asia and Europe and commands Athens. There is an archaeological museum which houses all relics of Troy, in addition to many ancient castles and memorials in this small, beautiful coastal city, which is also a major seat of learning in Turkey, being the home of the renowned 18 March University, in which many students from the neighbouring cities are enrolled.

During our first night in Cannakale, and after touring the city, we walked along the coastal road on the Dardanelles in the middle of which is the harbour, out of and into which ferry boats carry passengers and vehicles between the two banks. On this road we saw a number of popular cafés, restaurants, bars and other places frequented by the inhabitants, especially young men and women, as the city is the closest centre of education. Walking along the long waterfront we saw a tremendous wooden horse different from the one in Troy which is greyish, while the former is brownish and is more elaborately made of boards of wood or ship wood and the same size as the latter. We knew later that this horse was the one used in the American film Troy .

Apart from the legend and whether it was real or just a myth, I thought about the stratagem used by the kings of Sparta to capture Troy after ten years of fierce resistance. Why did the Spartan commander Ulysses choose this idea? Why did he expect the Trojans to fall for such a stratagem? When I read about this subject I came to know that the horse was sacred to the Trojans and highly regarded in their heritage and beliefs. That s why they took it as a good omen and even played and danced round it, but they were deceived, as the Spartan navy feigned retreat, and soon afterwards soldiers emerged from within the horse and sacked the city and slaughtered its people, including Prince Paris himself, and took Helen back to Sparta. With a little association of ideas I thought about how religions and sacred beliefs are being exploited today for the benefit of terrorist and extremist groups or to arouse differences among peoples, particularly Muslims. It is as if history repeated itself somehow, and the Trojan Horse were presented to Muslims to kill themselves with their own hands, as the Trojans did in 1884 BC!

The Troy Museum in Cannakale

The following morning we visited the Archaeological Museum, which houses most of the objects excavated in Troy, including stone tombs, some of which date back to the Roman and Hellenistic periods in the second century AD, with a tombstone dedicated to Milnata by Theopolis, son of Diogenes and Quirin. A number of tombs with inscriptions of the dead of royal families are scattered outside the museum, showing Trojans mastery of the art of sculpture and inscribing, in addition to parts of temples and columns which were carried to the museum. Some finely decorated palace and temple column capitals and a great number of big pottery storage jars are found in the museum s external garden. Some jars are also found inside the museum along with a number of statuettes of common anonymous people and royal figures, and a huge marble statue of Emperor Hadrian, who lived in a relatively early period of Troy s history (138-117 BC). The museum houses other sets of statuettes which represent objects sacred to the Trojans, particularly animal heads and statues in the form of lions, in addition to pottery items and handicrafts used in Trojan homes and royal palaces. These were finely decorated in black or gold.

It seems Trojans had a remarkable skill at painting and inscribing on murals, many of which are in the museum, in addition to inscriptions on tomb walls, showing the deceased s head, funerary rites or scenes of his life.

The city of the youth

Having turned the page of Troy, it was time to explore Cannakale, which, though small, has a special character being a coastal city and a centre of education as well, with many fishing boats in its harbour and very many bookshops in its old alleys and streets. Most of the books in these bookshops are in Turkish, with very few English books, as most Turkish youth are not good at foreign languages.

The few youth who went to learn foreign languages to be employed in tourism may travel to London, like Astra Pacara who took intensive courses in English in Britain. She said laughingly: Everybody says they know English but don t speak it. She was astonished, because the youth are required to learn foreign languages since they belong to a country which seeks to join the European Union. When I said I noticed a state of relative freedom with many youth lovers roaming freely in the streets in an almost European manner, she said similingly: Turkish society is conservative in general, and in east Turkey, young girls are still forced by their parents to marry much older men, but things are different in Istanbul and the west, and here in particular most youth come from other cities and so are freer. In addition, arts, particularly folklore, are strongly encouraged here, and government schools hold an annual folkloric dance context, and Cannakale has won once.

Cannakale s nights are filled with the sound of songs coming from nightclubs and discos where local music groups usually perform. As a matter of fact, song and music are very distinctive here, and Turkish TV channels broadcast many beautiful songs which are similar to the ones in Egypt and the Levant, and most male and female singers have a sweet voice. Steet vendors hawk their wares, e.g. famous Turkish sweets or roast chestnuts, in an interesting way.

Because many students live in this city a number of bookshops are found in old buildings in the city centre where literary and critical works are on sale, in addition to best sellers by well-known Turkish writers, such as Nobel laureate Orhan Yamuk and Alifa Shafaq, who lives in Germany now, and is the author of the best-selling book Love , which hasn t been translated into English yet, but is expected to be translated into German shortly, as she is very popular with German readers. These bookshops also stock many books on history, especially Turkey s, and scores of other subjects, but books in foreign languages are surprisingly rare.

As Cannakale is a costal city many fishermen do heir job in the Dardenelles lake, and tens of motorboats are daily docked in the harbour. In addition, many anglers, young and old alike, spend a long time fishing at the waterfront.

Ataturk as well

My conversations with the youth who speak English well whom I met showed how they hold Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his experiment in great esteem and regard him as the founder of modern Turkey. That s why his pictures are displayed almost everywhere in shops, hotels, etc. These are not just slogans imposed by the State s secular approaches, but a general recognition of his achievements. The year 1915 is clearly displayed and illuminaed in red on a hilltop, and can be seen at night from Cannakale s coast.

Colonel Mustafa Kemal became a national hero when he won successive victories and repelled the invaders and was promoted to the rank of general in 1916 at the age of 35. In the same year he liberated two main territories in east Turkey, and in the two following years he commanded a number of Ottoman armies in Palestine, and Aleppo at which he stopped the enemies advance. On 19 May 1919 his troops landed at the Black Sea port of Samsun to start the war of independence. He opposed the Sultan s government in Anatolia and mobilized some forces who formed the base of national struggle under his leadership. In 23 April 1920, the Grand National Assembly was established and Ataturk was elected its president.

It may be appropriate here to give a brief account of the history and importance of the Dardanelles. It is a strait situated between Gallipoli peninsula and the coast of Asia Minor. It is 70 km long, 170-1800m wide and 50-60m deep. Having captured Constantinople, the Ottomans fortified the strait, building castles on both banks to prevent even the strongest navy from attacking it. A 12-gunboat British fleet led by Admiral Ducodth broke into the strait on 20 February 1807, and when he saw the fortifications at Constantinople he retreated suffering heavy damage, and when he reached the Aegean Sea he encountered a Russian navy whose admiral proposed that they unite in attacking the strait and dictate their terms on Turkey, but the British admiral turned down the proposal for fear of danger. Two years later, Britain and Turkey agreed on preventing foreign military ships from navigation through the strait. In 1823 Russia and Turkey agreed on denying the ships of any state which Russia specifies the right of navigation, in return for Russian assistance for the Sublime Porte against the attacks by Ibrahim Pasha, son of Muhammad Ali Pasha, in Anatolia. This agreement caused Britain s grave concerns, and it convinced Russia, Prussia and Austria in 1840, and France later (in 1851) that Turkey had to prevent all ships from passing through the strait. An agreement was signed providing for that in its first two articles. The Paris Treaty (1856) confirmed that and so did the 1871 Treaty. Following Russia s victory over Turkey (1876), the peace treaty gave the former a special right in the strait, which the Berlin Conference cancelled and affirmed the principle of closure. In 1902 Russia asked Turkey to allow the passage of four torpedo boats to join the Black Sea fleet, without carrying any weapons and raising a commercial flag. Porte agreed, but Britain protested as that would set a precedent that Russia would use in the future. In 1904, Russia asked Porte to allow the passage of four ships of the volunteer fleet carrying coal, and Britain protested again, but Porte eventually agreed. This glimpse of the history of the Dardanelles shows how Russia is keen to enjoy the freedom of navigation through this strategic strait to allow its navy to reach the Mediterranean. The Montreux Conference (1937) affirmed Turkey s authority over the strait.

As Cannakale s coast on the strait was the scene of a major battle during World war I, a coastal area 25 km from the city was designated as a cemetery for the Turkish and Axis war dead, in addition to a huge memorial which is frequently visited by the relatives of the victims of the war. Turks also come to remember Ataturk s role in the war, as the space between the cemetery and the memorial is filled with murals and sculpture and an apology from Ataturk to the mothers who lost their sons in the battle of the Dardanelles, in which over 130,000 men (including 86,000 Turks) were killed in an 8-month failed attempt by the Allies to gain a foothold in Turkey and open supply routes for Russia.

In 1934, Ataturk remembered that war and delivered a speech near the memorial which was engraved on Turkey s a memory and written in Turkish and English on a stone platform: To the heroes who sacrificed their lives You now rest in the territory of a friendly country. So rest in peace, as to us there is no difference between Christians and Muslims whose bodies rest side by side in our country. Mothers, who sent your sons to this war from faraway countries, wipe your tears, your sons rest in peace among us, for they became our sons too after losing their lives in this land. The square is also full of statues and models representing scenes from the battles in many of which he appears with his soldiers at different stages of fighting.

He led his armies on many fronts and emerged victorious over his opponents and invaders at two decisive battles at Enunu in western Turkey. The Grand National assembly convened and Mustafa Kemal was appointed chief of staff and promoted to the rank of marshal. On 31 August 1922, the Turkish army fought its final battle and within a few weeks Turkey s main tertitory was completely liberated, following which an armistice was signed and the Ottoman sultanate abolished. For the same reason, there is a military museum in Cannakale which houses many pieces of military equipment used by Turkey during World war I, particularly naval units, gunboats, radar systems, etc.

Finally, it was time to visit a formidable fortress on the opposite bank built by Sultan Muhammad II in the mid-15th century which the Ottomans used in defence of the Dardanelles. Thus, we turned a page in the history of Turkey, which began with the legendary epic of Troy and ended with the Turks contemporary epics which witnessed the final chapters of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the birth of the new republic.


Ibrahim Farghaly


Troy, as visualized by Homer in the studies of German and Turkish archaeologists

A model of the wooden Trojan Horse inspired by the "Iliad”, as visualized by a Turkish artist. It stands at the entrance of the ancient city. It was completed in 1975

Troy witnessed many ages and civilizations, including the Roman civilization, a remnant of which is the "Odeon” amphitheatre

German archaeological excavations uncovered and restored a number of broken jars which were used for carrying water

Ruins of a temple in the seventh Troy influenced by Greek civilization. It is said that Alexander the Great ordered the building of this temple on his passage through the area

From the exhibits of the Archaeologist Museum in Cannakale collected from the Troy area

From the exhibits of the Archaeologist Museum in Cannakale collected from the Troy area

From the exhibits of the Archaeologist Museum in Cannakale collected from the Troy area

The people of Troy were clever at pottery work and inscriptions, as seen in these models which still retain their original colours

Many stone tombs of Troy’s leaders and princes in the Archaeological Museum in Cannakale

Statue of Emperor Hadrian found in the "Odeon” ampitheatre, which dates back to the sixth city of Troy

A panoramic view of the ruins of Troy

Murals and sculptures representing many of Troy’s legends

A visualization of the nine stages which Troy went through from 2500 BC to 500 BC. The big model is a reconstruction of the legend of Troy as described in Homer’s "Iliad”

The city of Cannakale as seen from the ferries which link it with east Turkey

Cannakale Castle, built by Sultan Muhammad II in 1452, played a key role in the Ottomans’ defence of the Dardanelles

Shopkeepers sit sunning themselves by the shore in summer in Cannakala

The famous wooden horse made specially for the American film "Troy”. It was put in this square after the film was shot

The Military Museum in Cannakale houses many remains of the battle of the Dardanelles led by Kemal Ataturk

Cannakale’s National Day (18 March 1915) as displayed on its hills

Like all Turkish cities, there are many mosques across Cannakale

The clock tower in Cannakale, a remnant of Ottoman Turkey

Cannakale city centre still retains its old features and cobbled streets

Bookshops attract students in the 18 March University in Cannakale halls of residence

Memorial of World War I

A diaroma (model) in front of the Memorial representing Mustafa Kemal Ataturk commanding the battle

Part of the huge mural representing the battle of the Dardanelles led by Musafa Kemal Ataturk in which Turkey won an impressive victory

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