Troy (Turkish: Truva or Troya) is an ancient city in what is now northwestern Turkey, made famous in Homer’s epic poem, the Iliad. According to the Iliad, this is where the legendary Trojan War took place. Today it is an archaeological site popular with travellers from all over the world, and in addition to being a Turkish national park, it is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
While Troy is one of the most famous ancient sites in Turkey (perhaps along with Ephesus), keep your expectations in check upon visiting here. You won’t find the glory of the shiny marble columns common in many other sites of antiquity, but it helps to think of the ruins as a memorial to all the wars that people had to suffer and had the reduction of cities to rubble numerous times throughout the history.
- See also: Ancient Greece
The first city on the site of Troy was Wilusa, founded in the 3rd millennium BC by the Hittites, who were the first indigenous Anatolian people to rise to form a state during the Bronze Age. Situated over the Hisarlık Hill on the northwestern tip of the Troad Peninsula, it was clear that the reason for the city’s existence in the first place was a total control of the Dardanelles, which, along with the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus, is today known as the Turkish Straits, a key route connecting the Mediterranean with the Black Sea, and where the European and Asian landmasses are just a stone’s throw away from each other.
The abduction of Helen, the daughter of the king of Sparta, by Paris, a Trojan prince, sparked enmity between the Trojans and the Achaeans from across the Aegean Sea, or so says the story. Having been unable to break into the defensive walls of the city, the Achaeans decided to set up a trick—they offered a huge wooden horse as a gift to the Trojans, as amends for the bother they caused with their war galleys on the city’s beach. The Trojans accepted the offer sincerely, but this resulted in them losing their city, as inside of the horse were of Achaean soldiers, ready to fight, and now right in the centre of the city.
There was a Trojan War, which probably took place in the 12th century BC, and it was around this time Hittite Wilusa was converted to Hellenic Illion, and later Troia. However, for some reason, all later invaders from all directions, with the notable exception of Alexander the Great (whose officers founded the city of Alexandria Troas on the coast south of Troy), favoured the Bosphorus to the northeast instead of the Dardanelles for their intercontinental crossings. The Roman emperor Constantine I (r. 306-337) agreed as well, founding a new capital for his empire, Constantinople, on the banks of the Bosphorus. As Constantinople flourished, its rival Troy declined, eventually disappearing under layers of dirt.
Since the days of the Byzantine Empire, Troy was thought to be nothing but Homer’s pure imagination, but in 1868, Heinrich Schliemann, a German businessman and a self-proclaimed archaeologist, proved otherwise, after taking the hint that Troy might be a real place buried under the Hisarlık Hill from Frank Calvert, a British archaeologist who visited the site three years earlier. As Schliemann’s excavations were totally amateurish, it damaged the integrity of much of the remains, but Schliemann obtained what he yearned for anyway—his Greek spouse Sophia Schliemann is immortalized in a photo showing her wearing the treasures found at the Hisarlık Hill (part of the treasure was later taken by the Red Army from Berlin to Moscow at the end of World War II).
Although almost a century and a half passed since the days of Schliemann, Troy still hasn’t been unearthed completely, and the excavation works still continue to this day.
Once a harbour city on the edge of a deep bay of the Dardanelles, the site now lies 5 km inland from the coast due to the alluvial material carried by the River Scamander (modern Karamenderes), which filled the bay, turning it into the fertile, flat farmland stretching out to the sea that it is.
In modern Turkish, there is a tendency to shift of the name of the site from Truva, which reflects the pronunciation of the French name of the place (Troie) as that was the language of choice among the Turkish elite up to the 1950s, to Troya, which is closer to the original Greek name, although both can still be heard interchangeably.
The nearest main center is Çanakkale, about 35 km to the north of Troy. There are minibuses that travel to and from the Çanakkale local bus station, which is located under the bridge by the river. The trip takes about 45 minutes.
From Çanakkale, the minibuses are scheduled (as of Jan 2012) to leave every hour starting at 07:00 with the last one at 15:00. To get back, they leave hourly starting at 09:30 with the last one leaving at 17:30. An up to date schedule can be found in the Tourist Information office in Çanakkale near the ferry port.