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11 July 2012

Digging around the Dardanelles - Part two: Troy

Next morning we sailed for Troy. Wow! Just like all those ancient Greeks three thousand years ago that Homer wrote about!

Well, perhaps a vehicle ferry isn't all that romantic
The Dardanelles are 61 kilometers long and between 1.2 and 6 kilometers wide, and are one of the trickiest and busiest waterways in the world. They retain their strategic importance, linking the Mediterranean to the Black Sea.

the foreshore at Eceabat, looking across The Narrows from Europe to Asia.

It's just over a kilometre across the Dardanelles from Eceabat to Çanakkale. It's not as far, and not nearly as pretty as the trip across to Bruny Island from Kettering. Then we had another bus ride.

This is the first thing you see when the bus stops at Troy. 

Oh dear, was my first thought. My second thought, however, was: the story of Troy has been told for about 3,000 years; even people who haven't heard it or read  it know about the Wooden Horse. Over this period there have been countless imaginative recreations, descriptions and illustrations of it – why should this be any better or any worse than the others? So I decided to like it, but I didn't bother climbing the ladder to peer out the windows.
It was created by architect Kadir Izzet Senemoglu on behalf of the Ministry of Culture in 1974. But did they have to paint it Mission Brown, with a gloss finish?

a bit of Trojan plumbing; yes, terracotta water pipes there

The first archaeologist to dig around here at Hisarlik was Frank Calvert, an English diplomat who bought the site in 1865, and was a prominent authority on things Trojan. He thought the missing city could be here, but couldn't get the funding to search for it as academics generally considered the entire story of Troy a literary fiction. When Heinrich Schliemann turned up three years later, Calvert talked him into taking over the excavation.


Treasure Hunt

 Schliemann was more interested in treasure and self-promotion than history, and hired an army of locals to plough a trench through the middle of the hill. If he'd had a backhoe, he would have used that. This is the result:

He did leave a few bits that were too hard to dig through. And he did find his treasure, to everyone's surprise. 

Most of it went off to Berlin and vanished during WWII, but about 1994 officials at the Pushkin Museum in Russia admitted they had quite a lot of it. And no, they aren't giving it back to the Germans. If it belongs to anyone, it would be Turkey, but they'd probably have a hard job getting it back, too. 

Included in the treasure were items from as far afield as Afghanistan and the Baltic, indicating the importance of Troy as a trading city. And this, of course, is why the famous Trojan War began. 

Stories of stolen wives are much more fun, but the cold hard truth is that Troy was in a powerful strategic position controlling important trade routes, and Agamemnon wanted it. His sister-in-law's elopement might have been an excuse for the invasion, but certainly not a reason. 

Sea Change

According to Homer, the Greeks beached their ships at the mouth of the river Karamenderes, or Scamander, which formed a natural harbour 3,000 years ago. Since then the river mouths have silted up and these days Troy is five kilometres inland. 

This is taken from the Temple of Athena, looking towards the Dardanelles. The ancient shoreline was roughly where the trees are at the end of the nearest ploughed field.

there's always an amphitheatre. The wooden stage is a
modern reconstruction
Because of its position, the site was occupied for a long time. Every now and then the buildings there were destroyed by earthquakes, invasions or fire, and a new town was built. There were nine at last count. The final Roman one was established under Augustus (63BCE - 14CE), and extended much further than the area Schliemann excavated. It gradually fell into decline in Byzantine times and eventually vanished from memory. Perhaps it was beginning to cost too much to dredge the harbour?

The world is littered with ancient battlefields, remains of lost civilizations and vast cities, ruined or not, and most have just as exciting a past as Troy. But unless you know the stories they are meaningless. As they say, if it wasn't on TV, it didn't happen. 

Without their legends, Gallipoli is just a picturesque peninsula at the end of the Mediterranean, Mighty Ilium is a pile of stones keeping a few archaeologists amused for a while. 

So let's hear it for the story tellers!

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