Turkey is so old it’s intimidating. In America, we get excited if something is more than a hundred years old, since we’re fairly new to the whole “independent nation” game, at least relatively speaking. In the United Kingdom or Japan, it takes something being a few centuries old to become impressive. But in Turkey? If it’s not a thousand years old, it’s basically not considered old. (Case in point: the New Mosque in Istanbul? Four hundred years old.)
There are ruins everywhere you look in Turkey, and I do mean that literally. And they’re often presented without fanfare; they’re just another part of everyday Turkey. One of my favorite restaurants in Sultanahment has remnants of five-hundred-year-old structures in its basement. In Pamukkale, you can swim over columns and flagstones that are over two thousand years old. In Selçuk, you can see the last remaining column of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and yet it just stands, without any sort of fence or sign or hullaballoo, in a field. Even when they’re crumbling and decrepit, ruins are as much a part of Turkey as kebabs and the Blue Mosque.
Of the many, many archaeological sites in Turkey, Troy, at nearly five thousand years old, is one of the oldest and most important. Literature and history nerds know it as the site of the Trojan War and the focus of Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid. According to legend, Paris, prince of Troy, spirited away Helen, famed as the most beautiful woman in the world, setting off an epic war that culminated in Troy’s enemies sneaking inside the city walls in a giant wooden horse and sacking the place.
Troy is located on the Asian side of Turkey, just thirty kilometers from Çanakkale, along the Dardanelles Strait. Between its foundation in 3000 BC in the Bronze Age and its abandonment in 500 AD during the time of the Byzantine Empire, it was one of the most powerful and significant cities of the ancient world. The flourishing growth of nearby Constantinople (now Istanbul) proved to be its undoing; as Constantinople became more powerful, Troy faded. Now, it’s one of the most renowned archaeological sites of the modern one.
One of the really fascinating things about Troy is that there’s not just one city buried under all those rocks…there’s nine. Nine Troys, one built on top of the other as the city was razed, burnt, abandoned, and rebuilt over the millennia. The most famous version of Troy is Homer’s, and that’s Troy VII.
For a lot of people, though, Troy is anticlimactic, no matter the history behind it. Many people go expecting to see the sort of grandeur they saw on the silver screen in the Brad Pitt movie or the kind of huge ruins akin to the Parthenon in Greece or the Coliseum in Rome. Compared to those other, well-preserved sites, Troy is barely a shadow. Though much of the city has been excavated, what remains above ground will give you only the most basic idea of what Troy used to be like.
That’s in part to blame for the shoddy work of the archaeologists who first discovered (or rather, uncovered) Troy in the 18070s. Heinrich Schliemann was the man to first break ground on Troy, and his belief that Homer’s Troy was the oldest and, therefore deepest, layer led him to brazenly dig his way through the other layers that lay closer to the surface. Considering that one of the tools he used was dynamite, it really shouldn’t come as any shock that his methods aren’t exactly used as a role model today.
Even so, there’s still plenty to see at Troy, provided you go with the knowledge that you’re not going to be seeing something as grand as the Parthenon or the Pyramids. After all, five thousand years of history, even if there’s only bits and pieces left behind, is nothing to sniff at. (Though an Achilles/Brad Pitt sighting would probably spice things up a bit.)