Troy

archaeological site of Troy, Turkey

archaeological site of Troy, Turkey

The archaeological site of Troy is located in western Turkey near the convergence of the Aegean Sea and the Dardanelles (ancient Hellespont), the strait that connects the Aegean to the Bosphorus and the Black Sea, a strategic location valuable to whomever controls it.

Excavations have revealed 9 main layers of settlement going back 5 thousand years. The Troy immortalized by Homer in the Iliad, which tells the story of the final months of a 10 year siege of Troy by a coalition of Greek states, has been placed in layer VIIa, dated to around 1250 BCE. Scholars generally agree that the Iliad is a fictionalized, mythologized account of an actual conflict, but that the war was most likely over control of the Hellespont and trade access to the Black Sea, rather than the abduction of Helen, the queen of Sparta, as Homer tells it.

Factual or not, the Iliad is full of very human characters and dramatic force that are embedded in the foundation of Western culture and still compelling 3000 years later. Troy is one of the most visited archaeological sites in the world, not because of a 3000 year old dispute over territory, but because of the mythical proportions of the characters and events placed there by Homer.

So, that’s what we’re looking at in this post and the previous post, the story of Troy, the people (both mortal and immortal) and relationships that continue to give it life even now, when it physically bears little resemblance to its actual or imaginary self.

When we left off in the last post, the assembled Greek warriors had just set sail for Troy, having purchased good winds with the life of Agamemnon’s daughter Iphigenia. They’re headed to get Helen, wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta, back from Paris, prince of Troy, who took her.

Paris was exceptionally good-looking but not particularly courageous. What made him think he could get away with stealing the wife of a king? Aphrodite, goddess of love, that’s what, or who. I don’t mean in a metaphorical “love will find a way” sense but in a literal sense, at least as literal as it gets in the realm of myth and legend. Here’s the story: Eris, the goddess of discord, was bitter because she was not invited to the wedding party of the hero Peleus and the sea-nymph Thetis. Eris was a troublemaker by nature. She took her revenge by tossing a golden apple into the party inscribed with the words “for the fairest.” The apple was instantly claimed by three goddesses – Hera, Athena and Aphrodite, all very beautiful and vain. None was willing to defer to another, so they took the case to Zeus. Zeus was far too smart to get involved, especially considering one of the goddesses was his wife Hera, so he appointed the unsuspecting mortal Paris as judge. The three goddesses appeared before Paris in a field, where he was tending sheep, and lobbied hard for his vote. Hera promised to make him the king of Europe and Asia. Athena offered to make him a great warrior. Aphrodite vowed to give him the love of the world’s most beautiful woman, Helen of Sparta. You know how that contest ended. Aphrodite was declared the fairest and the fate of Troy was sealed then and there. Not only was Paris about to bring the enmity of Greece down on his city, but the wrath of two goddesses as well. Troy was doomed. But it wouldn’t be a quick and merciful end.

The siege of Troy lasted 10 years. Paris fought for his city but his brother Hector was by far the nobler warrior and man. Considering all the trouble Paris had caused, you can’t blame Hector for being hard on him, which he was, in a brotherly way. Mostly, Hector was busy trying to save the city and his family. Most of Troy called for the return of Helen to Menalaus. Unfortunately, the big softy King Priam supported his son’s desire to keep Helen and treated her as a daughter.

Meanwhile, in the Greek camp Agamemnon and the great warrior Achilles squabbled over Briseis, the queen of a Trojan ally captured in battle, and endanged their cause in the process. Briseis belonged to Achilles and Agamemnon took her, so Achilles refused to fight. He was the Greek’s best warrior and in his absence they lost a lot of ground. After his friend Patroclus was killed by Hector, Achilles returned to the battlefield in a fit of grief, mowing down Trojan soldiers until the river ran red with blood. Eventually he met Hector and killed him.

Greek vase painting of the battle of Hector and Achilles

Greek vase painting of the battle of Hector and Achilles

Greek vase painting of Achilles dragging the body of Hector. photo from www.theoi.com

Greek vase painting of Achilles dragging the body of Hector. photo from http://www.theoi.com

That’s pretty much the end of the Iliad but from other sources we learn about the wooden horse and the sack of Troy. Odysseus, the wily King of Ithaca, devised the plan to hide their best fighters inside a giant wooden horse, leave it at the gates of Troy and sail away. The Trojans fell for this and brought the horse inside. After dark, the hidden Greeks came out of the horse and opened the gates to the entire Greek army, which hadn’t sailed away very far. That was the end of Troy.

replica of the wooden horse, Troy, Turkey

replica or the wooden horse, Troy, Turkey

Greek vase painting of the sack of Troy

Greek vase painting of the sack of Troy

Paris and Hector had been killed on the battle field, along with many other Trojans and allies of Troy, and most of those who survived the siege died in the sack of the city, including King Priam. Agamemnon survived the war and returned to Mycenae only to be killed by his wife Clytemnestra, who hated him for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia. More about that in my previous post. (That family’s tragedy goes on and on.) Menelaus and Helen returned to Sparta.

ruins at Troy, Turkey

ruins at Troy, Turkey

ruins at Troy, Turkey

ruins at Troy, Turkey

 

ruins at Troy, Turkey

ruins at Troy, Turkey

To visit Troy, spend the night in Canakkale, about a 30 minute drive away. Many people find the site disappointing. It does take some imagination, and a good guide, to connect with the history of the place but I wouldn’t miss it, especially if you’re a nerd for the Classics.

Click to see tours that include Troy on our web site.

From Mycenae to Troy

I want to tell the story of Troy, the legendary Troy of Helen and the Trojan War, but first I’ll tell about Mycenae, because it’s important to the back story.

the so-called Mask of Agamemnon funeral mask, found at Mycenae and now in the Archaeological Museum in Athens

the so-called Mask of Agamemnon funeral mask, found at Mycenae and now in the Archaeological Museum in Athens

Mycenae is located in the eastern Peloponnese, about 80 miles from Athens. Some 3500 years ago, it was a powerful presence in the eastern Mediterranean. According to legend, Mycenae was ruled at its peak by Agamemnon, a son of the cursed Atreidae dynasty. He was a deeply flawed character, whose bad decisions perpetuated the kind of bloody family saga the ancient Greeks did so well.

Agamemnon’s ancestor, Tantalus, offended the gods by serving them his own children for dinner and by stealing their famous nectar, ambrosia. Eternal torture for Tantalus was not sufficient punishment for his crimes; his descendants were doomed to lives of violence, betrayal and crushing tragedy.

Agamemnon’s brother was Menelaus. The brothers were married to two sisters, Agamemnon to Clytemnestra and Menelaus to Helen. Yes, that Helen. Before she was Helen of Troy, she was Helen of Sparta, widely considered the world’s most beautiful woman. Helen’s father was the king of Sparta, and when the time came to find her a husband, the royal halls were jammed with suitors. After considering his options, the king decided the least messy way to settle the matter was to draw straws. However, knowing that a few sore losers were inevitable, he first had all suitors vow to support the winner of Helen’s hand if her honor were ever challenged. With that out of the way, straws were drawn. Menelaus won the hand of Helen in marriage and also succeeded his father-in-law as the king of Sparta.

Sometime later, Paris, prince of Troy, visited Sparta, accepted the hospitality of Menelaus, and then ran off with his wife. The real beginning of this story, involving the revenge of a spurned goddess, explains Paris’ audacity, but more about that in my next post. For now, it’s enough to know that Paris either abducted or seduced Helen away to Troy.

ancient pot dipicting the abduction of Helen

ancient pot depicting the abduction of Helen

Agamemnon, the more powerful and aggressive of the Atreus brothers, invoked the oath made by Helen’s suitors, the warrior kings and princes of Greek states, to stand with Menelaus to defend Helen’s honor, and his own. A great war fleet was assembled and set sail, only to get lost and scattered on the way to Troy. Eight years later they reconvened off the coast of Greece and tried to set out again, but the goddess Artemis, who had been offended by Agamemnon, had the ships trapped in the harbor by the wind. With more than 1,000 ships sitting idle, Agamemnon consulted a prophet, who advised him to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to appease Artemis, and so he did. Remember I mentioned Agamemnon’s bad decision-making? Well, in the short run, he got what he was after, sailing conditions favorable to advance his war. In the long run, many chapters and more than a decade down the line, he will pay.

Check back next time for the exciting conclusion!

Today at Mycenae, you can see some impressive royal tombs, cyclopean walls (so called because the stones are so large they must have been placed by the one-eyed giant Cyclopes), the grand Lion Gate, and footprints of a palace and associated buildings. Some of the tombs yielded a trove of golden treasure, including the famous and misnamed Mask of Agamemnon, which dates to an earlier period than the Agamemnon we have come to know. The artifacts are not at Mycenae but at the Archaeological Museum in Athens.

Lion's Gate, Mycenae, Greece

Lion’s Gate, Mycenae, Greece

tholos or beehive tomb, Mycenae, Greece

tholos or beehive tomb, Mycenae, Greece

tholos or beehive tomb interior, Mycenae, Greece

tholos or beehive tomb interior, Mycenae, Greece

fresco in the archaeological museum at Mycenae, Greece

fresco in the archaeological museum at Mycenae, Greece

Mycenae makes an easy day trip from Athens or an essential stop on a longer exploration of the Peloponnese.

Click to see our Greece tours that include Mycenae.

5 More Must-See Sites in Turkey

This post will cover sites outside of Istanbul, which has its own must-see list here.
Click to see the list of our first 5 Must-See Sites in Turkey.

Nemrut Dagi
In the 1st century BCE, in what is today the Adiyaman province of south-central Turkey, the grandiose king of a tiny but rich kingdom built this mortuary temple complex and shrine to the gods 7,000 feet up in the eastern Taurus mountains. Antiochus I was the king and Commagene was the kingdom.

Visit late May-mid October, July-August if you want to be sure to avoid snow (pretty sure). Whenever you go, dress warmly. Travel from Adiyaman (about 2 hours), Kahta (about 1.5 hours), or the village of Karadut (about 30 minutes). Adiyaman and Kahta have more tourist infrastructure but if you can find a spot in Karadut, the proximity to the site is a big plus. The walk from the parking lot to the summit is about 1/3rd of a mile and gets pretty steep towards the end. Donkeys are available if needed. Most people visit at sunrise or sunset for the added drama. I would recommend either (or both!) If you have to choose, pick sunrise. Words can’t begin to convey the sight of the mountains and valleys materializing below and out to the horizon with the rising light, like the world is being created before your eyes. If you’re sharing the sunrise mountain with a crowd, hang around, most people leave within the hour.

What you’ll see in the light of day is a manmade conical peak, which is assumed to be the tomb of Antiochus I, although his body has not been located. Around this, colossal statues of Greek/Persian gods, Antiochus I, and a few lions and eagles. Most of the statues are seated and headless and range from about 25 to 30 feet tall. Heads loll about below, as if to escape the winds up top. Most likely they were toppled by earthquakes. They look pretty content there, gazing out at the view.

Cappadocia above ground: fairy chimneys & rockcut churches
Cappadocia is a region in central Turkey known for surreal sights, rich history and laid-back hospitality. Heavy volcanic activity followed by millions of years of erosion of the soft volcanic ash deposits and the harder layers of basaltic lava which covered them left over a hundred square miles of constantly surprising landscapes, sometimes comical, sometimes stunningly beautiful, often plain weird.

Cappadocia contains many different areas of fantastical rock formations, rock-cut churches and magnificent scenery. Two days is enough time to see the highlights but you could easily spend a week or more, especially if you want to hike or cycle and explore a bit off the beaten path. Here below is a brief overview of the main attractions.

The Goreme Open Air Museum is #1 for quantity and quality of churches in combination with scenic wonders. If you’re short on time, go here first.

About 4 miles to the southwest is the highest point in Cappadocia, the Uchisar Citadel, which is fun to explore, and the Pigeon Valley between Goreme and Uchisar is a beautiful, moderate hike.

About 3.5 miles north of Goreme is Avanos, a pretty town on the Kızılırmak River. Go there to buy the local pottery, which has been the town’s main industry for thousands of years.

Head east about 3 miles off the road to Avanos to find the Zelve Open Air Museum. Zelve consists of three adjoining valleys, where you’ll find cone formations and fairy chimneys, similar to Goreme, but nowhere near as many churches. Zelve gets far fewer tourists and what it lacks in frescos it makes up for in tranquility and open space. Very good trails and signage run through the valleys. When you’re exploring Zelve, think about the people who lived in the rock-cut dwellings right up until 1952.

The Ihlara Valley is a beautiful valley with rock-cut churches and monasteries but none as dramatic or well-preserved as those of Goreme. However, the scenery alone is worth a visit. It’s about 75 miles southwest of Goreme.

Cappadocia underground
There are 40 some underground cities in the Nesehir and Kayseri Provinces of Cappadocia in central Turkey. Some estimates put the number into the hundreds, while others count around 40. My guess is the discrepancy lies in how one defines “city.”
For our purposes, and those of the average tourist, 40 is more than enough. Most are not open to the public anyway, so we’ll focus on two that are: Derinkuyu and Kaymakli.

Extending down 200 feet with 8 levels, Derinkuyu is the deeper of the two cities but Kaymakli has more sprawl. They are connected to each other by tunnels, as are many of the other underground cities.

The cities possibly originated in Hittite times, around 1200 BCE, but were certainly, significantly expanded over the centuries, especially during Roman persecution of Christians in the 2nd and 3rd centuries and again in the 7th century, with the Arab invasions. Really, this part of the world was a superhighway for invaders, and the inhabitants had reason to hide on a regular basis. They got very good at it.

The underground cities were set up to shelter as many as 20,000 for long-term living and include sleeping quarters, kitchens, storehouses, churches, stables and even a winery. Ventilation shafts doubled as wells. Passageways allowed single file movement only, so intruders could be easily picked off one at a time. Giant boulders served as rolling doors that could only be removed from the inside. The doors had small holes in the center, just the size and height to spear the unwelcome in the gut, or thereabouts. For quick and easy access, most above-ground homes had openings to the underground right inside or very near the houses.

For most visitors, it’s enough to see one of the two cities. Each takes about an hour to tour. There’s very little signage, so a guide is highly recommended. Passageways are narrow but allow people of average height to get through with minimal stooping. Lighting is good, but if you’re claustrophobic, you might want to stick to the plentiful and thoroughly satisfying above-ground attractions of Cappadocia.

To get to Cappadocia, there are daily flights from Istanbul to Kayseri, in the heart of the region. Ankara is about a 3-hour drive. Istanbul is about a 10-hour drive.

Dervishes
Sufism is a mystical form of Islam and a Dervish is an ascetic follower of Sufism.

A type of Sema, a Sufi ritual, whirling is most associated with the Mevlevi order of Sufis founded in Konya, Turkey. The Mevlevi Dervishes are followers of the 13th-century mystical poet Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi, better known in the West simply as Rumi. In Muslim countries, he’s more often referred to as Mevlana or Mevlevi, which means “our guide.”

Spinning is done to align mind, body and heart with the fundamental movement of the universe and all it contains. Everything is revolving, from subatomic particles to stars, planets and galaxies. Each element of the ceremony in some way symbolizes the submission of the ego to the oneness of God. The camelhair hat worn by the dervishes represents “the tombstone of the ego.” Dervishes remove their black cloak to begin the ritual, symbolizing spiritual rebirth. The white skirt worn while spinning is the ego’s shroud. Dervishes spin with arms wide, right hand open to heaven and left hand pointed down, forming a channel for God’s blessings to flow to the earth. There are four movements to the Sema, each involving submission of different aspects of self to God.

You can witness the Whirling Dervishes in Konya, where they originated, and in Istanbul. Konya is located in south-central Turkey and makes a good stop when traveling between Cappadocia and the coast. It’s perhaps the country’s most conservative city, very religious, and the site of the Mevlana Mausoleum. The Konya Cultural Center has weekly whirling ceremonies that are open to the public. The timing is changeable, so I won’t commit to anything specific here. In Istanbul, Dervishes are whirling daily at various locations. If you’re going, let us know and we’ll get details.
If you’re lucky enough to attend a whirling Sema, please remember that it is worship and should be treated with the proper respect.

Troy
The archaeological site of Troy is located in western Turkey near the convergence of the Aegean Sea and the Dardanelles (ancient Hellespont), the strait that connects the Aegean to the Bosphorus and the Black Sea, a strategic location valuable to whomever controls it.

Excavations have revealed 9 main layers of settlement going back 5 thousand years. The Troy immortalized by Homer in the Iliad, which tells the story of the final months of a 10 year siege of Troy by a coalition of Greek states, has been placed in layer VIIa, dated to around 1250 BCE. Scholars generally agree that the Iliad is a fictionalized, mythologized account of an actual conflict, but that the war was most likely over control of the Hellespont and trade access to the Black Sea, rather than the abduction of Helen, the queen of Sparta, as Homer tells it.

Factual or not, the Iliad is full of very human characters and dramatic force that are embedded in the foundation of Western culture and still compelling 3000 years later. Troy is one of the most visited archaeological sites in the world, not because of a 3000 year old dispute over territory, but because of the mythical proportions of the characters and events placed there by Homer.

To visit Troy, spend the night in Canakkale, about a 30 minute drive away. Many people find the site disappointing. It does take some imagination, and a good guide, to connect with the history of the place but I wouldn’t miss it, especially if you’re a nerd for the Classics.

Click to see Turkey tours on our web site.

Troy

archaeological site of Troy, Turkey

archaeological site of Troy, Turkey

The archaeological site of Troy is located in western Turkey near the convergence of the Aegean Sea and the Dardanelles (ancient Hellespont), the strait that connects the Aegean to the Bosphorus and the Black Sea, a strategic location valuable to whomever controls it.

Excavations have revealed 9 main layers of settlement going back 5 thousand years. The Troy immortalized by Homer in the Iliad, which tells the story of the final months of a 10 year siege of Troy by a coalition of Greek states, has been placed in layer VIIa, dated to around 1250 BCE. Scholars generally agree that the Iliad is a fictionalized, mythologized account of an actual conflict, but that the war was most likely over control of the Hellespont and trade access to the Black Sea, rather than the abduction of Helen, the queen of Sparta, as Homer tells it.

Factual or not, the Iliad is full of very human characters and dramatic force that are embedded in the foundation of Western culture and still compelling 3000 years later. Troy is one of the most visited archaeological sites in the world, not because of a 3000 year old dispute over territory, but because of the mythical proportions of the characters and events placed there by Homer.

So, that’s what we’re looking at in this post and the previous post, the story of Troy, the people (both mortal and immortal) and relationships that continue to give it life even now, when it physically bears little resemblance to its actual or imaginary self.

When we left off in the last post, the assembled Greek warriors had just set sail for Troy, having purchased good winds with the life of Agamemnon’s daughter Iphigenia. They’re headed to get Helen, wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta, back from Paris, prince of Troy, who took her.

Paris was exceptionally good-looking but not particularly courageous. What made him think he could get away with stealing the wife of a king? Aphrodite, goddess of love, that’s what, or who. I don’t mean in a metaphorical “love will find a way” sense but in a literal sense, at least as literal as it gets in the realm of myth and legend. Here’s the story: Eris, the goddess of discord, was bitter because she was not invited to the wedding party of the hero Peleus and the sea-nymph Thetis. Eris was a troublemaker by nature. She took her revenge by tossing a golden apple into the party inscribed with the words “for the fairest.” The apple was instantly claimed by three goddesses – Hera, Athena and Aphrodite, all very beautiful and vain. None was willing to defer to another, so they took the case to Zeus. Zeus was far too smart to get involved, especially considering one of the goddesses was his wife Hera, so he appointed the unsuspecting mortal Paris as judge. The three goddesses appeared before Paris in a field, where he was tending sheep, and lobbied hard for his vote. Hera promised to make him the king of Europe and Asia. Athena offered to make him a great warrior. Aphrodite vowed to give him the love of the world’s most beautiful woman, Helen of Sparta. You know how that contest ended. Aphrodite was declared the fairest and the fate of Troy was sealed then and there. Not only was Paris about to bring the enmity of Greece down on his city, but the wrath of two goddesses as well. Troy was doomed. But it wouldn’t be a quick and merciful end.

The siege of Troy lasted 10 years. Paris fought for his city but his brother Hector was by far the nobler warrior and man. Considering all the trouble Paris had caused, you can’t blame Hector for being hard on him, which he was, in a brotherly way. Mostly, Hector was busy trying to save the city and his family. Most of Troy called for the return of Helen to Menalaus. Unfortunately, the big softy King Priam supported his son’s desire to keep Helen and treated her as a daughter.

Meanwhile, in the Greek camp Agamemnon and the great warrior Achilles squabbled over Briseis, the queen of a Trojan ally captured in battle, and endanged their cause in the process. Briseis belonged to Achilles and Agamemnon took her, so Achilles refused to fight. He was the Greek’s best warrior and in his absence they lost a lot of ground. After his friend Patroclus was killed by Hector, Achilles returned to the battlefield in a fit of grief, mowing down Trojan soldiers until the river ran red with blood. Eventually he met Hector and killed him.

That’s pretty much the end of the Iliad but from other sources we learn about the Wooden Horse and the sack of Troy. Odysseus, the wily King of Ithaca, devised the plan to hide their best fighters inside a giant wooden horse, leave it at the gates of Troy and sail away. The Trojans fell for this and brought the horse inside. After dark, the hidden Greeks came out of the horse and opened the gates to the entire Greek army, which hadn’t sailed away very far. That was the end of Troy.

Paris and Hector had been killed on the battle field, along with many other Trojans and allies of Troy, and most of those who survived the siege died in the sack of the city, including King Priam. Agamemnon survived the war and returned to Mycenae only to be killed by his wife Clytemnestra, who hated him for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia. More about that in my previous post. (That family’s tragedy goes on and on.) Menelaus and Helen returned to Sparta.

ruins at Troy, Turkey

ruins at Troy, Turkey

ruins at Troy, Turkey

ruins at Troy, Turkey

ruins at Troy, Turkey

ruins at Troy, Turkey

To visit Troy, spend the night in Canakkale, about a 30 minute drive away. Many people find the site disappointing. It does take some imagination, and a good guide, to connect with the history of the place but I wouldn’t miss it, especially if you’re a nerd for the Classics.

Click to see tours that include Troy on our web site.

Who’s a Pretty Birdie? The Amorous Parrot of Tusan

view from Tusan Hotel, Canakkale, Turkey

view from Tusan Hotel, Canakkale, Turkey

About 9 miles outside of Canakkale Turkey, nestled in a pine forest overlooking the Dardanelles Strait, is the Tusan Hotel. For accommodations, it’s nothing fancy, but it’s clean and comfortable with a homey charm. The hotel’s best asset is its position.
The buildings are surrounded by pine trees spaced perfectly to let in plenty of dappled light and nicely framed views of the water while still providing a sense of woodsy shelter. We use the hotel in our Bronze category.

I stayed there a few years ago while escorting a group of travel agents around Turkey. It’s close to Troy, which we visited the following day. After dinner, I played a few games of backgammon with our driver in the sitting room off the lobby. I was the only woman among 5 or 6 men, gathered to watch and comment on the game. After about an hour, I said goodnight and headed off to my room.

In the lobby of the Tusan is a beautiful gray parrot. I stopped to admire him and tell him what a pretty bird he was. He came right over to me and I stuck my finger through the bars of the cage to give him a scratch. To my delight he perched on my finger. Then, to my horror, he began to have his way with my finger, vigorously. ( I won’t use the most descriptive word for what he was doing, as this is meant to be a professional blog, but it rhymes with jump…) I couldn’t get away! People were walking through the lobby and there I stood, the captive of an obscene bird. It felt like a public shaming. I guess I stood like that for five minutes, although it seemed like an eternity, when one of the men who had been watching the backgammon game came to my rescue. He worked at the hotel and was familiar with this bird and his tricks. He lured him off me with some treat that was even more delectable than my finger. I suggested they put a sign on the cage warning fools like me to keep fingers outside.

Image

Yes, we’re talking about you.

To see our Turkey tours, visit http://www.yallatours.com/turkey/.