The legendary city of Troy is one of the most famous places from the ancient world. Thanks to Homers Iliad, the story of the fall of the city has been retold time and time again since the days of classical Greece. It’s perhaps the most influential story in western civilisation. While the ruins of the city don’t live up to the romantic image of ancient Troy, there popularity today is testament to the importance of myth to humanity. There is also quite a lot to see for anyone with an interest in history and archaeology. Exploring the 5000 year old ruins in this remote, scenic corner of Turkey is a journey through time.
This guide will help you get the most out of visiting Troy. If you can I recommend visiting during the week when it’s quieter.
History of Troy
The first settlement was founded here in the bronze age around 3000BC. It was a mercantile city that quickly grew in power and size due to it’s strategic location on a hill next to the entrance to the Hellespont (Dardanelles). The narrow straits were the only way for boats to pass between the Aegean and the Black seas, thus giving Troy control of the lucrative trade here. By 2500BC the city had grown to include a lower city and an upper citadel, with a kings palace inside the complex. At one point this was incorrectly thought to be Homers Troy.
One of the unusual aspects of Troy is how many different layers of city have been built on top of each other. In total nine separate layers of settlment have been discovered, with several further subdivisions. This is due to the city being periodically destroyed, damaged or abandoned, with a new city built on top of the ruins of the old one each time – now that is what I call efficient recycling, we could learn something from them!
By the time of Troy VI in the 13th century BC, the city was the most powerful in the north Aegean and there is evidence of substitutional trade with the Mycenaeans in Greece. This city was possibly destroyed by an earthquake in 1250BC, but Troy VII was built on-top of it with even stronger fortifications. This is the troy that is widely regarded as Homers Troy. There is evidence to suggest this city was destroyed by war, and subsequently abandoned for many decades. Arrows, slingshots and human remains have all been found in this layer of the city. While Homers Iliad was clearly mostly fiction, it shows it was probably based on a real war between the Mycenaeans and Trojans.
Troy was once again rebuilt, and in subsequent centuries was conquered at various times by the Persians, Greeks and eventually the Romans in 85BC.
Discovery of Troy
Many people thought Troy was just a myth, but archaeologists Frank Calvert and Heinrich Schliemann believed the Iliad was based on real events and that Troy existed. In 1863 Calvert started excavating at Hissarlick (Troy), and became certain it was the legendary city. He convinced the better funded Schlemann that the site was Troy, and in 1870 they teamed up to excavate the site. Some of Schlemanns methods were very destructive, with dynamite used to get to the lower levels! Nevertheless, over the course of four excavation Schliemann uncovered enough evidence to show the site was Homers Troy. The most famous artifacts discovered was a horde of treasure, which he claimed were Priam’s treasure.
Further excavations were carried out throughout the 20th century, and have continued through to the present day. The ruins were declared a world heritage site in 1998.
Exploring the site
The Trojan horse
The most famous part of the Iliad is when the cunning Greeks decided to pretend to surrender, and left a huge wooden horse outside the city walls as a peace offering. We all know what happened next. The authorities here have built a large model of the horse to honour the myth (and boost tourism). It’s very touristy, but climbing inside the horse is a lot of fun. The second story of the horse is quite high up, and gives nice views of parts of the ruins. It also helps bring the myth to life, as you can image Achilles and his men hiding inside the structure waiting for the right time to strike.
Just make sure it’s not too crowded when you climb in.
The main site
The archaeological site has a series of wooden walkways that allow you explore most of the ruins. There are a number of detailed sign boards around the site that explain the history and details of each area. I found this fascinating, as it allows you to follow the development of the city over the course of more than 3000 years. In some cases tour groups made it hard to read the signs in peace though.
The most interesting feature are the remains of the walls, which were 5 metres thick and up to 8 metres high and included several towers – very handy to have if you are besieged for a decade. The walls give nice views of the surrounding countryside, and show what a strategic position the city had. The sea is now three miles away, but it used to come close to the city.
Schilemans trench is easy to spot, as you can see the huge damage he inflicted to the remains. It’s a good job archaeology has moved on since then. There is a small theatre at the ruins too which is the most intact building left. Most impressive from a historical perspective are the 5000 year old ruins of Troy 1. When they were discovered it made Troy the oldest known European city at the time.
A few hundred metres from the main ruins of the city I came across the entrance to an underground tunnel. Unfortunately the tunnel is barred by a metal grid to stop curious explores like me venturing inside. It did make me wonder if this is a tunnel that could have been used by the Trojans during the siege. The nearly 200 metre long tunnel is thought to be a water tunnel, and it was built over 4000 years ago, meaning it would have been in use during the time of the Trojan war. Make sure you check it out when you visit, the area around here is very pleasant and has no other tourists about too.
Museum of Troy
No visit to Troy would be complete without visiting this large new museum. This ultra-modern museum was opened in 2018, and helps to bring the history of Troy to life. The museum has some beautiful artifacts from Troy and the surrounding region, and contains a wealth of information about the history of the site. I’d recommend going here before looking around the ruins, as it will help make sense of what you’re seeing.
Visiting Troy was a fascinating journey through history. It was special visiting a place that has inspired such an enduring, powerful myth. While the site itself is much less impressive that some other ruins in Turkey, the ruins are more extensive than I had imagined. With the help of some background reading and the information provided here, it’s possible to get a good sense of what Troy was like in its heyday. The one drawback of the site is its quite popular with Chinese tour groups now, which makes it busy at times. However, you can avoid the groups if you come early or stay late.
Admission and opening times: 35 Lira for the ruins and 40 for the museum. 8.30am-7.30pm Apr-Oct, 8.30am-5.30pm Nov-Mar
Getting there and away: From Chanakkale you can take a minbus from the local station for 7 lira each way. It takes about 45 minutes.
Accommodation: Chanakkale has some great value budget places. The Anzac hotel was amazing for the price, with the best all you can eat buffet breakfast I’ve ever had included with the price. I paid just £10 a night for a large en-suite room with a king size bed and the delicious breakfast.