Since a very young age, I have wanted to visit the site of the city of Troy made famous in Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey. I can’t recall where I first read about it – possibly in the How and Why Wonder book series from the early 60’s (my favourite was number 5001 on Dinosaurs). On our previous visit to Istanbul in March of 2005, my wife and I focused on the old quarter, Galata, Levant and managed to visit the major attractions as well as hired a taxi to take a visit along the north side of the city to see the remains of the original fortifications that even today are truly impressive. These massive stone and brick walls were originally constructed in 412 AD (!) and spanned 6.5 KM between the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara. For a good over view of the history of the city, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Istanbul , and also check out a few of the photos I took which can be seen at http://www.sandyfamily.com/2005/Istanbul/album.html.
Just before New Year’s, I saw a really cheap fare for travelling from Amsterdam to Istanbul, and decided to take the plunge to see Troy! We arrived at Ataturk airport this past Monday, and stayed at the very nice Empire Hotel, which is a member of the Best Western hotel chain and right at the foot of the Topkapi Palace. The hotel is within easy walking distance of the major things to be seen in the old quarter, has very helpful staff, nice rooms and reasonable prices. Recommended.
While this was our second visit to Istanbul, it was the first for my son, so we spent a day in the city checking out a few of the bigger sites – for me the first place to start in Istanbul is the Hagia Sophia which truly has to be seen to be believed. Originally built in 537 AD under the direction of the Christian Roman Emperor Justinian, it has been pretty much in continuous service since then – till 1453 as a church, as a mosque till 1934 and since then as a museum. While the dome is slightly smaller than that of the Pantheon in Rome, it is still today listed as being the fourth largest cathedral in the world – pretty good for something almost 1,470 years old !. A must see. As well we also checked out the Blue Mosque and the Basilica Cistern and then the Grand Bazaar followed by the Spice Bazaar.
On Wednesday we travelled to Troy – and it needs to be said that unless you are really interested in these sorts of things, to the casual viewer, it at first looks to be just a pile of broken rubble. Making sense of it either requires a guide or some advance reading. It is also worth mentioning that to get there from Istanbul is about 4.5 hours by car over bad roads, and to top it off we had a really bad driver (really poor driving skills, no English, worse attitude), although the vehicle itself was quite comfortable. A few phones calls to the hotel to find someone who spoke the language got him somewhat sorted out, but it made for a long day and should not have been required.
For me, the most striking thing about the Troy site was how compact it was – I’d guess not much more than a soccer pitch in area located on a very pronounced hill which drops away steeply to the north and west sides to the plains below. The surrounding area is quite level with the area to the south and further east developing into rolling hills. The sea is easily visible not very far off to the north and west. Standing on top of the ruins, and with a bit of imagination, one can easily visualise how it must have looked at the time of the Trojan War as described by Homer which is assumed to have been about 1193 BC or roughly 3200 years ago. Of course, as a location Troy was destroyed and then rebuilt many times over and the original settlement is thought to have been established about 3000 BC and occupied more or less continuously through till about 500 AD or so. As a result, there are many Troy’s to be excavated – currently thought to number 9 all together, but with many sub-categories. It should keep archaeologists busy for decades . For additional detail about Troy and the excavations ongoing at the site, please see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troy .
For me, the visit was the perfect birthday present.