The Fact and Fiction Surrounding the 4000 Year Old Ancient City

Troy existed more than 4000 years as the center of ancient civilization. For many years, it was commonly believed that Troy was a myth, the product of fertile imaginations such as Homer’s, who made Hector, Helen, Achilles, Paris, Agamemnon and Priam so famous. That changed in 1822, when the city’s remains were discovered by Charles Mclaren. Still many wondered if the Trojan War really happened. Did Helen of Troy exist? Was there a real wooden horse?

Once known as Ilium or New Ilium, Troy (Truva) is located in Hisarlik at Canakkale, in the west of Turkey on the Dardanelles, the strait that divides Europe and Asia as it connects the Agean and Marmara Seas. Here at a place that changed the history of the world during World War I with the Gelibolu Campaign, the remains of Troy can be visited today.

The legend of Troy began with Greek and Latin literature. Homer first mentioned it in the Iliad and Odyssey. Later it became a most popular subject in Greek drama, the city’s tale told to generation after generation.

During the Bronze Age, Troy has a great power because of its strategic location between Europe and Asia. In the 3rd and 2nd millennium BC, it was a major cultural center. However, after the fabled Trojan War, Troy was apparently abandoned from 1100 to 700 BC, when Greek settlers began to occupy the region. Troy was resettled and renamed Ilion. Alexander the Great ruled over the area around the 4th century BC. After the Roman capture of Troy in 85 BC, the city was partially restored by General Sulla. However, once the Romans occupied Constantinople (Istanbul), Troy lost its importance.

Troy was destroyed many times and rebuilt. So far, archaeologists have found nine levels; perhaps others are still hidden. However, efforts to uncover more of Troy’s secrets were severely hampered by the destruction wreaked on the site by German archaeologist Heinrich Schlieman, who excavated the city from 1870 to 1890. His theft of treasure from Troy and his damage to its remains will always be remembered in Turkish archaeological history.


The tale of Troy is most famously told by Homer in the Iliad and Odyssey. It begins with Laemedon, the son of Ilus who founded the city and gave it one of its names, was the king of Troy. Laemedon tried to cheat the gods of their rewards, thereby offending Herakles (Hercules), who sailed to Troy, attacked and captured the city. Laemedon and his sons were killed except the youngest, Podarces, who was released and took a new name, Priam, as the young king of Troy. Under his rule, Troy was restored and he reigned successfully over three generations, while his progeny – 50 sons and 12 daughters – played major roles in the story that would become one of the greatest ever told. Priam’s eldest son was the great warrior Hector, while, another, Paris, became a pivotal element in Troy’s history.

Paris’s impact on Troy began when Eris, goddess of discord, threw down a golden apple “for the fairest” at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. Zeus, king of the gods, could not decide who should be awarded the apple, his wife Hera, Athena (goddess of wisdom) or Aphrodite (goddess of love). The goddesses were led to the Trojan Mount Ida, where the handsome Paris lived, and he was given the task of declaring who was fairest. Vying for his favor, Hera offered Paris the lordship of all Asia; Athena offered him victory in war and wisdom beyond any other man; and Aphrodite offered him the most beautiful woman in the world, whom she declared was Helen of Sparta. Consequently the clever Paris saw a way to avoid choosing among the influential women. He maintained that if the apple was to go “the fairest”, then it should go the Helen.

Helen was married to Meneloas, the brother of the most powerful king on the Greek peninsula, Agamemnon, who was married to Clytemnestra, daughter of Sparta and sister of Helen. Meneloas became king of Lakonia, making the brothers an important force in southern Greece.

Paris went to Sparta to present the apple to Helen. There, Menelaos gave a feast in honor of Paris before departing to visit the king of Knossos. After he left, Paris and Helen decided to run away and sailed to Troy.

When Menelaos heard what happened, he begged his brother Agamemnon to help him take his revenge. The king sent envoys to Troy to demand Helen’s return, but their entreaties were ignored. In response, Menelaos assembled an army, including the great hero warriors Achilles, Odysseus and Ajax, to engage Troy in a war that would last ten years.

In the tenth year, the legendary wooden horse was built as a means to gain access to the city. Well-armed men, among them Odysseus and Menelaos hid in it, while much of Greek army made a great show of withdrawing from Troy’s shores. The Trojans thought the horse had been left behind and pulled it into the city as a spoil of what they considered their victory over their enemy.

That night, there were celebrations throughout the city fueled by the consumption of large quantities of wine on the part of many of the Trojan forces, lulling them into a stupor. After midnight, the Greek soldiers emerged from the horse, killed the already pacified guards at the gates and opened the city to their comrades, who had returned under cover of darkness.

The Greeks entered Troy and killed all of its male inhabitants. The Trojan king Priam was killed on the threshold of his palace, while Paris was killed by Philoktetes. But the remaining Trojans still refused to give Helen up. Menelaos decided to kill her. However, once again confronted by her remarkable beauty he found he could not go through with it. After plundering and burning the city, the Greeks left Troy.

Temple of Athena, Assos (Behramkale)

The acropolis of Assos (Behramkale) is 238 m above sea level. The Temple of Athena was constructed on this site in the 6th century B.C. This Doric temple is being restored to its former glory and role as guardian of the Biga Peninsula and Gulf of Edremit. Linger to see the moonlight scattered through the temple ruins, or rise early for the gently awakening dawn over the acropolis. From the top you can take in the magnificent vista of the Gulf of Edremit and appreciate why this heavenly location was chosen. On the terraces descending to the sea are agoras, gymnasium and theatre. From the northern comer of the acropolis, you can see a mosque, a bridge and a fortress, all built in the 14th century by the Ottoman Sultan Murat 1. Down below lies a tiny and idyllic ancient harbor. Assos has gained the reputation of being the center of a Turkish art community with its lively Bohemian atmosphere.

This may be the holiday you will remember for years to come. In the village of Gulpinar, 25 km west of Behramkale, is the ancient city of Chryse where the 2nd-century B.C. temple of Apollon Smintheus is located. Babakale, a scenic village of houses terraced on a cliff which drops to the sea is 15 km west of Gulpinar on an unmarked road that follows the jagged coastline.

Selimiye Mosque

The town of Biga has given its name to an entire peninsula. It is a town of parks and a good place to see houses built in a traditional style. The closest beaches are at Karabiga, Sahmelek, and Kerner where you will find reasonably priced accommodation. Karabiga was known in ancient times for the god Priapos, and thus has cult and fertility associations is well known for its ceramics and sulphur springs which are thought to be helpful in various disorders of the liver, intestine and urinary tract. Two other hot springs are at nearby Kulculer and Kirazli.

Kaz Dagi (Mt. Ida, 1,774 m) is situated at the southern tip of Canakkale in the beautiful Kaz Dagi National Park and its magnificent landscapes, restful green areas and several hot springs. The main camping facilities are at the northern entrance to the park, via Bayramic and Evciler. In Bayramic, 60 km from Canakkale is the beautiful 18th- century Hadimogullari Mansion (Ottoman House) with its ethnography museum.

On the opposite, northern shore of the Sea of Marmara, is the important commercial harbor ofTekirdag. From both sides of this modem city and its lovely promenades stretch beautiful sandy beaches. A happy mixture of sunflower fields and vineyards cover the surrounding area. The most important architectural monument is the Rustem Pasa Mosque, designed by Sinan and built in 1554 by the Grand Vizier of Suleyman the Magnificent. The Archeology and Ethnography Museum displays an extensive collection of artifacts from the area. TheRakoczy Museum occupies the house where the Hungarian prince, Rakoczy Ferench 11 (1676-1735) lived out the last years of his life after fighting for his people’s liberation. TheNamik Kemal Memorial (1840-1888) honors the birthplace of the Turkish National Poet. Sixty km west of Tekirdag, is the holiday center of Sarkoy and Murefte in a region renowned for wine. Beautiful vineyards cover the entire area, and the city hosts a wine festival every year.

North of Tekirdag on the border between Greece and Turkey, Edirne (Adrianople) was for some years the Ottoman capital, and in the 18th century one of the seven largest cities in Europe. On a verdant plain of poplar trees near the junction of the Tunca and Meric Rivers,this gracefully historic city welcomes visitors as they make their way to Istanbul and other points east. 

The people of Edirne trace their origins back beyond the rule of the Macedonians. The Roman emperor Hadrian rebuilt the city and renamed it Hadrianople after himself. With the division of the Roman Empire, the Byzantines claimed Edirne In 1361, Sultan Murat I added it to his empire. The city’s role for almost 100 years as capital of the Ottoman Empire accounts for its many historically and architecturally important buildings. With its mosques, religious complexes, bridges, bazaars, caravanserais and palaces, Edirne is a living museum.

Meric Bridge, Edirne

The Selimiye Mosque is the city’s focal point occupying the top of a hill. Sinan’s design reflects the classical Ottoman style. Built on the orders of Sultan Selim. 11, (1569-1575) it attests to the technological abilities of the day and the genius of the master Ottoman architect.

The Eski Mosque is the oldest Ottoman structure in Edirne built between 1403 and 1414 by Mehmet 1. The white marble of its portal contrasts with the building’s cut stone and brick masonry. Calligraphic inscriptions of Koranic verses decorate the interior.

The Uc Serefeli Mosque, built between 1438 and 1447 by Murat 1, presages the great period of mosque architecture under Sinan and embodies a new freedom from restraint as well as advances in engineering. The northwest minaret has three galleries, giving the mosque its name. It was the highest minaret until those of the Selimiye Mosque in Istanbul eclipsed it.

Towards the end of the 15th century, Beyazit II commissioned the architect Hayrettin to build him a complex in Edirne to include a mosque, darussifa (hospital), medrese, kitchen and store rooms. The mosque is square and is covered with a high dome. Over 100 domes cover the remainder of the complex. The most important of the other buildings is the Darussifa which stood out in its time as a modem facility with a unique and humane architectural design.

Little has changed in the Kaleici section of Edirne since the Middle Ages. Narrow streets lined with houses wind through the area. The number of small restaurants and cafes reflect the district’s renaissance.

Sinan built several of the famous baths in Edirne including the Sokollu, Tahtakale, Mezit Bey, Beylerbeyi and Gazi Mihal hamams. His work is also seen in the Ahmet Pasa Caravanserai and the Rustem Pasa Caravanserai of 1561. The latter has been renovated and serves as a charming hotel. The old bedesten of the early 15th century still functions as Edirne’s main market. As you drive around the area you will notice many lovely Ottoman bridges gracing the Tunca and Meric Rivers.

Edirne has retained many of its colorful traditions and customs. Every summer, where the Tunca River divides, an emerald green meadow, called the Sarayici is the site of the Kirkpinar Greased Wrestling Contests. Shiny, slippery, bodies grapple with each other to determine who will emerge as champion.


As you walk through the city and peer into the corners of the grocery stores, you see blocks of white feta cheese, a local speciality. Hardaliye, another of the city’s delicacies, is a grape drink mixed with mustard and marzipan. Scented soaps, earthenware pots and straw baskets from Edirne make good souvenirs. You will also find it difficult to resist the beautiful embroidery work of the local women.

The Archeology and Ethnography Museum traces the history of the area from prehistoric to Byzantine times and exhibits clothing from the late Ottoman period. At the Turkish Islamic Art Museum examples of Ottoman architectural details, calligraphy, manuscripts, Korans, weapons, glass, along with an imperial tent used on military campaigns are on display.

On the way to the Saroz Gulf in the Aegean Sea, you can stop at Uzunkopru to see an interesting bridge built by Murat 11 in 1444 which, spans the Ergene River. Its 174 arches, the highest of which is 12.28 m make up its 1,354-meter length. The mild climate and beautiful surroundings of the Saroz Gulf invite holiday makers for a relaxing break. On the northern edge of the gulf are the lovely Ibrice and Erikli beaches where hotel and guest house facilities are plentiful and reasonably priced.

Enez (Ainos) was an important port in ancient times but today it lies 3.5 km. inland. Its origins can be traced to the 12th century B.C. and Enez became an important settlement during the Hellenic, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods. It was first built by the Kyme people and was known as a colony of the western Anatolian civilization. Currently, it remains an open-air museum. Enez Castle has been restored several times throughout history and is well worth a visit. There is also a church dating from the 6th century, some carved tombs and a beach with clear water. The people here are quite hospitable, making Enez an interesting stopover.

The Yildiz (Istranca) Mountains divide the province of Kirklareli. Lush mountainous landscapes dotted with quaint houses transport you to a tranquil frame of mind. The oldest mosque in the city of Kirklareli is the Hizirbey Mosque, built in 1383. The mosque complex includes a bazaar.

Nearby stands a hamam also built under the patronage of Hizir Bey. The l4th century Kirklar Memorial with its 18 impressive columns stands on Kirklar Hill honoring the site where 40 soldiers lost their lives. Every summer, where the Tunca River divides, an emerald green meadow, called the Sarayici is the site of the Kirkpinar Greased Wrestling Contests. Shiny, slippery, bodies grapple with each other to determine who will emerge as champion.

As you walk through the city and peer into the corners of the grocery stores, you see blocks of white feta cheese, a local speciality. Hardaliye, another of the city’s delicacies, is a grape drink mixed with mustard and marzipan. Scented soaps, earthenware pots and straw baskets from Edirne make good souvenirs. You will also find it difficult to resist the beautiful embroidery work of the local women.

Kirkpinar Wrestlers

The Black Sea Coast of Kirklareli is another place to enjoy beaches and good fish restaurants.Igneada, 98 km east of Kirklareli, is squeezed between its sandy shores and the Yildiz Mountains. Kiyikoy (Midye) is resort town with good accommodations and picturesque dwellings from the Middle Ages. The town and its walls date from the Byzantine period. There is also a monastery to St. Nicholas.

The Sokollu Mosque in Luleburgaz, on the Edirne-Istanbul road, is an exquisite work of Sinan that dates from 1570. The neighboring town of Babaeski also boasts a Sinan building in the Cedi Ali Pasa Mosque.

Vize (Byzia), an important Byzantine center, houses the Kucuk Ayasofya church along with a castle, both dating from the Byzantine period.

If you are travelling north to Bulgaria, linger for a few hours at the peaceful and green town of Derekoy, the last stop before the border.

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