Assos

Standing like a monolith on the Aegean coast for millennia, Assos never sends visitors away without a memory or two.

My first stroll in Assos was along the ancient way that rises from the port to the temple area. Advancing along this stone-paved road, I exercise my imagination like I’ve never done before, trying desperately to hang on to the words that are racing through my brain, having difficulty forming them into sentences. On this short walk that I repeat every day, I not only bear witness to history; I am also close enough to touch one of the oldest areas of settlement on the Aegean. Located in the village of Behramkale in Çanakkale province’s Ayvacık township, the ancient city of Assos is 234 meters above sea level. And on the ancient city’s extension down to the coast there is a small modern settlement today, made up of restaurants, hotels and houses, all built of the local andesite stone. The very existence of Assos depends on that stone. The Temple of Athena at the highest point of the ancient city also owes its vitality to the splendor of that stone.

SERENITY AEGEAN-STYLE
Besides the ruins of the theater, necropolis, agora, stoa, Byzantine churches, surviving Ottoman mosque and other cultural and natural monuments, everyday life in the village of Behramkale will also give you a taste of the Aegean’s soothing serenity. While the olive oil dishes and fresh fish that you will consume either up in the village or down at the port will address your palate, the sea’s pure waters and the natural beauty of the environment will salve your soul. These are reason enough for you to overlook the cramping in the modern settlement at the bottom of the steep andesite slope and make your way to Assos. The regulars know that there is always enough room for everybody at Assos, which you can visit at any time of year. These regulars of every age, who come from every race, religion and national group, are a major factor in the site’s having been preserved up to now and, compared with its counterparts, having suffered almost no depredation. For they don’t want to see urbanized Assos when they return the following year. So, you won’t be in for any disappointment or unpleasant surprises at Assos. Quite the contrary, it will inspire your imagination and give you peace of mind, and its fresh, uncontaminated foods will allow you to eat your fill with impunity.

ONGOING EXCAVATIONS
The remains of the ancient city of Assos, which was first discovered by the travelers Joseph T. Clarke and Francis H. Bacon, reappeared on the stage of history in 1879.

After having been an undisturbed place of settlement since prehistoric periods, the discovery unfortunately led to looting with the result that some of the artifacts were taken outside the country. As a consequence, the architectural remains and temple friezes of Assos, many of which are still housed at the Louvre in Paris, from the millions of tourists that come here every year. When the report compiled by Bacon and Clarke was well received by the American Archaeological Institute, excavation soon got underway on the site. Readily obtaining the requisite permits from the Ottoman government, the archaelogists got right down to work, and the dig, which did not stop even in winter, continued up to 1883. No further excavations were carried out until Prof. Dr. Ümit Serdaroğlu took over in 1981, and regrettably the site was again looted from time to time by treasure-hunters during this almost 100-year period. Since Serdaroğlu’s death in 2005, Dr. Nurettin Arslan, an Associate Professor at Çanakkale University, has been conducting the excavations, which are focused now on inventory and archival studies in a very small area.

ARISTOTLE WAS HERE
Founded in a geography known in antiquity as the Troas, Assos is frequently mentioned in the ancient sources. Both Homer and the Roman geographer Strabo relate that the Leglegians, an Anatolian people known as navigators and pirates, lived in the vicinity. It is also mentioned that Aristotle spent close to three years in Assos and taught here. Early signs of life dating back to the 3rd millennium B.C. were sustained and developed with migration in the 7th century B.C. from the island of Lesbos (Mytilene), which lies opposite the city only 10 km across the water. In the wake of, first, Lydia, Persia and Seleucus, the city came successively under Roman, Selçuk, Byzantine and finally Ottoman rule. Despite its uneven terrain, difficulty in transporting water from the source, and its unsuitability for either farming or, relatively speaking, even for grazing, it somehow never fell out of favor. Although the people of Assos, who made their living by seafaring and trade, never felt the need to defend themselves from the sea because the coastal strip is so narrow, they did take the precaution of building powerful land walls against a possible attack by land. A naturally sheltered harbor was just one of the reasons Assos became such a popular port.

PROMISING YOU EVERYTHING
If you haven’t been here for a few months, or even a decade, the Assos you will find today won’t surprise you very much. While the outline of the harbor is unchanged, some parts of the ancient city have been cleaned up or restored. Mining, olive production, and the export of sarcophagi, which were among Assos’s livelihoods in ancient times, have been supplanted today by tourism as the city’s chief source of revenue. Despite being small in scale, the tourist establishments, run for the most part by people who have moved here from Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara, will give you good service. Ayvacık weekly market, which you can reach by dolmuş (share-cab), will enable you to sample flavors unique to the Aegean as well as a wide range of local handicrafts. And there are countless other touristic areas within a short distance, Alexandria-Troas, Çanakkale and Ayvalık, to name just a few. And the harbor, while preserving its character with small fishing boats and yachts, also has tour boats on hand to whisk you to the Aegean’s coves at a moment’s notice.

Standing like a monolith on the north Aegean coast, Assos never sends its visitors away without some good memories. If you are looking to relax, Assos can tell you a thing or two. And if your idea is to go to Assos to relax, Assos will be waiting quietly for you in its corner. Last but not least, when the wind comes every evening to visit the goddess Athena, it will caress the stones, enhancing the serenity that permeates them already.