The granite quarries of Kestanbol

Granite columns extracted from millennia-old quarries will be your fellow-travelers as you make you way down from the ancient city of Neandrea at the summit of Çığır Dağı, a peak north of Çanakkale.

The sun is about to set. As it has for the last 2800 years, a breeze off the Aegean blows among the granite blocks of the ancient city of Neandrea at the peak of Mt. Çığrı. Particles of dust raised by the wind breach the defense walls and settle atop the time-worn structures of this ancient city. Peace and tranquility reign here, where time seems to have stood still some two and a half millennia ago. Were it not for the walls, it would be difficult believing there was life here once. Everything in sight seems ground down by time’s relentless mill. What is left behind are the ancient city’s water resources. Water, albeit scarce, continues to flow in the fountains, which must be the main reason why a city of this size was founded here in the first place.

I sit on the defense walls gazing down at the plains below. The sun’s last rays are playing over Bozcaada. The granite block on which I’m perched must have been brought here from the ancient quarries on the plain. Mt. Çığrı is granite, too, but there is no sign of a quarry here. The quarries from which the stones were extracted must be quite old since the city dates to the 8th century B.C. The same kind of granite was widely used in the construction of Alexandreia Troas in the Hellenistic period. The importance of these quarries increased when methods of obtaining whole columns were developed during the Late Roman. Due to its mineralogical composition, granite is a very hard stone, more difficult to extract than marble. At the same time it is a stone highly valued for its durability. So much so that some column capitals have been snapped off by the villagers to be used as mill stones. Unfortunately, some of these columns have also been broken up and used as paving stones. If the area hadn’t finally been taken under protection after the importance of the quarries was realized, probably not one column would have been left behind.

The three granite quarries in the Kestanbol area are near the village of Koçali. Seven columns of about ten meters in height and 160 cm in diameter lie in the largest of these quarries. So perfect are these columns that one would think they had been extracted only yesterday and polished using modern machinery. Evidence of how the columns were extracted is still discernible on the rock face. So fresh one has the feeling the workers are on break and will be returning shortly to their task. The stone masons must have expended quite an effort to extract a single piece of granite of such colossal dimensions. Such flawless engineering would be no small feat even with today’s technology.

At first glance the great blocks struck from the bedrock might be thought to have been worked into columns in a corner of the quarry. But closer examination reveals that the masons carved them straight from the bedrock like master sculptors, complete and whole and ready to be shipped to whoever ordered them. Rolled on logs, the columns cut from the quarries were transported to the ancient harbor on the coast and exported from there to lands as far away as Africa. They were used, for example, in several Anatolian cities, most notably Ephesus, in the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria, and even in many Italian cities including Rome. The Vatican Museum, for example, boasts eight of them.
So why did some of the columns remain at the quarry? Or why were they left along the road as they were being transported? Were so many flawlessly worked columns simply abandoned, or did something happen to them? Various alternatives come to mind. One reasonable explanation for example is that they failed to meet specifications, or that the one who ordered them fell into financial straits. But the fact that they have been abandoned randomly either along the road or at the ancient harbor brings to mind the possibility of a sudden flood, or perhaps an earthquake. Perhaps people left the region in a moment of panic, never to return.

As I was contemplating all this, the sun sank and the moon began to illuminate the environs. The island of Bozcaada lay like a dark shadow on the surface of the Aegean. The sea breeze was quite cool now, and much stronger. I realized that I was feeling cold. Leaving the city walls behind me, I began walking. The ancient city was alone once again with the wind, the friend that had stood by it so patiently for thousands of years. First I passed the graves, then the fig trees. All along the road, the shouts of the master builders, their sharp cries, the loading of the massive columns onto ships came alive in my mind like a filmstrip.

If you happen for any reason to go to Çanakkale, don’t come back without seeing these ancient natural monuments. Turn off at the road sign for Alexandreia Troas on the Çanakkale-Geyikli road. Anybody you ask at Uluköy or Koçali will show you to the quarries. If you listen closely, you may even hear the beat of the hammers over the wind’s roar. For somewhere here, in ceaseless yearning, the spirits of the skilled masons who fashioned those flawless columns continue tirelessly to work these magnificent monuments.