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Article: DOÇ. DR. RÜSTEM ASLAN, ARCHAEOLOGIST Photos: MURAT KIRAY
Where archaeology and mythology meet
Fought over for thousands of years and included now on UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage list, Troy continues to inspire artists with its beauty and its history.
Over the millennia the Dardanelles straits have been the scene of countless wars owing to their strategic position between two continents (Europe and Asia) and two seas (the Mediterranean and the Black Sea). From the Trojan War, thought to have taken place in 1180 B.C. and chronicled by the Anatolian epic poet Homer in his immortal Iliad, to the Battle of Gallipoli in the First World War, the purpose has always been the same: to rule East and West by controlling the Dardanelles. These wars, waged to capture the city of Troy with its natural geopolitical dominance over the strait, have been the stuff of epics. Meanwhile the exact location of the city, reduced to ruins over the millennia, was all but forgotten. Since the Middle Ages especially, when the Iliad began to be read again all over Europe, a number of researchers have visited the Çanakkale region and the straits over the centuries to look for the city. These quests finally paid off when a wealthy businessman and admirer of Homer by the name of Heinrich Schliemann paid a visit to the region in 1868 in what can be called a turning point.
The historical research
A merchant, Schliemann had first read the Iliad carefully and reached the conclusion that the city of Troy (aka Ilios) should be sought in a manmade 200x150m mound called Hısarlık south of the Dardanelles (the Hellespont of antiquity). Following an initial sounding in 1870, large-scale excavations were mounted under Schliemann’s direction in 1871-73, 1878, 1879, 1882 and 1890. Schliemann spent a major portion of his personal fortune to finance the proceedings. Following his death, his colleague Wilhelm Dörpfeld conducted excavations in 1893 and 1894, after which date the dig was temporarily halted.
The results of those excavations formed the basis for the investigations that have been carried out up to now in the neighboring regions and Western Anatolia in particular. The finds from the 19th century excavations entered the museums of Istanbul, Athens and Berlin, and copies of the upwards of ten thousand total finds at Berlin were given to 37 university and museum collections for teaching purposes. The most valuable of the pieces in Berlin went missing after the Second World War, and a portion of them were also damaged by fire. Captured as booty by Russian soldiers, the treasury finds dating to 2,500 B.C. and dubbed ‘Priam’s Treasure’ in the archaeological literature were subsequently stored in a depot in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, where a portion of them have been on exhibit since 1995.
Starting in 1988, the area was excavated again by a team headed by Prof. Dr. Manfried Osman Korfmann of Tübingen University until his death in 2005 when the dig was taken over by Prof. Dr. Ernst Pernicka of the same university. A bronze seal first found at Troy and inscribed in the Luwian language, a Western Anatolian dialect of Hittite, clearly established the existence of relations between Troy and the Hittite Empire and proved that Troy was an Anatolian city.
The epic and politics
From the political standpoint, the Trojan War is regarded as a conflict of West against East, Europe against Asia, and vice-versa. Rome acknowledged its roots in Troy from the 3rd century B.C., and the Trojan goddess Venus/Aphrodite, patron saint of Rome, was depicted on coins as a Trojan woman sporting a Phrygian helmet. Mother of the Trojans’ great surviving hero Aeneas who helped him escape to Latium and Italy and settle there as the father of the Romans, Venus/Aphrodite was at the same time the goddess of Caesar. The interest of the Roman emperors in Troy continued unabated. The last important figure to come to Troy mentioned in the historical sources is Mehmet the Conqueror, of whom his chronicler Kritovoulus of Imbros (Turkish Gökçeada) writes:
When he came to the city of Ilion, the center of the ancient Trojan continent attached to Çanakkale, he toured the area and viewed its ruins and ancient monuments; he appreciated its importance on land and sea and, remembering those who praised the epic poet Homer to the skies and the inestimable services they performed, he gave voice to their emotions when he said, ‘To this moment God protected and spared me as the ally of this city and people. We defeated the enemies of the city and, despite the passage of years and ages, we avenged the evils perpetrated so many times against the Asians.’
Owing to the importance of Troy and its environs in the history of culture, both the ruins and the immediate area have been taken under protection by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, with the result that the area in and around Troy was declared the Troy Historical National Park in 1996. Not long afterwards the Troy ruins were also included on UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage list.
It is certain that Troy, which has been a source of inspiration to artists and poets all over the world for thousands of years, is going to continue as such, even more so, in the future and leave its mark on a raft of new works of art.