A Trip to Troy

Ever since I first heard the stories of the Trojan War, I have yearned to see Troy for myself, and this past spring I was finally able to do so. Friends and relatives warned me over and over: Don’t get your hopes up. It’s just a lot of rocks. You can’t really see anything.

I didn’t care. Even if all that was left was a hill, I would be thrilled to stand on it, looking out over the landscape that Hector himself might have seen. My imagination could do the rest.

Luckily, there turned out to be quite a bit more than a hill, and I took copious photos of all of it. What follows is a sampling of that, which I offer with an important caveat: I am merely an enthusiast, not a trained archaeologist. If you are interested in hearing what an expert has to say about the site, I would recommend this article by the famed archaeologist Manfred Korfmann, who helped put the excavation of Troy on the map. There is also an excellent website for the excavation project itself (Project Troia), which includes an great FAQ about Troy and the Trojan War.

On a side note, Turkey is amazing. Everywhere you go, there is something incredible, from the very ancient to the very modern. I would absolutely recommend it!


This monument to the Trojan Horse was built by the tourism board of Turkey, and is intended to be more fun than historical. As one of my middle-school students pointed out: “The Trojans would never have fallen for that.”

Nevertheless, I could not resist climbing inside it.

My first sight of Troy. Ilios, as the sign says, was a common ancient name for Troy, as was Ilion. In Latin, it became Ilium. Thus, when Marlowe refers to the “topless towers of Ilium,” he means the towers of Troy.

A close-up of the plaque at the entrance to the site. The second name, Wilusa, was the Hittite name for Troy, and is etymologically related to Ilios, which originally had a “w” sound before it and was pronounced Wilios. Scholars have found a number of tantalizing references to Wilusa in ancient Hittite texts, including mention of a king of Wilusa named Alaksandu (Alexander), which is the name often given to Paris in the Iliad.

The first approach to the actual archaeological site. The walls date to Troy VI (the Trojan War era). Note the neat decorative jutting every ten feet or so.

The same wall, from Troy VI. As I understood it, this was part of the external city walls, though it may also have guarded the inner citadel and palace complex. I enjoyed imagining that this was part of the wall Patroclus tried to scale.

This is the site’s tallest point, the remnants of one of Troy’s mighty towers. I am looking towards the Aegean, and if the camera were better, you would see the Dardanelles off to the right. The fields and pasture in front of me used to be beach and plain, where the Greeks would have camped, and the armies fought. As I stood there, a stream of goats went by, followed by the goatherd. One thing that has not changed about Troy since Homer’s time: it is windy! I was glad I brought my heavy coat.

Courtesy of a super zoom camera, the mouth of the Dardanelles, as seen from Troy.

As many people know, Troy was originally discovered by the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann. Unfortunately, Schliemann’s eagerness to find evidence of his ancient heroes (and their buried treasure) compromised his technique. Rather than going layer by layer, he dug straight down through the site, destroying as much as he found. In this picture you can see the scar his excavation left, dubbed “Schliemann’s Trench.”

Another view of Schliemann’s trench. The small white squares with Roman numerals on them mark the different archaeological layers. You can see how jumbled they are, which is why the excavation demands such painstaking care. One of the ongoing problems of the excavation is that in order to get to the earliest layers, you have to disturb all those above them. Schliemann did eventually find some gold jewelry, which he named “Priam’s treasure.” Unfortunately, even if Priam were a real person, the items could never have belonged to him—they were from a layer dating to centuries before the time of the Trojan War.

I am standing on top of what some like to believe is the famous Scaean Gate, referenced by Homer. This would have been one of the main entrances to the interior of the city. Later, the gate was filled in, and if you look closely, you can see the difference in stone work.
N.B., I am not actually standing on the ancient stone—there is a wooden walkway that runs along the top of the wall.

Much of the site remains to be excavated—these are the tops of houses, yet to be uncovered. If you are interested in the latest about the dig, Project Troia has a good news section.
Our guide told us that if the Trojan War was real, and if there really were a Trojan Horse, it might have climbed this ramp, dating from Troy VI/VIIa, to enter the city. That’s a bit too conjectural for my taste, but it made me think of the scene in Vergil’s Aeneid where the Trojans haul the horse inside the city:

“We place wheels beneath the creature’s feet, and fasten chains of rope to its neck. The fatal machine, pregnant with weapons, climbs our walls. The boys and unwed girls sing around it, rejoicing to touch the ropes with their hands. The thing approaches and, towering, slips into the middle of the city. O Fatherland! O Troy, home of the gods!... Four times it stopped on the very threshold of the gate, and four times the weapons inside its belly clanged. But we, unmindful and blind with madness, press on anyway…”
—Vergil, Aeneid II, 235-45

This tunnel is an ancient waterway/drain that ran beneath the city, supposedly dating from the time of the Trojan War. Thanks, flash photography!

A huge earthen-ware pot (though it’s hard to see how big it really is here). Note the clay and mud that it is sitting in—this is from the earliest layers of the city, which were largely mud brick.

More of Troy’s earliest layers. You can see the tent the excavation crew has stretched over these sections. Mud brick is a lot less durable than stone, and once uncovered and exposed to the elements, it will quickly wear away. Our guide told us that these mud bricks aren’t the actual ancient ones, but were added by archaeologists as another layer of protection for the real ones, which are just behind and beneath them.

Delightfully anachronistic merchandise at the gift shop. Note the wall of Trojan Horses behind.