Troy: Was there a wooden horse?

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I took a two-day tour covering Gallipoli, Troy and Pergamon with TJ’s Travel Agency. Our first destination on our second day with TJ Travel is visiting Troy.

Our driver Fiko (Fikret Bey) picks us up very early for a full day tour of Troy and Pergamon ending at Kusadasi, near Ephesus. He first takes us through the city of Canakkale. There, in the middle of the city center, is a beautiful 12-ton fiberglass horse standing with pride. It looks real with ropes and nails and bolts. This is the same wooden horse used in the movie “Troy” with Brad Pitt as Achilles. This horse was a gift from Warner Brothers to Canakkale where the real Troy resides within its borders.

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Then we drive to the Troy ruins. We pick up our guide, Mustafa Askin, at the entrance. Mustafa bey is a famous scholar and has published books on Troy and has a website: www.thetroyguide.com

After we pass through the ticket office, we see the small replica of the wooden horse, built in 1975, supposedly to help us imagine (I wonder how with this little replica!) what it looked like during the Trojan war around 1260 BCE. Mustafa Bey gives us time to play around it, It really feels like a prop at a playground. We can climb into the horse and act like we are part of the history. But, this thing can hold only a dozen people!

Trojan Horse at Troy, Canakkale

Trojan Horse at Troy, Canakkale

Troy was built on Hisarlik Hill in Turkey. In ancient times, this hill had been very close to the sea and near the opening of the two rivers into the Aegean Sea. Because of its strategic position, it was destroyed and rebuilt nine times, named Troy I to Troy IX, during its 3500 year history, from 3000 BCE to 500 CE. Troy is another UNESCO World Heritage site, added in 1998.

Main entrance road to the city for the King of TroyMain entrance road to the city for the King of Troy

Amphitheater at Troy

Amphitheater at Troy

Ruins at Troy

Ruins at Troy

Greek inscriptions on the stones at Troy

Greek inscriptions on the stones at Troy

Although it has never been confirmed, historians estimate that the Trojan War took place around 1200 BCE during the Troy VII phase. According to the Greek mythologythe reason for this war between the city of Troy and the Achaeans (Greeks) after Paris abducted Helen who was married to Menelaus, King of Sparta. Why would Paris takes such a risk and take Helen to Troy? Well, at a gathering by Zeus, Eris (the goddess of strife and discord) gives a golden apple marked with “for the fairest” to Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena. And each goddess wanted to be the “fairest”. (Does this story have anything in common with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs?)

Zeus asked the three goddesses to go to Paris and let him choose who was the fairest. Paris chose Aphrodite. In return, Aphrodite made Helen, the most beautiful of all woman, fall in love with Paris. Of course, Menelaus, king of Sparta and his brother Agamemnon, king of Mycenae declared war against Troy after all the diplomatic efforts to get Helen back failed. The war lasted ten years and ended with Achaeans taking over Troy. There were many heroes fighting at this war – Achilles, Odysseus, Nestor, Ajax, and Hector. The gods and goddesses were involved too. While Poseidon, Hera and Athena favored Achaeans, Aphrodite, Artemis, Apollo and Ares favored the Trojans.

The walls of TroyThe walls of Troy

Nine layers of Troy civilization - marked from I through IX

Nine layers of Troy civilization – marked from I through IX

Heinrich Schilemann, a German businessman, discovered Troy in 1871. He was after this mythical site described in the Iliad and finally was convinced about its location. His main goal was to get the treasures. According to Mustafa Bey he had almost plowed through the site, nearly destroying it, trying to reach the so-called treasure. A lot of pieces from Troy were smuggled out of Turkey. The Turkish government is still trying to recover the pieces from museums in Germany and Moscow.

It is believed that only 5% of Troy has been excavated. Due to monetary limitations, the rest is awaiting discovery.  This is true for many sites in Turkey. And, there are many. You can almost say: if you put your finger in the soil, you will either grow a tree or a vegetable, or you discover an ancient city.

Then Mustafa bey tells us several versions of the history about Troy. Many of the stories come from the Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer. The Iliad talks about the Trojan war, while the Odyssey describes Odysseus’ journey returning home after the war. Some of these stories come from mythology. What I liked most were the stories about the Trojan horse. Mustafa Bey says there are three theories around the Trojan horse. The well-known explanation was that Greeks built the horse and acted as though they were leaving it behind. Trojans thought that it was their gift. They brought the horse into the city through their gates. And when night descended, the Greek warriors, hiding inside the horse, opened the gates and let the rest of the Greek army in and conquered Troy.

The second explanation is related to Poseidon. Austrian Prof. Schachermeyr and Turkish Prof. Ekrem Akurgal claim that the wooden horse was built as an offering for Poseidon, the God of the Sea. According to this theory, the city walls around Troy were destroyed by an earthquake. This allowed the Achaeans to attack and conquer the city. To thank Poseidon, the Greeks built a wooden horse as an offering to him.

Michael Wood, in his book “In search of the Trojan war”, which was shown on BBC TV as a series, suggests that the wooden horse might have been built as a battering ram to destroy the walls. This third theory was inspired by an Assyrian relief and seems logical. The walls of Troy were made of two parts: one with a sloping part and the other with a vertical part that was made of mudbrick. Together, these parts made the climbing difficult. Achaean soldiers tried several times to climb the walls but failed. A horse-like battering ram could well have been used against the wall. And last of all, a wooden tank-like horse could have been used as a big shield to approach the walls, or as a moveable tower from which soldiers jumped onto the walls.

If you dig into mythology you will find a lot about the characters in Troy. Edith Hamilton’s Mythology book is a great read and shows how complicated things were. For example, Helen might have been the daughter of Zeus who, disguised as a swan, seduced or raped Helen’s mother Leda. Also, Achilles’ mother, Thetis, dipped him in the River Styx shortly after birth to make him immortal… except his heel, by which she held him, never touched the water. Finally, it was Apollo that saved Aeneas who escapes the massacre and leads his people to Rome. It was these people who were cited as the origins of Romans.

Just one more item:  Alexander the Great visited the tomb of Achilles and other Greek heroes at Troy to pay homage.  Heroes attract heroes!

Life is thriving in Troy

Life is thriving in Troy

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