x0x Getting away from it all
Rich in history and pristine beaches, the Biga Peninsula makes for a great
While it might look like a long journey on a map, an easy, interesting and
fun weekend getaway from the ruckus of city life can be had in the
solitude of the Biga Peninsula. Home to the famous cities of Troy and
Assos, the Biga is rich in archaeology and beautiful, pristine beaches,
making it an ideal place for bringing life back into perspective.
The Biga is a 250 kilometer wide peninsula extending from the Dardanelles'
cities of Lapseki and Canakkale in the north to Assos and Kucukkuyu in the
South. The fastest route from Istanbul is west on the TEM through Thrace
to Kesan, and south through the Gelibolu (Gallipoli) Peninsula to Eceabat
or Kilitbahir, where speedy car ferries deliver you to Canakkale.
Troy: Given its strategic position on the strait's right flank, the area
has been of extreme importance throughout the ages, spawning a number of
settlements and cities. The first and most famous site along the rolling
fields south of Canakkale is Troy (Truva). Made famous by Homer's account
of the Trojan War in the Iliad, excavations were undertaken in 1871 by
amateur archaeologist Heinrich Schlieman at a relatively unknown mound at
Hisarlik. After a series of exploratory digs, and a round or two with
Ottoman bureaucracy, Schlieman literary struck gold, as well as copper,
bronze and silver, and uncovered what is known as the "treasures of Priam"
-- in the city which, according to Homer, was laid siege by 100,000 Greeks
in search of Menelaus's wife Helen.
While legend might be legend, ongoing archaeological activities at the
Troy site have uncovered nine distinct and overlapping settlements
spanning 3,600 years. The cities, today referred as Troy I trough Troy IX,
shared similar ways of life. The first human settlement was built on a 16
meter outcropping and surrounded by a 12 meter high stone wall. Artifacts
uncovered place its inhabitants well in the early bronze age, with tools
of cooper, stone and bone, as well as pots shaped by hand without the use
of a potter's wheel. Ten distinct building phases in Troy I have been
identified, the last of which was abruptly brought to an end by a great
The second settlement at Hisarlik was constructed atop the charred ruins
of Troy I and its architecture indicates that much of the previous city's
culture was carried through into Troy II (2500-2300 B.C.). New thicker
city walls and fortified gates were constructed, but were not enough to
keep an unknown warrior nation from eventually razing the settlement.
The survivors dutifully rebuilt Troy. The architecture of Troy III, IV,
and V (2300-1700 B.C.) show little in the way of innovations, with
irregular blocks of houses separated by narrow streets.
Then suddenly things changed. Beginning around 1700 B.C., fortifications
and houses were strengthened and artifacts indicate a quantum leap in
military engineering, masonry and town planning. Such a revolution was
participated in by an influx of Indo-Europeans, most likely related to the
Mycenaean. Troy VI saw the city double, as its strategic importance as
defender of the straits and the chief port for servicing Greek colonies on
the Black Sea increased. It could not fight Mother Nature. However, and in
1250 B.C., most of the settlement crumbled in a violent earthquake.
"Ongoing archaeological activities at the Troy site have uncovered nine
distinct and overlapping settlements spanning 3,600 years. The cities,
today referred as Troy I trough Troy IX."
Some dispute remains as to whether Troy VI or VII was Homer's Troy,
although most investigations favor the latter. As the story goes, in the
13th Century B.C., Helen, the beautiful wife of the Soartan King Menelaus,
was abducted by Paris, son of king Priam of Troy, participating the Trojan
War. Following a decade -- long deadlock, the war was famously brought to
an end when Odysseus ordered the construction of a giant wooden horse.
When the horse, filled with soldiers, was eventually rolled inside Troy's
walls, their attack led to the city's fall to the Achaeans.
Troy rapidly became a Greek settlement (1000-85 B.C.). A religious area
was constructed outside Troy VI's walls, which was used by the Persian
King Xerxes to sacrifice 1000 oxen on his way to conquer Greece. With the
bride to the enemy gods in hand, Xerxes ordered a bridge of ships built
over the Dardanelles. The Greek gods remained royal, however, and the
crossing was destroyed by the waterway's strong current. Later, two new
bridges were built to carry animals and armaments westward.
Alexander the Great is also said to have visited Troy in 334 B.C. and
commissioned the construction of a Temple of Athena, the remnants of which
are still visible today.
Like the rest of the region, Troy IX (85 B.C. - 400 or 600 A.D.) was
slowly Romanized and renamed "Novum Illium" (new Ilion). Since the early
Roman emperors saw themselves as descendants of the Trojans, a great
interest was taken in the Troy's well being, and the city saw an
unparalleled period of expansion. Water pipes and aqueducts were built, as
was a Roman Odeon and bouleuterion (council chamber).
Troy slowly fell into decline under the Byzantines and Ottomans, resulting
in the pile of rubble that exists today.
To aid in discovering Troy's overlapping civilizations yourself, a series
of sophisticated maps dot the site -- courtesy of Daimler -- Chrysler and
the Turkish government. While guides are available, a small book detailing
the site is available for those with a deeper interest. There is plenty of
space for lounging under the site's scattered trees and admiring the view
over "The Troad" -- the flat expanse of land between Troy and the North
Alexandria Troas: About 5 kilometers south of Troy, a small paved road
leads southwest through the quiet countryside towards Kumburun, Geyikli
and Dalyan on the coast. Over the last ten years, a number of vacation
homes have sprung up to take advantage of Biga's beautiful beaches.
Shortly outside Dalyan, at a bend in the road, are the ruins of Alexander
the Great's generals, the site is host to miraculous but decaying 2300
year old arches. The rest of the site is basically strewn with stone
rubble, but the entrance indicates a much more extensive structure below,
on which a German university archeology team is excavating. Thus far, they
have unearthed the remains of a temple, agora, necropolis, city walls and
"Alexander the Great is also said to have visited Troy in 334 B.C. and
commissioned the construction of a Temple of Athena, the remnants of which
are still visible today."
Apollo Smintheion: If you are in the mood to relax, stop off at Kestanbol
Kaplicalari, where a small bathhouse adjacent to a hot spring offers basic
services. About 30 kilometers further south is the small village of
Gulpinar, which hosts the remains of the temple of Apollo Smintheion.
Known in antiquity as Khrysa, the temple was dedicated to Apollo and,
strangely enough, to mice! Legend has it that an oracle advised a group of
Greek colonists to settle where they encountered the "sons of the earth."
One morning, the settlers awoke to find their camp overrun with the little
furry rodents, prompting them to settle down and build a temple to "The
Lord of the Mice" (Smintheion).
Today, the site is nothing more than a pile of collapsed columns, a few of
which have been reassembled in an attempt to depict the temple's former
glory. A small structure adjacent the site serves as the entrance and a
Assos: For those eager to get onto the beach, continue another 23
kilometers south-east to Assos. Known today as Behramkale, the hilltop
ruins overlook a fantastic view of the Aegean and its islands. Assos was
founded in the 8th Century B.C. by a colony from the nearby island of
Lesbos. The largest single structure is the Doric Temple of Athena, built
in the 6th Century B.C., followed by ruins of a theatre and basilica.
Under the rule of Hermeias, Assos was home to a number of artists and
philosophers, including Aristotle, who was wed to the ruler's niece
Pythia. In 345 B.C., the community was overrun by the Persians, who
summarily extinguished the city's creative flame and tortured Hermeias to
death. Although Alexander the Great eventually pushed the Persians out,
Assos's glory slowly faded. In 55 AD, St. Paul visited Assos to convert
the faithful and link up with St. Luke en route to Lesbos. Under the
Byzantine Empire, Assos shrunk to the size of the village it is today.
There is plenty of modern life in Assos closer to sea, however. First and
foremost, there are a series of well kept, moderately priced stone block
hotels along the harbour that cater to a more mature crowd. Each sports a
seafood restaurant with some of the freshest catch in Turkey. Anytime of
day will do.
Assos is also home to a number of budget hotels and restaurants that cater
to the students and backpackers from all over the world. Regardless your
budget, Assos' seaside nightlife is relaxed and fun and well worth the
trip. For the five-hour return trip to Istanbul, take the main road north
to Ayvacik and north on the E 87 back to Canakkale, where you can retrace
your steps back to Istanbul. While the roads are good, traffic is
notoriously congested in summertime along the TEM's toll booths near
Istanbul, so plan for a bit of a wait. To avoid all of this and cut down
on driving, visitors to the Biga have been known to take the ferry from
Bandirma on the Sea of Marmara to Istanbul, insuring a relaxing weekend
does not end on a polluted note.
This article is taken from Emerging Turkey 2001-2, published by Oxford
Copyright 2001, Turkish Daily News. This article is redistributed with
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