Last week, Student Ambassador Ronnais Lloyd shared with us the Ephesus and Pergamon parts of her odyssey around modern day Turkey – read it here! – which ended with this lovely image: we watched the most amazing sunset over the Dardanelles, drinking cocktails . . . moving on, she arrived at Homer’s most famous city –
On our way to Troy, I began explaining the Iliad to my Dad. He had refused to read it before we came, obviously my rhetoric wasn’t up to the standard of Cicero; his previous knowledge included watching the 2004 movie Troy!
Lasting approximately for 5,000 years, Troy is made up of nine major layers – the new citadels built on top of the ruins of the previous. Here are the dates for each layer: Troy I (c.2920 – 2550 BC), Troy II (c.2550 – 2250 BC), Troy III (c.2250 – 2200 BC), Troy IV – V (c.2200 – 1740 BC), Troy VI (c.1740 – 1300 BC), Troy VII (c.1300 – 950 BC), Troy VIII – IX (c.950 BC – 550 AD), home to a Temple of Athene Ilias. It was pretty cool to see the different layers of Troy.
Overlooking Schliemann’s trench, we saw the megara and stone walls from around 2920 BC. With his unconventional excavations, he believed he had found Priam’s treasures but later realised his mistake. In fact, he had unearthed treasures from Troy II. His finds were paramount as it contributed to other evidence that these Trojans learnt the skills of metal workmanship.
Despite the longstanding debate over whether or not the war over Helen did take place, I had way too much fun climbing inside the belly of a massive wooden horse and possibly viewing the place Priam watched Achilles drag Hector’s body around the citadel walls. Priam’s Troy is most likely to be Troy VI, if the war did happen. Evidence to back up this claim is Herodotus’ correlating date of the Trojan War c. 1250 BC, the walls that present themselves as extremely hard to infiltrate (5m wide), and evidence of animal bones especially horses as Homer describes them as ‘horse-taming Trojans’. An alternate theory of the horses is that the Trojans (known as Wilusa at the time) sent chariots and horses to support the Hittites in the Kadesh War – maybe this inspired Homer’s epic.
Near the south gate stood a tower and the “Pillar House” which is one of the largest houses from Troy VI (27m x 12m): it may have even been two-storeys. Mycenaean pottery was found close by indicating that there was economic trade between the two huge powers of the Aegean Sea. An added bonus was watching live excavations of a ramp which is believed to belong to Troy VI but it hasn’t been confirmed yet (you can see the video on Ronnais’ twitter!)
Lasting from the Archaic period through to the Hellenistic period is Troy VIII. In 480 BC Xerxes visited this historical site on his way to conquer Greece, sacrificing 1,000 cattle for Athene of Ilion. Ironically, when Alexander the Great set out to defeat the Persians, he paid homage to Troy, offering sacrificial animals to the tomb of Achilles and complaining there was no bard to sing of his heroic deeds.
A contrasting afternoon lay ahead of us as we headed to the extremely moving war memorials of Gallipoli and then drove on to Istanbul.
Our hotel had a quirky style and brilliant views from the rooftop bar, from seeing Dolphins in the Bosphorus, to the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Theodosian walls. The city was more beautiful than I imagined!
The breath-taking Süleymaniye Mosque was first on our agenda, built by Sinan, in honour of the Sultan and his wife Roxalina, taking 9 years to complete. Influenced by the Hagia Sophia, Sinan made sure the measurements of the dome were slightly smaller, so it would not be able to compete with it. However, it had its own style, as Sinan ensured that the acoustics were perfect, and, to respect Roxalina, a feminine touch was given with brightly coloured orange and white arches and Iznik tiles. The chandeliers hung very low from the high roof with ostrich eggs to keep away the spiders, like the Blue Mosque.
With 4,000 shops the Grand Bazaar is one of the largest covered markets in the world. There were endless stalls of carpets, hand-painted ceramics, Asian stained-glass lights, spices, gold jewellery, and leather. In the antique market, I happily bought a necklace showcasing Hadrian and a bracelet depicting Julius Caesar. Afterwards, we saw the Column of Constantine, where the wood from Jesus’ cross and the Holy Grail are believed to be buried.
Going underground (an awful reference to a song by The Jam), we visited the enormous Basilica Cistern ordered by Justinian, consisting of 336 columns, and able to store 100,000 tonnes of water. One column named the Crying Column appears to have tears because it is wet unlike the others; reports say it may be a memorial to the hundreds of slaves that died whilst constructing the cistern. Furthermore, there are also Medusa heads under two columns, which may have had an apotropaic function.
During our visit to the Hagia Sophia, I was totally gobsmacked. Originally a great church named Megake Ekklesia, it was rebuilt by Theodosius II after a fire and later rebuilt again by Justinian after the Nika Riots. The Ottomans eventually converted it into a mosque. Inside almost everything captured my attention: the craters in the floor where the soldiers repeatedly marched as seen on Professor Scott’s Invisible Istanbul, the dome, the mosaic of Mary, the large Calligraphy, and the Library of Mahmud added by the Ottomans. Decorated by a bronze floral grid, the library is opulent in appearance– approximately 5,000 volumes and two well preserved Qu’ran inside mother of pearl, ivory plated cases were found within the room. Another part I loved was the mosaic of Constantine “equal of the Apostles” and Justinian “of famed memory”, giving gifts of the city and the Hagia Sophia to Mary and baby Jesus.
Although we did visit the Archaeological Museums they were quite disappointing as the majority of the complex was closed due to restoration, but I did still find some amazing objects and the reason I went there, to see the snake head from the Serpentine Column!
When visiting the Blue Mosque, I had to wear an awful thick maroon dress over the top of my current dress because apparently it was too transparent. The architecture and decorative pattern were extraordinary but the same cannot be said about my dress! Anyway, I can now see why it is one of the most magnificent monuments in the world, despite not seeing the dome due to restoration work. No description can actually do the Mosque justice. There are 200 stained glass windows and over 20,000 handmade Iznik tiles, with more than fifty different tulip designs, becoming more exotic the higher up they are. Perhaps, it is the most beautiful place I have ever visited!
Next up was Topkapi Palace, constructed in 1478 under Mehmed the Conqueror. The best part of the palace was definitely the Harem, especially the imperial hall within. It was the private family living quarter, where concubines (sometimes up to 300) and female members of the sultan’s family lived. Interestingly, the Mother of the Sultan, legally known as the Valide Sultan, was the second most powerful person in the Ottoman Empire, influencing affairs, having judicial and financial power, and funding major architectural programmes – maybe Agrippina could have used a title like this to control Nero! Other fantastic quarters included the Imperial Council Hall where all matters were discussed; the Sultan only spectated through a metal covered window and if he got annoyed he shut the window to end the meeting! We were also impressed by the Audience Hall, which is where the viziers swiftly moved to if the Sultan ended the meeting, in order to appease him. Moving on, we saw the right arm of St John, before heading to the back of the palace for lovely views of the Bosphorus and cake, which had nothing on the cakes at LSA CA!
Well what can I say about the spice market! It was an extremely vibrant and exuberant place. I loved the smell of all the tantalising spices and sweet-smelling perfumes drifting from one shop to the next. After buying two scarfs, the next shop we went to was full of spices and Turkish delight, and we were given apple tea on entry. As charming as the shop owner was, offering my Dad diamonds to marry me (a lot better than camels), I had to politely decline his offer of marriage. We made a quick exit once we had bought an array of Turkish delight and Ottoman spice, going on a 2-hour cruise on the Bosphorus.
My favourite part of the trip, despite seeing some wonderful ruins, was seeing the snake head from the Serpentine Column and the Column itself, after studying it. The snake tripod, built and dedicated to Apollo after the Battle of Plataea in 479 BC, was made from the melted-down bronze of the Persian weapons, with the inscriptions of the 31 Greek city-states who helped in the efforts of defeating them. Of course, I tried to find any inscriptions still remaining, which I originally thought I had but now I’m not too sure.
To end an amazing holiday, our tour guide Mehmet and his wife, an archaeologist, who were very impressed with my enthusiasm and apparently have learnt a lot from me, have asked me to come back to Turkey and visit some more ancient ruins with them, especially Aphrodisias!
What an amazing experience! Many thanks to Ronnais for her excellent and entertaining travel blog, and congratulations to her as, after last week’s A Level exam results, Ronnais has discovered that she will be heading off in September to study Classics at the University of Leeds. We look forward to welcoming her back to the LSA CA with her lifetime student ambassador membership. If you would like to become a student Classics Ambassador then follow this link.