Turkey 3 – Alexandria Troas, Babakale, Assos

Next morning, we bade our gracious host farewell and set off along the Troad Coast road.
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Approximately 30km south of Troy and 2km south of Dalyan village lie the remains of Alexandria Troas, an ancient city which in Roman times was a significant port for travelling between Asia Minor and Europe.
This site was first called Sigeia; around 306 BC one of the Commanders of Alexander the Great, Antigonus Monophthalmos(Antigonus One Eye), refounded the city as the much-expanded Antigonia Troas by settling the people of five other towns in Sigeia. When Antigonus died in battle, its name was changed by Lysimachus to Alexandria Troas. As the chief port of north-west Asia Minor, the place prospered greatly in Roman times, becoming a “free and autonomous city”. In its heyday the city may have had a population of about 100,000. It covered an area of approximately 990 hectares and was surrounded by boundary walls running 8-10km.
Alexandria Troas is an important site for the history of Christianity; it was mentioned several times in the Bible. Saint Paul spent some time here before sailing to Europe. Timothy, Silas, Luke, and perhaps others, were with Paul at Troas.
The modern road roughly bisects the city; just west of this are ruins still undergoing excavation and restoration. On this side, an old road has been uncovered which lead down to the harbour. The Aegean Sea is visible in the distance.

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During the latest excavations they discovered an old temple which was built by the Roman emperor Augustus.

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Several large ruins are also visible across the road.

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Just a short distance further along and to the left of the road, this ruin serves as marker for parking your car to visit the bath and gymnasium complex, the largest in Anatolia.

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Herodes Atticus, who later built the theatre in Athens, built the baths here in 135 AD. The bath complex is now overgrown with vegetation.
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These are the remains of the quadruple-arched entrance to the baths. Two of the arches are fully intact, one has collapsed, and one is supported by a timber frame.

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We proceeded further along the road and reached the village of Gulpinar, the site of the Sanctuary of Apollo Smintheus, or the ‘Smintheion.’ The structures identified within the complex include the temple, baths, reservoirs and sacred roads.
Apollo Smintheus, ‘Lord of the Mice,’ a powerful inflictor and averter of the plague, was first mentioned by Homer in Iliad, his epic on the Trojan War. During the war, Agamemnon captured Chryseis, the daughter of Chryses, a priest of Apollo. The Trojan Priest implored Apollo, “O,Sminthian”, to send a plague against the Greeks. Apollo intervened, and the beginning of the Iliad mentions a plague caused by Apollo’s arrows, which forced the Greek commander to give back the girl to her father.
The word Smintheus was probably derived from ‘Sminthos’, a mouse. The temple was the third largest in the world when it was built, and once housed a statue of the God Apollo with a mouse at his feet. Mice were kept in the sanctuary and nested beneath the altar. The temple is unique because scenes from the Iliad are depicted in its ornamentation.
It had 8X14 columns and measured 22.4 X 40.3 meters. It is in the process of reconstruction, and the south staircase has been newly rebuilt.

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Behind the main temple lie scattered columns and remains of the baths and reservoirs.

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Pomegranate trees grow in abundance at the site. I wondered why no one had plucked the ripe pomegranates, until I tasted the seeds – very sour!

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Help! I’m stuck!

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Ancient Hellinistic road, with uncovered clay pipes. The Apollo Oracle required water, and the Sanctuary was built in an area with plentiful water, with clay pipes supplying water to the Baths from the reservoirs.

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We left Gulpinar and encountered a traffic jam on the way to Babakale. Just like India!
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We reached Babakale and headed for the Citadel or Fortress. This is the last Ottoman Castle built in present day Turkey. Note the massive rusting anchor behind Amit.
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Babakale sits on a cape that is exactly the westernmost point of mainland Asia, the Cape Baba (Baba Burnu).

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According to the locals, the village was founded by prisoners who were pardoned in return for working at the construction of the citadel of the village, and later joined in by seamen, and their families.
We wandered around for a while, admiring the fantastic views on all sides.

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Back on the road, we proceeded towards the town of Behramkale, or Assos. The Ancient city of Assos was where the philosopher Aristotle lived for some time. He married the niece of King Hermias and opened the Academy of Assos, where he became chief to a group of philosophers. When the Persians ransacked Assos, Aristotle fled to Macedonia and became tutor to Alexander the Great.
The ancient Temple of Athens crowning the Acropolis is the only Archaic Temple in the Doric order known so far in Asia Minor. ‘Doric order’ refers to a style of Greek Architecture, where relatively squat columns fluted with concave grooves are placed without any base on the floor of a temple, topped by a capital. This model at the site shows what the temple would have looked like, with 6X13 columns, measuring 30.31 X 14.30 meters.

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A few reconstructed columns are all that remain today.

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At this and all other historical sites in Turkey, we noted an impressive level of cleanliness with every effort being made to eliminate trash. Garbage bins had been placed at frequent intervals, blending into the surroundings, only the bright blue plastic lining drawing one’s attention to the bin.

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While the ruins may not be much to look at, the view across the Gulf of Edremit to the Greek Island of Lesbos is truly spectacular.
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In the late Byzantine phase, the fortifications around the Acropolis were strengthened by adding four rectangular and four circular towers to the city walls.

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There are also cisterns at the site for storage of water.
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As we were leaving, I had to take this photo – the first Turkey we saw in Turkey!

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Next to the Entrance to the Temple of Athena, is the 14th Century Hudavendigar Mosque.
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It has a simple structure – a dome set over a square room. It is one of only 2 such Ottoman mosques surviving in Turkey, the other one being in Bursa.

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We started down the hill, and asked for directions to the Necropolis, which was famous in it’s time for the ‘flesh-eating’ sarcophagi. However, our enquiries were met with questioning looks and shrugs – no one seemed to understand the word ‘Necropolis’, and we did not know what else to call it. We finally gave up, and started walking back downhill, when we spotted this charming roadside café and decided to stop for lunch.

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We enjoyed a delicious meal while admiring the view, while this cat sat and watched.
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We had not planned on any other stops, the highway was smooth and appeared deserted, Amit had become more confident driving on the right hand side, so I’m sure you can guess what happened next – we received a speeding ticket
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We finally reached Bergama (driving carefully under the speed limit the rest of the way), and checked into our Pension. The pomegranates on this tree in the garden looked very tempting, and a number of them had fallen from the tree and lay strewn on the ground, but the owner explained that the fruits were so sour that they didn’t eat them – the tree was purely decorative

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From the garden, we caught a glimpse of the ruins of Pergamon – we would explore them the next day.

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For now, we were content to stroll around town. We saw this sign outside a local pharmacy – I’m sure Indians of my generation have heard the saying: “Is marz ki dawa toh Hakim Lokman ke pass bhi nahin.” It was interesting to see the sign on a shop in this day and age.
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As we returned, we saw this jolly chef holding a placard which roughly translated means “Welcome” – it was a good sign!

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