Troy Museum Review
published in Cornucopia
The new museum of Troy is a surprising wonder, a giant cube of rusting iron. I was fortunate that on my first visit I knew absolutely nothing about it, which gave it a mysterious impact. We had drifted down an interesting looking driveway (dotted with sarcophagi in an invitingly come-hither way) below the village of Hisarlik. I was trying to look authoritative, as I was showing my elder brother around Troy, and thought that this must be the new entrance to the site. We were invited to park beneath the shade of freshly planted grove of trees and then directed down a long ramp towards a security-guard patrolled basement entrance. The iron cub looked very forbidding, but fortunately a line of classical archetraves and capitals beckoned us to descend.
The museum interior is a four-storey tower of enchantment. There are innumerable problems about trying to present the story of Troy, as there are just too many storylines, too many layers of history and they are all rich with controversy and detail. But I take my hat off to the designers. They have created a physical form which subdivides the story of Troy into digestible, and quite separate chunks of history, which can all be individually accessed by an exterior ramp which slowly winds its way upto the view from the flat roof.
The ground floor functions as the museum depot for the whole province of The Troad – which is rich with fascinating sites, such as Alexandria Troas, Assos and Apollo Smintheus, in addition to Troy. If you knew the dusty old museum in Cannakale, this is where all the treasures are now displayed. What you will not have seen is the “Sarcophagus of the Persian Knight”, depicted with his closed war-helmet on one face and engaged in a ferociously vivid hunting scene on the other where wild boar has retained its original red pigment.
The second floor is dedicated to the Bronze Age city of Ilion (Troy) explained through state of the art maps and diagrams that flesh out the comparatively modest found objects. I found the shifting shape of Troy’s natural harbour (now all farmland) and the research into seasonal winds, totally fascinating. For the direction and the force of wind had to be exactly right before an ancient merchant ship could force itself up the Dardanelles, against the prevailing current. This (and a fresh water spring) gives us all the explanation that one needs to explain why Troy was rebuilt over and over again. In the late Bronze Age, the Hittite Empire ruled over central Anatolia and established protectorates over North Syria and Western Turkey. The latter region was then known as Arzwa where Luwian was spoken. Wilusa (Troy) sat on the furthest north-western frontier of Arzwa. In 1280 a Hittite King, Muwattali II, came to an agreement with Alaksandu, ruler of Wilusa that protected him from the aggression of the Ahhiywans (who are Homer’s Achaeans). This is the strategic background to the Trojan war.
The third floor will get the most visitor hits and attention. This not only displays the grandest carvings (including a very fine head of Augustus, an imposing statue of Hadrian and a cavorting, sensual Nerite) but also takes a visitor by the hand and tells the full and illustrated version of the epic of the Trojan War (not just the fifty days chronicled by the Iliad).
It also introduced us to Troy’s later role as a city that attracted pilgrims for a thousand years. The Tell mound (built up from layer after layer of ruined city) was levelled to form a high terrace upon which stood a fine temple to Athena. We know that the Persian Emperor Xerxes sacrificed here (in 480 BC), as did Alexander the Great (who ran naked to the tomb of Achilles on the shore in 334), Julius Caesar (48), Augustus (20) and Hadrian (124 AD).
In the centre of the gallery stands the Polyxena Sarcophagus. This vividly relates a Trojan myth, but is not from Troy but was discovered in 1994 at Gumuscay. It is exceptional, not only because it is dated 500-490 BC (the period of the Persian Empire) and is therefore the oldest figurative sarcophagus in Anatolia, but because it is so moving and so utterly modern, shivering in very low relief. It is like a slice of the hidden history of woman that spares us no detail. The sacrifice of princess Polyxena (stabbed in the neck as her head is jerked back by her hair) as she is carried prone by a young gang of joshing male warriors towards the tomb of Achilles is vivid, beautiful and brutal. On other faces, we see the desperate (hair tearing) grief of her sisters, and the solemn exhaustion of her seated mother Queen Hecuba.
The fourth floor immerses us in the complex story of Troy’s progressive excavations, and how this famous city got lost in the first place. The problem can be directly sourced to Strabo (and the library-bound scholars who followed in his wake). We also get introduced to Frank Calvert (1828-1908) the long-serving British consul who was totally at home in Cannakale (his family traded in acorn cups) and whose pioneering work at the village of Hisarlik would be totally overshadowed by the self-promoting Schlieman. Frank had bought half the site in order to conserve it and offered all his excavations finds to museums. There is a darkened studio-space in the corner of this gallery where you can see all for the treasures that Schlieman stole from Troy, that await their return one day, inshallah.
The view from the roof rewards the slow ascent up the architectural ramp. Those familiar with the Iliad will be thrilled to slowly identify the landscape that Homer described. The islands that he refers to (Tenedos, Imbros and Samothrace) are all visible in good light, as are half the battlefield-beaches of Gallipoli. I was intrigued to find that you cannot see Mount Ida from Troy (where Homer places Zeus to observe the battlefield slaughter) but on my way down I got lost in the story of Mehmet the Conqueror who could read Greek fluently. He had his own treasured copy of the Iliad, and consciously saw himself as the avenger of the Trojans. When he conquered Constantinople, he was as young as Achilles.
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