Troy – The World Heritage Site That Almost Wasn’t

Troy – A dusty archaeological site with a fantastic story!

Troy Archaelogical Site

Located on a strip of land with strategic advantages for controlling the Dardanelles Straits in northeastern Turkey, Troy is one of the most famous archaeological sites of all time.  Why is it famous you might ask? Because of the war between the Greeks and the Spartans to release the beauty Helen from her captives. One person, Heinrich Schliemann, was obsessed with the story, possessed with finding Troy, and he and the city are forever intertwined with hope, romance, gold, scandal, and triumph.

In the mid to late 1800s, Heinrich Schliemann became world famous for sticking to his beliefs, using grit and determination (and maybe some untruths) to uncover and prove that this little site not far from the modern day town of Hisarlik, was truly the city first mentioned in Homer’s Iliad.

Famous or infamous, Schliemann is the key to Troy.  Rising from a less than stellar childhood where his family fell out of favor in their town, he became an apprentice to a grocer and at the same time continued to increase his knowledge of languages and Greek history. Still unfulfilled, he went to California to cash in on his brother’s gold rush findings which were already gone when he arrived. Eventually Schliemann took charge of his life and became a ruthless and successful merchant, and a millionaire, around the age of 40.

Troy World Heritage Site

At this point, he decided to live out his supposed lifelong dream of finding Homer’s Troy and excavating it.  Whether it was pure determination and strength of will or his willingness to falsify and exaggerate his findings, Schliemann was successful at attracting supporters, and money, for his project.

He decided on this site thanks to information he’d gained from Franks Calvert, but he really didn’t give him much credit after that.  He also decided that since there were so many layers on top of the “real” Troy, he would quickly dig down to the correct layer.

At this point there weren’t many laws and regulations on how to dig correctly or even ethically, but Schliemann still had people up in arms because what he did bordered on reckless.  Through seven of the nine layers he plowed.  His only concern was to find proof that this was Homer’s Troy.

He just didn’t care about the other 3,000 years or so of history that was piled on top.  He even dug a road through the entire archaeological site.  His damaging ways still proved him right when he found a special horde of gold and jewels.

Troy World Heritage Site

At this point, he had already had trouble keeping friends and now he spied this copper vase filled with treasure.  What does he do?  He sends the workers away and he brings it all to his quarters.  A Turkish overseer was sure he was up to no good, but Schliemann just ignored him, threw him out of his house and then proceeded to smuggle this loot out of Turkey completely.

The Turks were not impressed and refused to let him back to the site until he paid a fine.  At first he denied their accusation, but with the lure of more treasure to find, he capitulated and even paid more than they were asking.  From that moment on, though, they watched him extremely carefully.

Schliemann was heralded as a hero, a destructive one-sided hero, but he was a hero all the same.  With his tenacity, lack of scruples, and determination, he proved that the little archaeological site next to Hisarlik was indeed the famous city of Homer, Troy.

So today, Troy has made it on the UNESCO World Heritage List, one of the first to be inscribed in the country of Turkey, and it deserves that honor.  Other sites  such as Pamukkale, Istanbul, and Cappadocia bring in the crowds of tourists.

Troy just doesn’t have the glitz and glamour as the other sites; it has a story.  A damn good story, but only a story.  When you are walking along the path, past the model Trojan Horse, through the on-site exhibit, and out on the dusty, hot trail looking at rocks, you must remember the story.

Troy World Heritage Site

It doesn’t take long to visit the site, and if you are smarter than me, you will not go in the middle of a Turkish summer.  You can see where Schliemann cut his infamous road right through the middle of the site.  You can see foundations, carvings, and foundations.  You must imagine Helen held captive by Paris and the sentries parading the walls, brandishing their bows and arrows.  You can almost hear a slight cough or murmur as you pass by the huge horse.  In your mind, you can see the fighting, the famine, the siege.

If you plan on going to Troy, read up on Schliemann and his excavations.  He is a fascinating man, the man who brought us the city of Troy.  If it weren’t for him, Homer’s Troy may never have been discovered, and the fact that it survived his excavations is pretty impressive as well!

Troy World Heritage Site

Have you been to Troy?  Had you heard about Schliemann?  What did you think?

For further reading, you can check our resources:

Archaeology: Troy and Heinrich Schliemann, Heinrich Schliemann and the Discovery of Troy, The Treasure of Troy, and Who Discovered Troy?

24 thoughts on “Troy – The World Heritage Site That Almost Wasn’t”

  1. Wow! So fascinating. I love stories about the ancient world and visiting heritage sites like this sound absolutely amazing. I’ve been in Turkey in the middle of summer and I can imagine just what that heat was like, worth it for the sights though!

  2. I’m a great admirer of Heinrich Schliemann!
    Behold: Troy wasn’t just a legendary city, it was real!
    And I’m sure many other cities around the World are hiding somewhere waiting to be discovered.

  3. Nice overview! I went to Troy back in 2011 and I was so glad I got a local guide to show me around, because it would have been quite tricky to figure it all out myself. The actual archaeological site is a bit ordinary (thanks Schliemann) but it’s got it all in terms of stories and intrigue. :)

  4. Hi Corinne, this is interesting. I’ve been to Turkey but regrettably skipped Troy. No I have not heard about Schliemann. I found his story fascinating and his determination very impressive. I certainly would like read up more about him. Thanks for the introduction. I absolutely plan to return to Turkey and will not miss Troy next time around.

    1. Thanks for the comment Marisol. There’s not a whole lot at Troy so not many people make it that far out, but there is plenty to do in the vicinity like Pergamon and Gallipoli. It’s definitely worth it as far as we are concerned!

  5. People like me who grew up in Southern California are very heat adept, so traveling in the summer is actually my thing. I think all the hiking I did in the desert as a kid and being a pedestrian as an adult has made me able to handle both warm climates and cold climates. The weather never daunts me, so if I won a ticket to go to Turkey in the summer, I probably would. Anyway, I am visiting from the A to Z Challenge, and hope to maybe stop by again.

  6. What a renegade, but like you say, Troy probably would have never been unearthed if it wasn’t for Schliemann. Was the treasure ever returned to Turkey?

    1. Jenny, I think you’ll love it if you get a chance to go. Troy isn’t a big site but the rest of the countryside is worth the trip, too. ALthough it’s not as wild as eastern Turkey.

  7. Looks like a fun place to explore! We haven’t been to Turkey yet, so we’ll definitely keep this in mind when we eventually make it there :) And definitely going to take your advice and read up on the history of Schliemann first!

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