4-Day Itinerary for Troas
The Troas is a scenic and historic mountainous peninsula in northwest Turkey at the northern edge of the Aegean Sea. The landmass is also called the Troad because of its Greek form (ἡ Τρῳάς, Τρῳάδος).
This post is my four-day, three-night itinerary for visiting the main sites in Troas (flying in and out of SAW airport in Istanbul, in November 2021). Each day included 3-5 site visits and 4-5 hours of driving.
Geography and History of Troas
Troas lies at the intersection of two important travel routes. It forms the eastern side of the Hellespont (Dardanelles, Çanakkale Boğazı), a narrow strait that connects the Aegean and Black Seas. Cities in Troas controlled the passageway and prospered from the trade between the Mediterranean and Caucasus regions. An important east-west land route that connects Anatolia and Macedonia also crosses through Troas. Along with Constantinople on the north side of the Propontis (Marmaris), this is the best point for crossing between Europe and Asia.
The strategic region has been contested throughout history. The most famous event was the battle at Troy in Homer’s Odyssey. In 480 BC the Persian King Xerxes built a famous bridge across the Hellespont to defeat the Greeks. Then, in 334 BC, Alexander the Great crossed into Troas to defeat the Persians.
Paul passed through the region at least four times: going west on the first journey (Acts 16:8), perhaps during his time of ministry in Ephesus (2 Cor 2:12), going north after fleeing Ephesus (Acts 20:1), on the return of his third journey (Acts 20:6, when he healed Eutychus), and then after his Roman imprisonment (2 Tim 4:13). Ignatius of Antioch wrote letters to Polycarp, Smyrna, and Philadelphia from Troas.
Day 1—Istanbul to Iznik
My flight landed at SAW at 10 am. From there, we drove to ancient Nicomedia (modern Izmit, formerly Kocaeli). Though it was Diocletian’s imperial capital around 300 AD, very little remains of the ancient city. The acropolis has remains of its theater and walls, but we were unable to visit. Rescue excavations in the Çukurbağ district have unearthed a series of painted, monumental reliefs of the Tetrarchs embracing (open access article here). The Roman imperial residence and capital were located in this district. Nothing remains at the site, a terraced Roman cult building, as it has been backfilled (location here). The Kocaeli Archeology museum (here) west of town has a nice outdoor garden and display.
Modern Izmit is very industrialized and overly paved. We drove around the bay and then southwest over the scenic mountain pass through Senaiye. This was the main ancient route between the important cities of Nicomedia and Nicaea.
The city of Iznik (ancient Nicaea) remains my favorite city in Turkey to visit, for several reasons. The city is located on a calm lake, was of great importance in the Roman era, hosted two of the seven ecumenical councils (325 and 787 AD), has become a pleasant Turkish town with a great vibe, and, perhaps most intriguingly, retains the shape and size of its historic antecedent. This fact allows visitors to sense the approximate size and feel of the ancient city while walking around the modern city. Alexander the Great’s general laid out the city, and the current walls date to the 3C, with 6C repairs.
Before entering Iznik, we visited Dikilitaş, a large funerary obelisk (here) in honor of C. Cassius Philiskos. The column stands 6 meters tall and is comprised of five triangular blocks. There is much to visit in Iznik. We parked in the town center and walked east on the former cardo decumanus to the Iznik Museum (here), located at the Nilüfer Hatun Soup Kitchen. The museum now has a display about Islamic sciences. Besides some sarcophagi in the garden, the archaeological remains were in storage, awaiting the new archaeological museum near the ancient theater. Nearby stands the well-preserved Lefke Gate with multiple gates and a 6C aqueduct. Then we visited the foundation remains of the 8C Koimesis Church (here). East of the church is the sacred spring called Böcek Ayazma (here). The interior has several Jewish inscriptions with Psalms and menorahs. To enter, you must obtain the key in advance from the city municipality (belediye). Then, in the center of town, stands the city’s most famous historic landmark, Hagia Sophia (here), the site of the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787. The Byzantine-era church now functions as a mosque, though Byzantine iconography and architecture remain throughout. Farther north, next to the İznik Çini Müzesi (here), a large section of the ancient street appears several meters below the modern road. The north-facing Istanbul Gate has large towers built of spolia.
We went to the western edge to watch the sunset over Lake Nicaea (ancient Laskania). A large mortable and rubble wall jutting into the water was the Senate House (here), part of Constantine’s palace, where the First Ecumenical Council was conducted. Just south is an underwater church (here) built over 3C graves. Excavators claim this was the site of the First Council (BAR article), though it seems small for the 318 bishops and supporting staff. The low water line during our visit exposed the stones. The 2C theater on the south side is being excavated, and so is not open yet.
We stayed at a nice boutique hotel near the west gate (https://seyirbutik.com/). Modern Iznik enjoys some tourism, but has only small, family-run hotels.
Day 2—Nicaea to Çanakkale
The northern road around lake Nicaea is larger, but we took the more scenic southern route toward Bursa and Troas proper.
Our first stop was ancient Apollonia ad Rhyndacum (modern Gölyazı, here), a picturesque Turkish village built on an island with a sandbar land bridge. The fishing town has aspirations for tourism, but remains small. The peninsula has fortification walls along the outer road, with various inscriptions. The unexcavated Greek theater stands on the central hill (here). On the other end of the lake in Uluabat (here), the arch platforms of a Constantinian bridge stand in the river.
Cyzicus (modern Bandırma) became a gateway city with a channel for ships to pass through the land bridge (visible on Google Maps, but silted in now). The ancient city is largely overgrown and built over. Massive stones remain around the foundation of Hadrian’s temple (here, and article). Remains of an amphitheater stand near the acropolis (here), but we did not have time to visit. The extensive displays at the Bandırma Archaeology Museum (here) in town exceeded expectations.
Recent excavations at the Roman colony at Parium have exposed the typical ancient city structures: theater, walls, baths, and, most impressively, an arched aqueduct. The seaside site is open to the public, though rarely visited.
We spent the night in Çanakkale at Hotel Limani (http://www.hotellimani.com/index.php). The city has a massive new bridge across the Hellespont and important WWI sites, but we arrived too late in the evening for visiting.
Day 3—Çanakkale to Assos
Our third day included visits to three large and famous sites.
Troy was the legendary city of Homer’s Odyssey. The city was one of several Bronze/Iron Age cities in the silted harbor area that flourished from trade. Because of the northern winds down the Hellespont, sailboats had to dock in Troy through the summer months. The site itself has a long and complicated history, making it hard to interpret all the eras. Signage is helpful as you loop around the site. The new Museum of Troy (here) is one of Turkey’s most remarkable modern museums (even without Priam’s treasure!). You pass next to the cubed building on the road to the ancient site.
The city of Troas (or Alexandria Troas) was the main Roman-era colony and port on the peninsula of Troas. Much of the city was looted for stone to build Istanbul, and oak trees have covered the rest. The few remains hardly reflect its historical importance. The ancient harbor (Kalpli Göl, here) near Dalyan is now a small lake with some cut stones. The quiet setting was once a bustling Roman port, with travelers like Paul and Ignatius passing through. On top of the hilled city, excavations remain at a temple and street (here). Also, 300 meters east is the massive bath and nymphaeum. About 10km east of the site lie seven large monolithic columns in situ (here). Masons cut them, but abandoned them in the granite quarry.
En route to Assos, seven arches of a Roman bridge lie abandoned in the field (here) 3km west of Tuzlu. Then, in Gülpınar, we visited the wonderful excavation at Apollos Smintheion (here), with a Greek temple, Roman bath, and street. We did not have time to descend to Babakale Kalesi. A large section of Roman road remains east of Korubaşı, just on the north side of the main road (here).
Assos is a stunning acropolis in the southern Troad overlooking the Aegean. I entered on the north side of the village, then walked down from the Temple of Athena to the lower city and out the west Necropolis. Rain was pouring and the road down to the harbor was closed for construction, so my visit to this great site was sadly limited.
We overnighted in Küçükkuyu, a nice fishing town with poor accommodations. There is very little on the southern coast of Troas besides resorts like Assos Eden Gardens Hotel (here).
Day 4—Assos to Istanbul
The final day was a travel day back to the airport in Istanbul, with three small stops.
Antandros is a hillside town on the coast, with domestic mosaics. If traveling eastbound, you must park on the highway and cross over on foot. The ancient city of Adramyttium (modern Burhaniye) has some Byzantine churches, a small archeopark (here), and the silhouette of the Roman harbor 300 meters north in the water. Daskyleion, on the southeastern corner of Küşgölü (here), was the Persian satrapy (capital) of Troas, but is fenced off and not visitable.
With so many cities situated on the water and so few tourists (except for at Troy), exploring the Troas makes for a delightful four-day journey.