Abydos ( Hellespont ) Çanakkale

The site of ancient Abydos, famous for the Legend of Leander, is located on the coast of north-western Anatolia, on the Dardanelle Straits or the Hellespont of antiquity, north of Canakkale. It is at the Turkish village of Nara looking across’the dark waters to Gallipoili on the European shore.


abydos mapThe history of Abydos comes mainly out of the crossings of tha straits made from this ancient coastal town. The most famous of ali, as tradition and legend would have it, was that made by Leander. The most significant crossing from an historical standpoint was the one made by Xerxes. And possibly the most well known from the poetic view was that ot Lord Byron. The distance at the narrowest point is almost a mile, and there is a strong current to be dealt with coming down from the Sea of Marmara into the archipelago. Since Lord Byron’s age, the feat has been achieved by others, but it is still a corjjfiderable challenge to even the strongest swimmers.

Of Leander, we know he was a youth from Abydos, very much in love with the maiden Hero, a priestess of the goddess of Love, Venus or Aphrodite. Legend tells us that Leander used to swim the straits nightly to the town of Sestos, the present Turkish town of Yolikabot, on the European shore, to be with his lover. Hero would-place a lighted torch atop a tower by which to direct Leonder’s journey through the water. One night, however, when a tempest blew up and the sea was rough, the youth was drowned and his body washed up on the European side. In her despair. Hero flung herself down from the heights of the tower into the sea and perished.

Abydos was one of the chief cities of the Kingdom of Mysia which also included Troy and Lampsacus. There are castles at both sides of the straits, at Abydos and at Sestos, the former having been mentioned by Xenophon when he wrote about the goldmines of the nearby castle of Kirmastl. It was from Abydos that Xerxes, in the year 480 B.C., built a bridge consisting of 674 rafts to invade Greece: Abydos was mentioned by Homer as having been occupied by Mifesean settlers in the seventh century B.C. This spot is where Alexander the Great is supposed to have first stepped into Asia, and. from where the Ottoman Turks cast off for Europe.

Lord Byron is said to have swum the distance from Abydos across to the site of ancient Sestos in sixty-five minutes. He lived in a house that was built beneath an ancient elm tree at Abydos while waiting to continue his voyage taking him from Smyrna to Constantinople, Says Lord Byran in the second canto of his poem The Bride of Abydos’:

The winds are high on Helle’s wave, As on that night of stormiest water, When love, who sent, forgot to save, The young, the beautiful, the brave. The lonely hope of Sestos daughter


The ancient city has little left for the visitor to witness other than Its atmosphere in the face of the stories connected with it. The castle mentioned by Xenophon at Kirmasti can be visited as can the house that Lord Byron-resided in during his short stay In Abydos, The ancient elm tree by the house is also to be found.


The site of ancient Assos is located about one hundred kilometers south of Çanakkale, on the Bay of Edremit, across from the Greek Island of Lesbos. The lower city stretched from the water’s edge to the foot of an extinct volcano which rises more than two hundred meters above sea-level. It was an this summit that the city’s famous Temple of Athena was erected, overlooking the blue waters of the Aegean, Today, the village of Behramkale marks the spot of the ancient ruins. Follow Route E-24 from Çanakkale to the town of Ayvacık; then continue directly south, on to Behramkale.


The earliest history of Assos is thought to date back as far as the beginning of the first millennium B.C., when the Aeolians built oyer the top of the already ancient city of Ashachuvq. This former city was settled by the Hittite King Tuthaliyash IV during the 13th century B.C., as a strategic defense position against a union of Aegean cities. The high acropolis hill offers a clear view of the approaches to the city by land and by sea, and it served well as a defensive factor to the residents of the city. The later Aeolians who came to colonize, are thought to have originated from Methymna on Lesbos. Before the Aeolians, however, the ancient Hittite stronghold was occupied for some time by the Lelegeans, during the second millennium.

Assos never played a very significant political or historic role, but was rather more important for its temple to Athena. The city came under Persian rule during the years 547-479, and then was taken over by the Greeks, in 33G B.C., a banker, Eubulas gained control of Assos. He subsequently lost it to the tyrant .Hermias, a pupil of Plato, During this period, between 348-345, Aristotle, who was proportedly a friend of Hermias, resided in Assos to establish the first school of philosophy. Alexander the Great passed through the city during his campaigns in 334, freeing It from further tyrannical rule. In 241, Assos was included in the kingdom of Pergamum. and a century later was brought under the jurisdiction of the Romans. Pagan worship was brought to a halt with the rapid spread of Christianity in this region as taught by Saints Paui and Luke during their visit to the Aegean area. Saint ignatius, one of Saint John’s disciples, lived tor a period in Assos. Following a decree issued by Emperor Theodosius forbidding the practice of paganism, the ancient city and its temple were effectively destroyed. The city was captured in 1080 by Sultem Suleyman, son of Kutlumuş, and yi/as the scene of numerous battles of the Crusades. In 1330, it became a -port of the Ottoman territories.


Today the visitor to Assos may see ruins left over from a variety of historical ‘periods including Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman, but its main attraction lies ot the top of’the old acropolis in tine form of the once famous Temple of Athena. In addition to the height of the acropolis, a massive wall that extended some three kilometers around the city was erected during the Hellenistic period. Thes fortifications are considered among the most effective and complete of those that have remained from the ancient Greeks, reaching an original height of ten meters. A large portion of the. city was excavated during the latter part of the nineteenth century by American archaeological teams. Some of the important finds from this site included relief works and a number of Archaic statues.

These statues have proved to be of great importance from both artistic and historical standpoints. Many of them may be seen in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.

Temple of Athana : The temple, erected at the top of the acropolis, cfates to the second half of the sixth century B.C. It was built along both Doric and Ionic lines and stood until the war waged by Byzantine Theodosius against the pagan temples. Doric friezes incorporating triglyph and metope decorative elements used in the temple’s construction depicted mythological scenes of animats fighting together. There were friezes in relief on the front of the architrave and on the long sides of the building. These works are considered to be some of the best remaining examples of Doric architectural design, The front of the tempie was lined with six columns; the sides had thirteen each. The cella measured nearly eighteen meters in length ond seven in width, and was preceeded by two fluted columns. It was painted and built of local stone. Two steps led to the temple’s entrance. Today, unfortunately, very littie remains of the Tempie of Apolio with the exception of column bases, some of the capitals and scant/ fragments of the original black and white mosaic floor.

City Walls: The remains of a Byzantine wall seen oil around the site. This was built primarily from materials taken from the ruined Archaic temple and other constructions of ancient Assos. There is a well-preserved Byzantine watchtower to the southeast, The remains of an early Hellenistic structure may be seen near “the south wail. The gateways to the acropolis are stitl in reasonably good condition, differing from one another in size and form. The main gate is to the west.

Other Ruins: The ruins of a gymnasium, a stoa and agora are located to the south of the ocropolis that date from the Hellenistic period. The gymnasium consisted of an enclosed marble-paved courtyard that measured roughly 32X40 meters. It was surrounded by colonnades of the Doric order of which little remains. A small Doric tempie built adjoining the west wall of the agora was turned into a church during the Byzantine era. Only the foundations of this prostyle temple may be seen today. It was built sometime during the second century B.C. The buildings grouped together on the eastern edge ot the agora served os meeting places and official buildings, One of these was the council chamber, or Bouleuterion, with its speaking platform. Behind the agora are the ruined baths from the early first century A.D. The Greek theatre is in a poor state of preservation. This Is just below the agora, and was constructed in the 3rd century B.C. To the west of the acropolis is a street flanked on either side by graveyards. The most important monument found here is that of Publius Venus, Several stoas were incorporated into the scheme of ancient Assos, but iittle is left of these areas for visitors today. The Doric Stoa, on the northern edge of the agora, was a two story construction that measured over a hundred meters long. The rows of holes drilled into the rear wall of the stoa were used to anchor the second – story floor timbers into position. The top floor must have offered a fine view of the agora and the sea and village below. We have come to understand that the middle fioor of this stoa was made up of more than a dozen shops for tradesmen and craftsmen, The entrance door of the Turkish mosque north of the acropolis was once o part of a Byzantine church, There is evidence of this by the partly erased Greek inscription. Near the water’s edge are the remains of an ancient breakwater.



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