This article has been previously published as a part of book Gallipoli Peninsula and the Troad: TAN Travel Guide by Izabela Miszczak
Alexandria Troas was the ancient port city in the Troad, founded by Antigonus I Monophthalmus - one of the generals of Alexander the Great - as Antigoneia. After the death of Antigonus, another Macedonian commander - Lysimachus - controlled the Troad. The city was then renamed to Alexandria, in honor of the great Macedonian leader. Because there were many cities called Alexandria in those days, this particular Alexandria was given the term "Troas" or "from the Troad."
According to ancient sources, the settlement in the area of Alexandria Troas had already existed before the Hellenistic period, and it was called Sigeia (Sigia). Antigonus I Monophthalmus only contributed to its development, through the resettlement of the residents of the surrounding towns of Gargara, Hamaxitos, Neandria, Kolonai, Larisa, Kebren, and Skepsis. It happened about 310 BC.
With time, Alexandria Troas became the most important port city in the north-western part of Asia Minor, as well as the richest city of the Troad. It owed its spectacular development to its strategic position, on the Aegean coast near the entrance to the Dardanelles. It meant that Alexandria was a convenient harbour for the transit of goods transported on the route from the east to the port of Neapolis in Macedonia, and further - to Rome. Additional sources of income for the city were salty springs in Larisa, mines, farmland, and the income from the temple of Apollon Smintheion.
In Roman times, in 188 BC, Alexandria Troas acquired the status of a free and autonomous city. It is estimated that the city had a population of 100,000 people in the days of its greatest prosperity. Successive Roman emperors, including Augustus and Hadrian, contributed to the development of the city. Famous Roman statesman, philosopher and man of substance - Herodes Atticus - was appointed by Emperor Hadrian to the position of prefect of the free cities of Asia, in 125 AD. While holding this title, he funded the aqueduct of Alexandria Troas, fragments of which have been preserved to our times. Herodes Atticus was also a sponsor of a local theater and baths.
A small Christian community already existed in Alexandria in the middle of the first century AD, as we know from the New Testament, namely the Letters of St. Paul, and the Acts of the Apostles. Because Alexandria Troas was an important port, it was the starting point for St. Paul when he set sail to Europe during his second missionary journey (50 - 52 AD). The Apostle visited the city again, during his third missionary journey (53 - 58 AD). According to the New Testament, during his stay, he restored to life a young man named Eutychus. This man came to Alexandria Troas to hear the speech of St. Paul, but he fell asleep from exhaustion and fell from the third floor.
In the Byzantine era, Alexandria Troas held the rank of a bishopric, and the names of some of its bishops are known. Even in the 10th century AD, it appears in historical records as a diocese governed from Cyzicus. Currently, the city is still the capital of the titular bishop of the Roman Catholic Church as Troadensis, but its last titular bishop - Joseph-Alphonse Baud - resigned from this function in 1971. Alexandria Troas is also the titular diocese of the Orthodox Church. Apparently the Emperor Constantine the Great had an intention of making Alexandria Troas the new capital of the empire, but in the end, the choice fell to Byzantium, later known as Constantinople. It is not known exactly when the city was abandoned, but with the growing importance of Constantinople, Alexandria Troas lost its leading position in the region. In 267 years AD, the Goths sacked the city, which had a substantial negative impact on its economic situation. It is known that over time the port was silted up, and the town fell into disrepair. In medieval times, travelers who saw the remains of Alexandria from the sea suspected that these had been the ruins of the legendary Troy.
In the first half of the 14th century, the Troad fell under the control of the Karasid dynasty, one of the nomadic Turkish tribes. They formed the so-called Karası Beylik, i.e. a small Turkish principality governed by a bey, covering the area of the current provinces of Balıkesir, Çanakkale, and Bergama. In 1336, Karası Beylik was conquered by Orhan Gazi from the Ottoman dynasty. It this was, Ottomans gained a convenient starting point for the campaign of conquest of European territories, located on the other shore of the Dardanelles.
In the Ottoman times, the ruins of Alexandria Troas were known as Eski Istanbul i.e. Old Istanbul. The reason for the prosperity of the city in ancient times - its location at the crossroads of land and sea routes - became the reason for the current, deplorable condition of the ruins of Alexandria Troas. Since the city was easy to reach, it was not difficult to demolish it, to obtain excellent construction materials. For example, the columns adorning the Yeni Valide Mosque in Istanbul were transported from Alexandria Troas.
In the 18th century, European travelers reported that Alexandria Troas was abandoned and completely ruined. They also complained that it was a good hiding place for local robbers, lurking for travelers. It was also reported that the ruins were used by the Ottoman government that exported architectural elements to Istanbul. Local farmers used the sarcophagi as cisterns of street fountains, and granite blocks were transformed into cannonballs for the Ottoman army.
Archaeological research has been conducted in Alexandria Troas since 1993, under the management of scientists from the Westphalian Wilhelm University of Münster.
The ruins of Alexandria Troas occupy the area of about 400 hectares, but most of it is heavily overgrown with bushes. The outline of the old city walls is still visible, in some places quite well preserved. The total length of the walls was once 10 km, and with defensive towers placed at regular intervals. One of the main roads to the city led through the Eastern Gate, also known as the Neandria Gate, built in the 3rd century BC.
The preserved ancient buildings of Alexandria Troas include a bath, five odeons, a theater, a gymnasium, a necropolis, a nymphaeum, and a recently discovered stadium, dating back to 100 BC. The aqueduct of Emperor Trajan is located in the eastern part of the city.
At the highest point in the area of Alexandria, there are the remains of the theater from the Hellenistic times. The people in the audience, in addition to the performances taking place there, could admire stunning views of the entire city, distant ruins of Neandria, the islands of Bozcaada and Lesbos, and the Aegean Sea.
The best preserved Roman building in Alexandria Troas is a complex consisting of a gymnasium and baths, built with the funds provided by Herodes Atticus. The ruins of this building are now known among the local population as Bal Saray or Honey Palace. The dimensions of the bath is 123 to 84 meters.
The former harbour, consisting of two bays, is now completely silted up. Archaeological work has recently been conducted on its territory.
The ruins of Alexandria Troas are located near the village of Dalyan in Çanakkale Province, about 10 km to the south of the town of Geyikli. The area to visit is quite large, located on both sides of a road. A part of the area is heavily overgrown, so take care to protect your legs and feet from thorny bushes. Admission to the ruins is free of charge. The parking place is situated on the right side of the road, if you are coming from the north, next to the temple in the agora.
By public transport: in summer season there are hourly minibuses from Ezine and Geyikli to Dalyan. In winter, the frequency of minibuses is much lower. You have to walk or hitch-hike the last leg of the trip - from Dalyan to Alexandria Troas.
By car: drive to the west from Ezine, through Geyikli to Dalyan. In Geyikli choose the road heading to the south (to the left), as the road going straight ahead takes you to the ferry harbour. The total distance from Ezine to Alexandria Troas is 22 km.
Just 1 km north of Alexandria Troas, on the Aegean coast, lies the tiny holiday resort of Dalyan. If you plan to stay overnight in this area, it is worth checking if there are places available in local hotels: Odunluk Taş Konak (tel. 00 90 286 658 8800), Sunset Troia (tel. 00 90 286 658 8585), and Dalyan Pansiyon (00 90 546 226 3157).