A visit to Neandria, Turkey.
December 5th, 2015. We find ourselves driving through the heart of the mountains and valleys of ancient Troas, in the northwest of Turkey not far from the sea. Our goal is to visit the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Neandria, located at the summit of Mount Çığrı (520 m), so that we climb up the hillside until reaching the tiny town of Kayacık Köyü: located at the foot of the powerful granite massif that make up the Çığrı summit. In a corner of the small square of the town there is a sign indicating the direction we must take to follow the path leading up to the site of the ancient Neandria. Since from that point the roads are in bad condition, we decided not to risk the integrity of our car and continue on foot.
Photo 1.- Panoramic view from the site of Neandria with the Aegean Sea in the background.
Not much is known about ancient Neandria (Neandreia in Greek): what historical sources say and what could be ascertained in 1889 during the only excavation season to date. Its foundation has been archaeologically dated sometime in the early sixth century BC by greek settlers from Aeolis. The choice of the site of the new city was, likely, a model of unanimity because the summit of Mount Çığrı combined a great tactical efficiency (it was very easily defendable and rich in granite with which to carve good fortifications) with a high strategic value: one can perfectly see the Aegean from there as well as the closer valleys (photo 1), being also possible to control the commercial route that crossed the western coast of Troas from north to south.
Photo 2.- Gate between towers of access to Neandria.
The city belonged to the league of Delos, headed by Athens, from 459 BC until the Athenian defeat in the last phase of the Peloponnesian War (404 BC), at which time it was controlled by Zenis, monarch of the city of Dardanos, on the hellespontian coast, who had taken control of Troas thanks to the support provided by the persian satrap Pharnabazus II. Shortly afterwards, concretely in 399 BC, Neandria is occupied, with the approval of its inhabitants, by a spartan force commanded by Dercylidas, as part of his invasion of Aeolis, Troas and Bithynia regions, which led him to face the persian satrap mentioned above. The rest of the fourth century BC was a time of a certain prosperity for the city of Neandria. This is indicated by the important constructive activity archaeologically detected and the fact that the city issued bronze and silver coins in sufficiently high amounts so that today they are not considered rare. These emissions mostly show the god Apollo on the obverse, considered for this reason the tutelary deity of the city, and elements of agricultural-livestock type (the economic base of the city) on the reverse such as barley grains, oil amphoras or wine, clusters of grapes, rams and horses. In the following figure (1) we can see four of these pieces.
Photos 3, 4 and 5.- Walls of the fifth century BC at Neandria fortifications.
Photo 6 (bottom) - Longitudinal section of the fifth century BC city-wall.
After Alexander the Great's death in 323 BC, the western half of Asia Minor came under the control of Antigonos I Monophthalmos, who had been one of the trusted men of the mythical Macedonian leader. Some time later, in 310 BC, Antigonos founded a new city called Antigoneia, a few kilometers from Neandria, taking advantage of a good natural harbor that was in the area. This city is what in the future would be known as Alexandria Troas or Alexandria of Troas. To populate it, Antigonos displaced the inhabitants of the nearby settlements, forcing them to inhabit the new city. This process was not unusual in the greek world, being known by the name of synecism. Given its proximity, Neandria was included in this synecism, became almost completely uninhabited and, of course, disappearing as independent settlement. This was the end of the city as such although it is very possible, according to archaeological findings, that some kind of residual settlement would persist until early roman times.
Figure 1.- Some coins struck in Neandria. 4th century BC.
It has recently been suggested (F.E Winter, University of Toronto) that although the city was almost deserted from 310 BC, it was used for some time more as a fortress given its high strategic value, within the framework of the conflict between the diadochi by the dominion of the Alexander empire. In fact, the analysis of the facings of the walled enclosure of Neandria indicates that it was significantly reinforced at the end of the IV century BC or principles of III BC Also has been detected the construction by that same time of certain buildings that by their structure and layout in plant (very regular) can been identified like the barracks destined to house the garrison of the fortress. What remains doubtful is whether this fortress was conceived by Antigonos or by Lysimachus: his successor in the dominion of the area after the defeat and death of that one in the battle of Ipsus (301 BC). Be that as it may, it seems certain that, once the area was pacified, the fortress of Neandria was abandoned by its garrison on a date no later than 280 BC.
Photo 7.- Interior of Neandria. In the background, the northern front of the walled enclosure with its early hellenistic façade.
The interior of Neandria is accessed by its southern front, westward, where a door between towers in good state of conservation allows to pass through the city wall (photo 2). Here we can already appreciate the chronological differences existing in the facings of the wall. Concretely, two stages of construction are distinguished. The oldest one employs a large size masonry, not poorly worked in a wide range of trapezoidal configurations. The blocks are placed in dry, being three meters the thickness of the resulting wall. It has been dated in the fifth century BC. Photographs 3,4, 5 and 6 perfectly illustrate this sort of wall. Photo 6 corresponds to a plant section of the city-wall where its facings (external and internal) and the inner core (apparently formed by a rough agglomerate of masonry and mud mortar) are clearly visible.
Photo 8, 9 and 10.- Square towers of the southern front of the Neandria city-wall. Early hellenistic period.
Photo 11.- Isodomic type wall dated in early hellenistic period.
The second construction phase dates from the early Hellenistic period (mid-fourth century BC to the first quarter of the third century BC) and can be related to the previously commented works to improve the defense capacity of the walled enclosure performed on the occasion of the conversion of Neandria into fortress. It is easily distinguishable from the first stage because, although the constructive system is the same, it uses much more regular blocks (almost can be described as ashlars) placed in an isodomic form, that is in rows with all its pieces of the same height. The result is a much finer finish and less primitive appearance. On the northern front of the city-wall there are whole curtains carved in this way (photo 7), in the southern one can only be found in the square flanking towers (photos 8, 9 and 10), in some other very short wall section (photo 11) and in the internal structure of the door of the SW sector (photo 12) through which the site is accessed. It is evident that these towers were added to the preexisting wall, the fifth century BC one, which should not have them. In photo 13 you can see the coupling between tower and curtain.
Photo 12.- Internal structure of the SW sector door. Mid-4th century BC to the first quarter of the third century BC.
Although the bibliography informs of the past existence of a temple dedicated to Apollo, an agora with its corresponding stoa, a stadium and possibly a theater, all archaeologically detected, the fact is that very little of it, to say nothing, can be appreciated today in the site of Neandria. In fact, the interior of Neandria is nothing more than a large empty plateau of 40 hectares covered with grass, a few rocks and a multitude of masonry fragments. It is not something that must surprise us as, considering the only excavation in the city dates back to 1889, it is normal that everything unearthed then had been covered again over the years. From our experience in other sites, we know that 126 years is more than enough time for it. In addition, it must also be borne in mind that in ancient times only half of the 40 hectares available were inhabited, so that many places of Neandria that are now empty of structures were always so. However it is true that towards the western end of the site, where an elevation marks the site of the city's ancient acropolis, quite alienations of masonry pieces can distinguished: a clear remnant of ancient walls, and also several important concentrations of masonry pieces, that point to the existence of a large building buried in that area (photo 14).
Photo 13.- Coupling between the wall of the V century BC and the square tower of the mid-fourth century BC to the first quarter of the third century BC.
After a long time of exploration we decided to conclude the visit. Unfortunately we have not been able to examine Neandria as we would have liked since it is difficult to explore in depth such an extensive site, where it takes a long time to go from one place to another. Be that as it may, we do not feel like leaving. Not in vain the desolate place, full of stillness broken only by the winds that sail freely to such a height, possesses a special magic emanated from the enormous weight of the centuries that lie buried there. But we have to leave as the december days are short and we still want to visit another place before nightfall...
Photo 14.- Interior of Neandria. The acropolis in the background. At their feet the big piles of masonry pieces indicate the presence of major buried buildings.