Water Cave of Wilusa

GPS coordinates: 39.955735, 26.236132

Archaeological site: 

Water Cave of Wilusa
Water Cave of Wilusa


This text is a fragment of a guidebook to Troy "The Secrets of Troy (TAN Travel Guide)".

Water Cave of Wilusa is an artificial cave, not a work of nature. A 160-meter-long corridor was cut in the rock, heading eastward. It is connected to the surface by four vertical shafts with a height of up to 17 meters. The corridor was made in the third millennium BCE. It means that in the heyday of Troy VI, the cave had already been in use for a thousand years.

The cave is a relatively new archaeological discovery, as it was found and researched in the years 1997-2001. The prehistoric cave served as the water distribution system, from which water flowed to several rock-cut basins. The Roman engineers added clay pipes that directed the flow into ponds outside the cave.

During the times of peace, the Trojans had no problems regarding the water supply as the location of their city guaranteed freshwater from numerous rivers and streams. The most important of these rivers were Scamander and Simois, both having their sources in Mount Ida. According to Homer, the gods of these rivers, of the same names, supported the Trojans during the war with the Greeks.

However, during the sieges, the city needed to collect and store the water, and for this reason, wells and cisterns were built within the citadel. In the south-eastern part of the Lower City, the most astonishing solution for the water supply was created, now known as the Water Cave of Wilusa. This artificial cave with long underground tunnels collected rainwater and the water from an underground source. Later, the Romans solved the water-supply issues by building a system consisting of clay pipes, such as displayed in the Pithos Garden, and an impressive aqueduct, still standing in Kemerdere, some 12 kilometres to the south-east of Troy.

Why are the artificial tunnels below the Lower City now known as the Water Cave of Wilusa and not of Troy? According to some scholars Troy can be identified with the Late Bronze Age city of Wilusa, mentioned several times in the 13th century BCE in Hittite sources as a part of the Assuwa confederation.

This identification is based on several factors. First of all, the alternate names for Troy in ancient Greek language were Ilios and Ilion, and these are linked etymologically to Wilusa. Even more importantly, the archaeological excavations in the region of the Troad have demonstrated that in the 13th century BCE, Troy had no major rival and was most probably the capital of a city-state and a regional superpower.

The biggest problem of the link between Troy and Wilusa results from the lack of any locally written sources that could confirm it. All the documents discussing Wilusa were written by the Hittites who exchanged correspondence with the rulers of Wilusa. Possibly there is still an archive to be discovered within the ruins of Troy that would clarify all the uncertainties.

One of such Hittite documents concerning Wilusa is the Alaksandu of Wilusa Treaty, dating to around 1280 BCE, signed between Alaksandu and the Hittite king, Muwatalli II. This document discusses the allegiance of the vassal monarch, Alaksandu, to the Hittite Empire. The fascinating element of the treaty is the list of divinities that guarantee good auspices and provide the guarantee that the agreement would be respected.

One of them is Apaliunas, sometimes likened to the Greek god Apollo. The other one, vouching on behalf of Troy, is much more mysterious. It is called Kaskalkur, a local goddess of springs who would reside in the Water Cave of Wilusa. Finally, it is worth mentioning that the name of Alaksandu is sometimes interpreted as a distortion of the Greek name Alexandros. It would provide the link to the legend of the Trojan War as Paris of Troy was also known as Alexandros of Ilios.

The cult of Apollo was a crucial element of the religious beliefs of the Trojans, as attested by Homer. The best illustration of this fact is the story of beautiful virgin Chryseis. Her father was a Trojan priest of Apollo at Chryse, near the city of Troy. She was taken as prisoner by Achilles but was later given to Agamemnon who claimed his right to her as the king. Agamemnon was so enchanted with Chryseis that refused to allow her father to ransom her with the gifts of gold and silver. Desperate Chryses begged Apollo to bring revenge on the Greeks, and the god listened to this request, sending the plague onto the Greek army. Thus, Chryseis was returned to her father. Agamemnon compensated himself for this loss by taking another captive, Briseis, from Achilles. This situation became a source of conflict between Agamemnon and Achilles, the main theme of the Iliad.

The most enigmatic word in the prayer of Chryses to Apollo is "Sminthe". The ancient Greeks had already found this word incomprehensible and attributed its origins to one of the Anatolian languages. Unfortunately, the epic poem of Homer does not provide any hints at the meaning of this word, but it is often explained on the basis of the context in which it had been used in The Iliad. Since Apollo had sent the plague on the Greeks, he was associated with rodents as major disease carriers. Therefore, Apollo, as the god that could send an epidemic, was given the title of the "Lord of Mice". Moreover, some 50 km to the south of Troy, the archaeologists discovered a temple identified with the one dedicated to Apollo Smintheus. This location, in the village of Gülpınar, is associated with the ancient Chrysa where Chryses was the priest of Apollo's cult.

Visitor tips: 

Water Cave of Wilusa is a place located off the main sightseeing path of Troy. From the Lower City of Troy take a narrow path through the meadows and fields, pleasantly shaded by many trees. After walking for around 150 meters in the south-western direction, you will reach the Water Cave of Wilusa.