This article has been previously published as a part of book Gallipoli Peninsula and the Troad: TAN Travel Guide by Izabela Miszczak
The ruins of a temple dedicated to Apollo, "Lord of Mice" Smintheus, are located in a quiet village of Gülpınar on Biga Peninsula. Why did one of the gods of the Greek pantheon earn the nickname associated with rodents, and why was his temple built in the Troad? There is no clear answer to these questions, but when searching for them it is necessary to start from the source, that is, from Homer.
Apollo - Lord of Mice?
The history of Apollo as the Lord of Mice started with the following fragment of The Iliad:
Not a word he spoke, but went by the shore of the sounding sea
and prayed apart to King Apollo whom lovely Leto had borne.
"Hear me," he cried, "O god of the silver bow,
that protectest Chryse and holy Cilla
and rulest Tenedos with thy might, hear me oh thou of Sminthe.
If I have ever decked your temple with garlands,
or burned your thigh-bones in fat of bulls or goats, grant my prayer,
and let your arrows avenge these my tears upon the Danaans.
Homer, The Iliad, Book I, translated by Samuel Butler
With these words, the priest of Apollo, Chryses, begs the god to bring the revenge on the Greeks. Their main commander, Agamemnon, abducted his daughter, Chryseis. Apollo listened to this request, sent the plague onto the Greek army, and Chryseis was returned to her father. This situation became a source of conflict between Agamemnon and Achilles, the main theme of the Iliad.
The most enigmatic word in the quoted passage is the nickname "Sminthe", given by Chryses to Apollo. The ancient Greeks had already found this word incomprehensible and attributed its origins to one of the Anatolian languages. Modern linguists agree with this opinion and derive the word from the Luvian language. Unfortunately, the epic poem of Homer does not provide any hints at the meaning of this word. Therefore, subsequent myths of Apollo tried to explain this nickname on the basis of the context in which it had been used in The Iliad. Since Apollo sent the plague on the Greeks, he was associated with rodents as major disease carriers. Therefore, Apollo as the god that could send or finish an epidemic, became the "Lord of Mice".
Settlement myths and erection of the temple
All mythical stories about the foundation of the Greek city of Chrysa in the Troad are associated with the erection of the Temple of Apollon Smintheion. According to the earliest tradition, derived from Callinus of Ephesus from the 7th century BC, a settlement was founded by Cretans of Trojan origins. The oracle ordered them to set up the city, where they will be attacked by "the sons of the earth." It was very unclear, typical style of the oracle, but the prophecy was clarified when the settlers were attacked by mice that ate all the leather parts of their inventory. In a place where there this unusual attack occurred, the town was founded and the temple of "the Lord of Mice" was built.
Please note that the name of Chrysa is sometimes used alternately with the name Hamaxitus, while other sources claim that the settlement Chrysa was far away from the Temple of Apollo, which was in Hamaxitus. This would mean that they were two different places.
It is now known that the Temple of Apollon Smintheion was located in a place rich in sources of clean water. They were crucial for the business of the Apollonian oracle. The sanctuary in Hamaxitus was known in ancient times, not only among the inhabitants of the Troad, but also among the pilgrims from all over the Aegean Sea region.
Architecture of the temple
Temple of Apollon Smintheion was built in the mid-second century BC, in the so-called pseudodipteral style. It was a typical plan in the Hellenistic period, and its creation was attributed to Hermogenes of Priene. The name of the architect of the Temple of Apollo is unknown, but it can be assumed that he was a disciple of Hermogenes.
The temple represents the Ionic order. The dimensions of the foundations are 22.40 to 40.27 meters. Originally it was surrounded by the colonnade, with eight columns on the front and back of the building, and 14 columns at the sides. All columns stood on a marble platform. The body of each column comprised of seven drums. The highest drum was decorated with scenes from the Iliad or a bucranium i.e. bas-relief decorative motif in the shape of the head of an ox. The capitals of the columns were in the Ionic order.
In the central part of the temple, i.e. in its naos, a statue of the god Apollo once stood. The fragments of this statue, found by archaeologists, allowed to estimate that it was about 5 meters high. Its creator was, most probably, a well-known sculptor Skopas of Paros. The exact appearance of the statue in all its glory is not known. However, the coins found in nearby Alexandria Troas show a figure standing in front of the Temple of Apollo and trampling a mouse. An alternative version is that mice presented on the statue were not being trampled, but they were surrounding the deity.
The entablature of the temple was richly decorated. The architrave was separated from the frieze by the so-called cymatium i.e. a continuous sculptural element. Two motifs present on the cymatium from the Temple of Apollon Smintheion are "egg-and-dart" (or egg-and-tongue) - consisting of an egg-shaped object alternating with an element shaped like an arrow, and the "string of pearls" (bead-and-reel) - alternating spherical and cylindrical elements.
The most interesting preserved architectural element of the temple is its frieze, where the scenes from Homer's Iliad are presented in bas-relief. Decorative elements of the entablature are complemented by the teeth (denticuli) - rectangular cubes on the bottom of the cornice, and the sima - the upturned edge of a roof which acts as a gutter.
The marble, from which the temple was built, came from the island of Proconnesus, located on the Marmara Sea, now known as the Marmara Island. In ancient times, the island was known from excellent deposits of white marble. Both the modern name of the island, and the whole sea are derived from this material.
In modern times the Temple of Apollon Smintheion was mentioned in 1785. It was then discovered by Jean-Baptiste Lechevalier who saw it while travelling from Babakale to Alexandria Troas. This French astronomer, explorer and writer, was at the moment a secretary at the French embassy in Istanbul. This position allowed him to travel around Asia Minor. His memoirs of the journeys were published in 1799 under the title Voyage dans la Troade, ou tableau de la plaine de Troie dans son état actuel.
In 1853, British Admiral Thomas Abel Brimage Spratt visited the temple during his work on the creation of maps of this region of Asia Minor. He identified the visible remains of buildings as the sanctuary of Apollo Smintheion, on the basis of some inscriptions. The map prepared by Spratt was later used by Heinrich Schliemann, known as the discoverer of Troy. The so-called Spratt map, made in collaboration with the German professor of classical history, Troy was already marked, although with a question mark over its name.
The first archaeological excavations at the Temple of Apollo were carried out by the English architect Richard Popplewell Pullan. He received funding for the work at Teos, Priene, and the Temple of Apollon Smintheion, in the years 1863-1869. Systematic excavations were later conducted in the temple in the period 1971-1973, under the auspices of the Archaeological Museum of Çanakkale. Since 1980, ongoing excavations have been conducted by a team from the University of Ankara, under the leadership of Professor Coşkun Özgünel.
In 2004, the archaeologists working on the temple grounds also found the traces of a much older settlement, from prehistoric times. So far one cultural layer has been identified, and initial dating places it in the first half of the fifth millennium BC. According to the chronology adopted for western Anatolia, it belongs to the middle Copper Age. Culturally, this layer of settlement from Gülpınar was included in the so-called Kumtepe A/Beşik‐Siviritepe/Gulpinar horizon.
Since the resumption of archaeological excavations, the site has gained a number of sponsors, including numerous public institutions and banks, as well as Efes Pilsen brewery. This company has been financing the restoration of the temple since 1998.
The main attraction of the site is the Temple of Apollo, the Lord of Mice, or rather what is left of it. Its southwestern corner has been restored, with the stairs and re-erected fragments of columns.
In addition to the temple, you can see long stretches of a road from the Roman era, along with the plumbing. There are also remains of several buildings from the Roman period. The largest and best preserved of them in the bath building. Between the Roman bath and the temple, there are the remains of Roman cisterns.
A local museum is located in a small building at the excavation site. The most important objects displayed here are the friezes from the temple, decorated with bas-reliefs depicting the scenes from the Iliad. Admission to the museum is included in the ticket to the excavation site.
Visiting the ruins of the Temple of Apollo is possible every day, during the opening hours: in the summer season (April to October) from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm, and in the winter season (November to March) from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. A ticket costs 5 TL.
At the excavation site there is a small parking lot, restrooms, and a restaurant specializing in Turkish pancakes (gözleme) - especially recommended with cheese filling.
In the nearby village of Gülpınar there are several shops and restaurants, but not a single hotel. However, you can find here a post office and an ATM.
By coach: several coaches per day connect Gülpınar with Ayvacık, Behramkale, Çanakkale, and Ezine.
By minibus: from Babakale, Behramkale, and Ezine.
By car: drive in the south-western direction from Ezine, passing the villages of Koçali, Uluköy, and Tavaklı. The route is clearly marked with brown "Apollon Smintheion" signposts. To reach the temple turn right in Gülpınar, into a secondary road, following the singposts. The total distance is 49 km.
From the direction of Ayvacık (from the east), there is a road to Gülpınar through Behramkale (Assos) and Bademli. The distance is 42 km.