Assos, where ruins of a Greek city dating from the 7th Century BC lie atop a mountain. "Spoiled" said one guidebook of the surroundings, but perhaps because we were travelling in June, in advance of tourist hordes, we found the place practically deserted and very charming. We were let out of the bus halfway down the steep slope, so that we might walk to Assos' ancient harbor, where the stone buildings of a little fishing village have been converted into accommodations for foreign visitors. It was noon, the sun was hot and our thirst sticky--but we were quickly diverted by the sight of the large Greek island of Lesbos rising from the azure Aegean off to the left and of pink hollyhocks, which grow wild in Turkey, thrusting up on either side of the narrow road.
At the water's turquoise edge, our group was invited by members of the hotel staff to seat ourselves at a row of tables lined up on the stone wharf. There, protected from the sun by a slatted canopy of bamboo, we were brought bottles of mineral water, wine, and delicious mixed appetizers and grilled fish. Not the least pleasant aspect of our three-course lunch was its price The bill came to barely $7 a head. In Turkey, the beleaguered dollar has value.
After a nap, our group reassembled and we hiked back up to the bus, which took us to the modern village situated below the site of the ancient city. A scramble to the top brought us to the Temple of Athena ( 6th Century BC ), its surviving Doric columns starkly silhouetted against miles I and miles of sea and sky. The Greeks, said Vann admiringly, loved a good view.
After wandering in and around the temple, we followed our leader down through brush and thistles to the remnants of the city's imposing, 1st Century BC defensive wall. The most complete surviving fortification of the Greek world, it once ran three miles round the settlement. Where the slope broadened into a kind of platform, enormous sarcophagi yawned open, their lids topsy turvy or overturned. The road they lined lay partially excavated below us, some six feet down in the earth, an eerie reminder that I was standing on accumulated layers of time and that one day our own thin layer would be covered over by the future.
The street led straight to the city's gate, through which we passed to reach the agora, the public assembly spot where Aristotle--who lived in Assos for three years--had walked. Today, this once-grand space is little more than a rumpled field, with stray bits of rubble poking up here and there. But it's pure in that apparently nothing was built over it after Assos' decline. Where Aristotle's footsteps fell, so now did mine.