So many civilizations have passed by the village of Assos: Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman; all have left their mark. All have left something in the ruins.
The streets of Assos are silent. Baby chickens cluck and peck among the cobblestones; fishermen at the harbor toss anchovies to neck-craning kittens straight from their nets. The ruins here are not commonly visited by tourists, who often head to Ephesus instead. Few columns remain of the splendid temple at the top of the hill; but the glory of Assos is in the juxtaposition of those few stones against the endlessness of the sea.
The center of town is dominated by old men: sitting in silence, drinking tea. One such man, Hussein, invites me for a drive, in a mixture of broken English, broken German, and vague, enthusiastic Turkish. While he waits for one of his five grandchildren to get the car, a broken-down blue Lada, he grabs my hand and drags me across town to his home. “Das ist my house,” he says.
He plucks a pomegranate from a crate in his courtyard and cracks it open, handing me a sticky mess of seeds. Hussein, I learn, is an archaeologist; for years, he was in charge of taking care of the Athena ruins. “Not now,” he says. “Now ich bin grandpapa.”
With Hussein driving, we set off to see the sights of the town: the Eastern Gate, where trade flowed onto the vast networks of the Ottoman Empire, the statue of Aristotle, the Greek sarcophagi on the side of the road. We are “kleine Asia” he says – Asia in miniature.
“You must come back,” he tells me as we pull up at the bus station. He will take me for another drive. He will take me among more columns, more stones. He will show me the necropolis properly. He will show me the Greek island of Lesbos and the vanished cities along the Troad coast, where tourists do not go, because there are just so many ruins to see.
"I will be your guide," Hussein tells me. "When you come back, ask for 'Hussein the Archeologist'." He does not give me his telephone number, nor his full name.
"You and me, old Grandpapa and young madame." He slaps my knee and chortles.