For almost 2,000 years, Christians have been following in the footsteps of saints, both figuratively and literally. Pilgrimages that were popular in the Middle Ages, such as those to Jerusalem, Rome, and Santiago de Compostela, have experienced a resurgence in recent years. Additionally, new routes retracing the steps of figures from the Bible, such as Abraham (Abraham Path), Paul (St. Paul Trail), and even Jesus (Jesus Trail) have sprung up around the Mediterranean. My new personal favorite, though, is one that you likely do not know.
Nestled on the Troad Peninsula in western Turkey are the remains of a Roman road that once connected the port cities of Alexandria Troas and Assos, which I have lovingly dubbed “the Assos Way.” It’s a road that’s significant not only for its antiquity but also for one of its most famous pedestrians—the apostle Paul.
According to Acts 20, as Paul made his way down from Macedonia to Jerusalem, he stopped to visit Christians along the Anatolian coast, starting with those in Alexandria Troas. After spending a week there, Paul did something a little unusual. Rather than traveling with his companions by boat around the Troad Peninsula, he instead walked to Assos and rendezvoused with them there.
Whether or not Paul was alone for the entire journey to Assos and why he decided to walk there instead of sailing with his friends have been the subjects of debate. While we cannot know all the details of what did or did not happen and why, we do have a fairly good idea of his route since some of the segments of that old Roman road still exist.
In fact, one of the better-preserved portions of this Roman road along the Assos Way is only about 4 miles (7 km) from Assos. There, travelers coming into the city would have caught some of their first glimpses of the Assos acropolis with the Aegean’s sparkling turquoise waters in the distance. If you’re interested in stepping back into Paul’s sandals, make sure to visit this section of the Assos Way.
In order to find it, drive west from Assos along the main road (Ayvacık Gülpinar Yolu) in the direction of Alexandria Troas. While enjoying some lovely views of the Aegean Sea and Lesvos Island, you’ll pass by old fountains, animal feeding troughs, stone fences, and olive groves.
When you see a sign on your right that reads “Kulaf 7 Tamiş 10,” begin watching for a group of old farmhouses about a mile (2 km) from that sign, in the village of Korubasi. You should be able to park by these houses. If you turn back in the direction that you’ve just come and walk a bit to the left on the right side of the road, you’ll soon discover the stone remnants of the ancient Roman road. From Korubasi, you can follow the road back east toward Assos for a mile to the aforementioned sign. The Roman road ends by this sign, which is also another great place to park.
This section of the Assos Way is a very flat, gentle walk that should be accessible for anyone not impaired by mobility issues. Those who have the energy, time, and desire to walk into Assos on foot, just as Paul did almost 2,000 years ago, can use the modern road to continue into town.
Now, I’m sure that some of you avid hikers and adventurous pilgrims may share my dream of completing the entire 31-mile (50-km) walk from Alexandria Troas by foot. Unfortunately, it’s currently not recommended to do the walk without an experienced guide, since the trail is not marked out. One hopes, in the not-too-distant future, it will be possible to make the entire journey solo, as the apostle likely did.
Some steps have already been taken to establish the trail and to make the route more accessible. For example, in 2017 Tutku Educational Travel arranged for a group of intrepid Biblical Archaeology Society (BAS) members to be some of the first modern pilgrims to retrace that route together. Led by Dr. Mark Wilson (Director, Asia Minor Research Center), Dr. Glen Thompson (Wisconsin Lutheran College), and tour guide Cenk Eronat, they spent three days hiking between the two cities in search of accessible sections of the old Roman road and contributed additional knowledge to develop the Assos Way.
Also, Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism has caught the vision for preserving and promoting this sacred way, which is important for two historical reasons in addition to its connection with Paul. In antiquity, rather than retracing the steps of the apostle Paul, pilgrims walked this road to visit the Temple of Apollo Smintheus (the Smintheum) located about halfway between Alexandria Troas and Assos. There they worshiped Apollo, the “mice god,” at this famous sanctuary, which is mentioned by Homer in the Iliad (1.39). A visit to the temple remains is certainly one of the highlights of walking the entire Assos Way. They are not to be missed!
Additionally, this road is famous because it is the legendary route that Aeneas used in the Aeneid to escape from Troy after the Trojan War. According to Virgil, Aeneas built his fleet and mustered his men in Antandros, a harbor slightly east of Assos by Mount Ida, and sailed from there to Italy (Aeneid 3.5–6). Therefore, Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism intends on way-marking the entire route from Troy to Antandros, not only the “Assos Way” portion. The plan is to promote this 87-mile (140-km) hike to visitors as the “Aeneas Route.”
Until that time, consider doing just the final 6 miles (10 km) into Assos or at least the 1-mile (2-km) accessible portion of the ancient Roman road. Also, keep an eye out in future BAR editions for announcements of upcoming group expeditions arranged by BAS and Tutku to walk the entire Assos Way. Paul may have walked to Assos by himself, but that doesn’t mean that you have to do it alone!
Meg Ramey is Director of Education Abroad for Tutku Educational Travel. She holds a Ph.D. in New Testament and Literature from the University of St. Andrews, and she edits the Bible in Fiction project for Oxford Biblical Studies Online.
Site-Seeing: Hiking in Paul’s Footsteps by Meg Ramey was originally published in Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2019.
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