Rather than bore readers of this blog with a 'What I did on my holidays'-style post, I would like to talk a little about one of the many incredible historical sites I visited - namely Troy, or the ruins in northwest Anatolia generally (but not conclusively) identified as the site of the historical city made famous in Homer's Iliad.
It is strangely difficult to describe my feelings when I visited the site. I had read the Iliad at university, and have been generally aware of the story of Hector and Achilles, Helen and Paris etc for as long as I can remember. The story itself has never filled me with any great passion - for instance, I always wanted Hector to beat the crap out of Achilles - and the 2004 film Troy, starring Brad Pitt, struck me as a campy load of nonsense.
That said, Homer's epic is deathless, and I was filled with a strange sense of awe while exploring its ruins: it was a bit like being informed that here was the historical Camelot, and over there were the remains of the Round Table, and over there was where Queen Guinevere used to take her bath...etcetera. I wandered about in a kind of daze, patting the ancient walls and trying to listen intently to the guide as he explained the site's complex history.
|More than just a pile of rubble|
Anyone visiting the site and expecting to find the vast, glittering city of Homer's imagination is doomed to disappointment. Compared with the ruins of other settlements in the region, such as the great Roman hilltop city of Pergamon, Troy was never very big, and at its peak probably never housed more than 7000 people. Some of my companions were dismayed by this, but for me it only made the place seem more genuine and exciting: the Camelot of the historical Arthur, assuming he ever existed, would have most likely been a rough timber hill fort rather than the splendid medieval palace described in Malory and Tennyson.
There is no space here to describe every stage of the city's existence, but I'll attempt a quick summary. Troy was founded in roughly 3000 BC, and flourished thanks to its control of the Dardanelles, through which merchant vessels had to pass. A series of migrations and earthquakes took their toll, and at some point early Troy appears to have been burned to the ground. It is possible that the story of the 'Wooden Horse of Troy' was inspired by some natural disaster hitting the city: the horse was apparently one of the symbols of Poseidon, god of the sea.
|Ancient ramp leading to the royal hall of early Troy|
Despite various disasters, Troy continued to endure into the classical Roman period, when it benefited from the patronage of figures such as Sulla, Pompey, Julius Caesar, Augustus and Hadrian. This extremely long and complicated history means that the surviving ruins are a mosaic of different eras: the remains of Hadrian's odeon sit beside a roofless council chamber probably used by Bronze Age Trojan kings and their councillors; the stump of a fortified tower built in 1300 BC overlooks a wide ramp leading up to the foundations of a royal hall dating from a thousand years earlier. And so on. The only false note is struck by the massive wooden horse erected outside the grounds for the benefit of tourists, though it was fun to climb around inside.
|Possibly not the original wooden horse...|