Today we took a day trip to Turkey (only six miles as the crow flies, but a two hour ferry trip along the coast to Küçükkuyu), then another hour by minibus to the famous city of Troy, or what remains of it. Our guide for the day, Aykut led us first round the museum: brand new, and an impressive building in its own right, a five-storey cube, clad in weathered, rusted steel.
After a pleasant lunch, we moved to the site of the excavated ruins of the city itself. The entrance was dominated by a huge wooden horse, with steps leading up into its belly. “I’ll bet the original didn’t have that,” I thought, which summed up Aykut’s message throughout: the collision of myth and reality. Not just no steps, but no horse, not mentioned in Homer’s Iliad, and apparently a conflation of other, later myths, used as a propaganda exercise to strengthen Greek resolve when threatened by the Persians. There was not one city of Troy, but nine, each built on the ruins of those that had gone before. In the Trojan War, the Greeks were not Greek, and the Trojans not Trojan. Biggest myth of all, used even in the city’s own early history (and the same explanation man has always used to explain the inexplicable): the walls of Troy were built by the Gods.
Modern history told of tragic errors. A German archaeologist in the late 19th century was so determined to discover the “true” Troy that he dug a deep hole, and finding a layer which had suffered a cataclysmic fire, assumed that he had found his prize… even though he was actually 1,900 years too early. They excavated a huge trench, thirty metres wide, ninety metres long, clearing everything above his Troy out of the way, and destroying tons of evidence. He looted thousands of gold artefacts, which were sent back to the archaeological museum in Germany… and which were subsequently stolen by the USSR with the fall of Berlin. Some of these were acquired by the USA (probably via light-fingered Russian soldiers who traded them at Checkpoint Charlie), and eight have now been re-acquired by Turkey, and are on display in the museum.
With impressive story-telling, building to a powerful climax, Aykut made the case for the vital historical importance of Troy as the cradle of Greek, Roman, even Western civilisation, and as such a place of pilgrimage, by Alexander, Julius Caesar, Augustus… And though one might regard him as an unreliable narrator, with his own “historical” account suffused by myth, he told an amazing tale well. Troy is a fascinating ruin, with a remarkable story. Despite the the long journey, we were very pleased to have seen it.