In the footsteps of Alexander the Great

In 1994, Peter Sommer traveled 2000 kilometers through Turkey, on the path of Alexander the Great and fell in love with the country, its ancient civilizations and the Turkish people. For this epic journey, he received the Young Expeditioner Award from the Explorers Club of America.

Also follow Alexander on our tour of Alexander the Great in Turkey.

In the footsteps of Alexander the Great: Travel Articles.

Everything came from a photo in an old dusty book. It was high mountains that covered a fertile valley crossed by Alexander the Great 2300 years ago. Like the photographer, the discoverer Sir Aurel Stein, I also wanted to hike in the depths of Asia in search of the ancient past.

For over two thousand years, Alexander the Great has inspired the imagination of people around the world. Alexander fascinated me about 18 years ago, when a history teacher at school unveiled a classic world map and sketched his journey with his finger. Who could not be fascinated by a man who inspired his soldiers to go beyond the known ends of the earth for 12 years? They stomped about 22,000 miles; from Greece to India and Babylon. When the Macedonian King 323 BC At the age of thirty-two, a large part of the known world was under his feet.

After studying his library campaign, I wanted to go down to earth and see how the landscape, with its mountains, rivers and deserts, determined its strategies and determined its way. Geography often determines the story, and I wanted to take a closer look at it myself. I decided to organize an expedition focusing on Turkey, the former Asia Minor, and following her journey from the enigmatic city of Troy to the site of the Battle of Issus.

What’s better than traveling the 3,000 kilometers, traveling at the speed of his army, and facing the physical difficulties he faced. I wanted to see the monumental ruins of the cities he had visited or attacked, in search of ancient streets where his soldiers wandered. Alexander and his 40,000 soldiers laid eighteen months before they reached Issus. I avoided battles, besieged cities, and occasionally looting, and I hoped to finish the journey in about twenty weeks so that I could travel about fifteen miles a day.

Turkey is a treasure for Alexander’s enthusiasts. The first stop should be Istanbul’s large archeological museum. There is the sarcophagus Alexander. It was not Alexander’s personal coffin, whose coming and going was hotly debated. Instead, this grave was discovered in Sidon and presumably belonged to Abdalonymus, a simple gardener named Alexander of Alexander. In death as in life, he wanted to show his continued respect for his overlord and Alexander also represented on his grave.

To really admire one of the finest craft pieces of antiquity, you really have to kneel. The sides of gleaming white marble are adorned with battles and hunts, full of energy and grace. If you look closer, you can see the remnants of painted colors that further accentuate the characters, and the tiny holes where once tiny spears and swords were carefully positioned.

One page shows the hunt for Alexander, a popular hobby among Macedonian nobles and one of Alexander’s favorite pleasures. Another is Alexander the Great in the war, who stands on his faithful horse Bucephalas and stands on muscular legs against a fallen Persian rider. The king himself, his head in a lion’s helmet, symbol of Hercules, puts his right arm, lance in hand, over his shoulder.

In the spring of 334 BC Alexander began his epic expedition to overthrow the Persian Empire. As he sailed from the Gallipoli Peninsula across the Hellespont, the modern Dardanelles, he stopped halfway to sacrifice a bull and draw libations from a gold cup to appease Poseidon and the sea. Then, armed with all his might to the prow of the royal triremes, always king to the instincts of the fair, he threw his spear into the ground and claimed the continent as his conquered by the conquest. Needless to say, he was the first to jump out of his ship into the sands of Asia.

When I visited Troy as a starting point for my walk, I felt like many travelers explored the site, confused and a little disappointed. There are no grand streets with columns adorned with marble and mosaics to awaken wonder, you must let your imagination fly away, and the ancient myths will engulf your thoughts.

Alexander did it almost immediately after his arrival in Asia Minor. He undressed, was anointed with oil, and ran to lay a garland on the tomb of Achille. It was a symbolic gesture, the new great warrior who paid tribute to his personal hero who had fought Alexander a thousand years earlier (if the story of the Trojan War that Homer had told was true). He then went to the Temple of Athena, gave his own armor and received the best relics of the heroic era, including the famous Achilles five-layer shield that was to save Alexander’s life during a siege in India. ,

My walk began in March, and when I returned to the country I trembled over the snowy hills. Fortunately, the villagers greeted me and invited me to their tea rooms, filled me with hot cocoa and gave me a cornucopia of goodies. In the south, after wearing a pair of boots, I reached Ephesus. While Troy needs progress in the faith, this city does not need any effort to bring its ruins to life. Although almost everything that can be seen today is Roman, since the city was then the capital of the Asian province, it was an important city that had marched hundreds of years ago by Alexander the Great.

In Alexander’s suite, I visited the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. Coincidentally, he was burned by a madman on the night Alexander was born. Today the temple is lonely and melancholy. A single column rises completely over the swampy ground. It is difficult to see in the scattered ruins one of the largest buildings ever built, but the length of the cave provides the first simple hint. Since so many buildings were often damaged in antiquity, then rebuilt or built over the centuries, I find it quite refreshing to see a famous temple without structure.

Alexander offered to cover all expenses associated with rebuilding the temple on the condition that his name be registered in his name, but the citizens of Ephesus politely declined his attempts at publicity and propaganda because they did not conform to any god. honor another. Not very south, however, he found a recipient who agreed to his generosity much more. The city of Priene, still a poor cousin of Ephesus, was only too willing to take his money and allow him to consecrate Athena to his new temple.

Today, Priene is a real-time capsule of the Hellenistic period after the death of Alexander the Great. Designed in a rigid square hippodamian lattice pattern named after the nearby architect Miletus, the paved streets rise steeply towards the Athena Temple, with almost no regard for geography.

If you stand here and admire a breathtaking panorama over the vast floodplains of the Maeander River, the passage of time is obvious. 2300 years ago, the whole country was under water, the islands that have experienced great naval battles are nothing but bumps in a seemingly endless home. If you go through Priene, almost always without tourists, it is almost possible to hear the feet of the Macedonian soldiers among the cicadas.

Further south, Alexander Halicarnassus, the glittering capital of the Hekatomnid dynasty, built a mausoleum on a lawn whose tomb, the “Mausoleum”, is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It was also an important naval base occupied by the Persians who administered the 6.5 km of fortifications of the city. These gigantic walls with their towers were a technical masterpiece that goes back only a few decades. They are still crossing the hills over Bodrum. You can feel your majesty at the port of Myndos in the west, well and resolutely preserved not far from a newly built supermarket.

As tall and strong as they are, the walls of Halicarnassus were built to defend themselves in the past. Because Alexander was equipped with a new type of weapon, the torsion catapult. Designed by engineers from his father Philippe’s farm, he was animated by animal tendons that were able to release much more energy than anything that had been seen before. Until then, the siege war had generally been the case of an orbital and hungry city. Now a new arms race has begun.

With these catapults, Alexander could actually break the walls and destroy the cities that were on his way. One can almost imagine the expression of the Persian generals who settled in the old palace of Mausolos under the castle of Crusadar, when Alexander’s troops rowed several siege towers and ripped the first salvo of rocks.

Three months after my expedition, I crossed the depths of central Anatolia, a mosaic of endless wheat fields to reach Gordium. It is located on the Royal Persian Highway west of Ankara and was the capital of Phrygia, a kingdom dating back to the 8th century BC. Was founded by Gordius. It was expanded by his famous son Midas, whose legend said that everything was gold.

This was one of the most famous moments in Alexander’s career. Alexander was drawn to the story of a ceremonial chariot marking Gordius’ tomb. The car’s yoke was tied to a knot nobody could ever undo. Just like the story of Arthur and the sword in stone, people thought that the one who undid the knot would become the master of all of Asia. Surrounded by a crowd of spectators, Alexander fought for the knot. He became frustrated, drew his sword and cut it off. Apparently, Zeus himself accepted Alexander’s actions because “there was thunder and lightning that night”.

In the August heat we drove in Cappadocia southeast through the Taurus mountains to Tarsus. South of the Turkish coast, south of Adana, a large hill has recently been excavated. This “huyuk” on earth, like many others scattered in this part of the world, marks an ancient colony, in this case the city of Issus. Here Alexander left his sick and wounded soldiers before he followed in the footsteps of the Persian King Darius in the south. What Alexander did not know was the overthrow of Darius’s army. When Darius reached Issus, he cut off the hands of the Macedonian patient whom he had found there.

Today, the region is far from its ancient past, an industrial area full of smoked plants. But here is one of the most important battles of history. Alexander gathered his strength on the bank of a small river. He had carefully chosen the place, a narrow plain between sea and mountains, to prevent the Persians from using their much larger numbers. I remember walking around in the area, armed with former writers who described the struggle and tried to understand the landscape.

As usual, Alexander himself led the leadership at the head of his best cavalry, a real leader who showed his men the way. It aimed straight at the heart of the army facing Darius. The scene is immortalized in a mosaic by Pompeii. Alexander gallops for the Persian King out of freezing cold, who turns around and runs away as fast as he can. One of the ancient authors, Diodorus Siculus, wrote:

“Alexander wanted more than the victory over the Persians, he wanted to be the personal instrument of victory”

This is a revealing insight into the nature and personality of this legendary figure.

My walk ended a few miles south of the Battle of Iskenderun, which owes its name to a city Alexander had founded here to commemorate the battle. Four and a half months and 2000 miles after the trolling, I could not believe that my journey was over.

The countless ancient cities that I saw were remembered, but what comes to my mind is the sincere friendship of the Turkish people, which is constantly developing into tired travelers far away from home. Every day I was brought home and I was full of friendliness and hospitality. Although it was only a short question, it was very passionate and I fell in love with the country that is Turkey.

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