From the Daily Telegraph:

SWORD-and-sandal epics and facts have little in common.

Take Troy, the rather woeful Brad Pitt, Eric Bana and Orlando Bloom movie where beautiful men fight the good fight for Helen – and Hollywood – and damn the archaeological evidence.

Does anyone care that the action takes place in a few days, not (the reputed) 10 years? Or that the towering walls of Troy were nowhere near as imposing in 1200BC – it would have been wasteful, as enormous siege engines were yet to be invented?

Minor points to movie-goers, perhaps, but those who guide visitors around the real Troy know they're up against it. When the tour buses roll up to the dusty mound in north-western Turkey, reality can be a shock.

There's a parking lot, rose garden, a souvenir shop selling trinkets, fake armour and guide books, a small museum and a giant wooden horse, built as a tourist attraction in 1975 by a Turkish artisan. Behind, a road winds through tumbled stones and broken columns towards the mound and its ruins.

Jumble of ruined walls

Any wonder that the Trojan horse is the immediate star? It's the Troy version of the Big Merino at Goulburn.

There's another horse, too: a dark, forbidding steed used in the movie, which today stands guard over the Dardanelles at Canakkale, a short way to the north. Those who don't want to make the brief trip to the real Troy see this one instead, before crossing to the Gallipoli Peninsula.

But again, those pesky facts get in the way of a good story… was there ever a wooden horse? It is briefly mentioned in Homer's Odyssey, not in The Iliad, Homer's epic poem about Troy, Helen, Paris, Priam and Hector, and the conflict between mankind and the gods.

According to legend the wooden horse was used by the attacking Greeks to trick the Trojans into opening their gates to soldiers secreted in its belly, hence the saying: "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts."

Yet Troy is far more than a sun-blasted and dusty site with a jumble of ruined walls. Look towards the distant Dardanelles, past the herders with their goats and the farmers tilling their fields, and you can understand why it once commanded the plain of Troy before it, and the vital seaway beyond.

Tour of Troy

Archeologists believe Troy covered 30ha and was inhabited for about 3000 years.

Only a fraction has been unearthed but, since excavation began in the late 1800s, they've found the remains of 10 cities, layered one over another, from the first Troy in the early Bronze Age until the settlement was abandoned in the Middle Ages.

Frank Calvert, an Englishman living in the Dardanelles area, was convinced he had found the legendary city when he dug at the mound, near modern Hisarlik.

He told a contemporary: wealthy German businessman and Iliad enthusiast Heinrich Schliemann, who between 1871 and 1890 established that the Troy of Homer was not a mythical place.

Schliemann's worst excesses can be seen on a tour of Troy today and are, in their own way, a tourist attraction.

A short walk from the parking lot, past the famous walls that are excavated below ground level, visitors are confronted by a massive trench that cuts through centuries of deposits.

This is known as Schliemann's Trench, and is renowned not so much for its discoveries but because it destroyed so much in the search for the Troy of Homer.

Fortunately, Schliemann piqued a curiosity among archeologists and visitors which remains, as well as leaving much for future generations to explore.

Meet the author

The Troy site is confusing to those who come totally unprepared, with signposts at various levels in the earth showing the eras, such as Troy II or Troy VI – and not always in numerical order.

Consequently, the easiest way to understand Troy is with a tour guide, although there is a clearly marked walking track with explanation posts around the site for those on a quick tour.

Afterwards, stop at the souvenir shop, where you may meet the author of the guide books, Hisarlik resident Mustafa Askin, who is fluent in English and is happy to talk to anyone about his favourite site.

Just don't mention the movie.