A number of years ago, my friend Pat came to visit Çanakkale. I was delighted to be able to take her to Troy and show her around the area.
It was not a visit strictly for pleasure, Pat was researching a book about Gertrude Bell, specifically her travels and work in Türkiye. Gertrude Bell had visited the area briefly in 1899, called into Frank Calvert in the consulate in town and then travelled on to Troy. After a visit to the site, she stayed in Thymbra Farm, the Calvert family farm just south of Troy, before continuing her travels.
Pat had come across a reference to Bell at an exhibition in Istanbul and realised that her time in Türkiye is largely forgotten in comparison with her work in what is now Iraq and Syria. So having investigated Bell’s diaries and writings, she set off to follow her path through the country.
The result is this magnificent book, Following Miss Bell: Travels Around Turkey in the Footsteps of Gertrude Bell. It is part travelogue, part commentary and all personality. There are multitudes of layers; Bell’s view of the locations and history, Pat’s trials in finding the same locations in the present day, the opinions of many taxi drivers and helpful others, and Pat’s affection for Bell and for Türkiye.
Pat also notes how the places have changed in the few years since she made her journey. This is most poignant for Antakya, where many of the places visited by both women were destroyed in the massive earthquakes of February 2023.
I read the book with Pat’s wonderful voice in my ear, feeling like she was sitting across from me talking about her journey. Each chapter begins with a subheading of the places covered and a quote from Bell’s letters or diaries, reminding me of nineteenth century guidebooks.
For anyone with an interest in Türkiye, in Gertrude Bell and in how much places and populations change in a little over a century, this is a terrific book.