The City of Troy Maze

Feb 23, 2024 | News, News - Featured

A new interpretation panel has been put up at one of the jewels of the Howardian Hills National Landscape – The City of Troy Maze.

This is the smallest surviving turf maze in Europe, measuring 5.95 metres (26ft) across. It is one of just eight that survive in England, and the only one in the ‘Classical’ seven-ringed design. There are no false pathways or dead ends, even though reaching the centre is tortuous. The path lies along the raised turf strips, with the gravelled gullies acting as barriers. The path is banked towards the centre of the maze to allow for easy running, as tradition dictates.

The origin and meaning of the maze are unclear. Almost identical designs are found on Greek and Roman pottery, and stone mazes are still quite common in Scandinavia.

It is likely that the mazes had religious or ceremonial customs, perhaps relating to fertility and renewal of life. Some people think they represent the path of human spirituality, where the goal is clear but not the route. Others think labyrinths were the residence of dead souls, who were trapped safely in the centre but could be reached for advice when necessary.

No-one knows exactly why this one is called “The City of Troy”. It could be a reference to the maze games that were taken to Italy after the city of Troy was destroyed by the Greeks. In the 1700’s Welsh shepherds used to cut this design in the turf whilst tending their flocks. They called it “Caerdroia” – “City of Troy”.

The origins of this particular maze are obscure. Because turf mazes are easily lost, either through neglect or damage, it is likely that this maze has moved location slightly over the years. One story says that it was re-cut in about 1860, copied from a design scratched on a barn door that had originally been in a nearby chapel. Another story says that the design was on a newspaper that was lining the bottom of a lunch basket being taken to workmen in the fields. Damage by horses and waggons resulted in further re-cuttings in 1900 and 1934, and there have almost certainly been other re-cuttings since then. No one knows, however, when the first maze was originally cut.

This is one of several labyrinths in this part of North Yorkshire, many constructed in recent years. The Labyrinths in Britain website (labyrinthsinbritain.uk) has an interactive map giving you information on all UK labyrinths which are open to the public.

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