The attack and destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2000 can be compared to a baptism. One day it was a thriving commercial center, the next a symbol of the destructive power of violence. The place, formerly noted as a center of global commerce, a visible monument of America’s world financial dominance, has since become a sacred symbol to many people. Each year thousands of visitors come to pay their respects. Where once stood two mighty towers another now stands on what has become for the masses domestic and foreign mythical hallowed ground.
The 9/11 Memorial website (2015) describes the The Twin Towers as “the centerpieces of the World Trade Center complex. At 110 stories each, 1 WTC (North Tower) and 2 WTC (South Tower) provided nearly 10-million-square feet of office space for about 35,000 people and 430 companies.” Before 9/11, the Twin Towers viewed from a distance, from ferries plying the Hudson River presented an awe-inspiring image—the mythical identifiers of lower Manhattan.
Two of the world’s largest buildings stood side by side, proclaiming to the world the greatness and invincibility of the culture that created them. In the words of de Botton (n/d), “We look to our buildings to hold us, like a kind of psychological mold, to a helpful vision of ourselves.” As buildings, the towers contributed greatly to the world’s architecture. The buildings themselves became “attractions.” After 9/11 when the buildings were no more than rubble, the ground on which they stood became a mythical symbol in and of itself. The place now sacred took the colloquial name, Ground Zero. When people visit there they are most likely to call it that. “I am going to visit Ground Zero,” they say in the same reverent tone they might say, “I am going to visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral or “The Battlefields of Gettysburg.” In the wake of their destruction, the place, like the Cross of Christ, became a symbol of both unbearable suffering and triumph.
DePalma (2011) writes, “The 211-by-211-foot space where each of them once stood… can be filled only by what once was and no longer is.” Instead the space now holds statues of fallen “saints,”on alters of rubble. On memorial fountains are etched the names of the 3000 souls who died there on 9/11. Sowa (2002) writes of sacred objects, including a sand mandala created by Buddhist monks. As a symbol of life’s impermanence, the mandala’s sands were strewn over the waters of the Hudson River. Other sacred objects in the form of crystal images of the towers are found in gift shops; a surviving bronze statue which once graced the center “navel” of the original plaza courtyard waits to be restored to its original location. Roadside shrines on local doorsteps remind visitors of Buddhist stupas.
Crowds visiting stand and stare and motion toward certain areas, their comments to friends whispered as it not to disturb the dead. It is very reminiscent of a church service, because it is. It is not a place for laughter or rowdy behavior. According to DePalma, it is a place like others “transformed by the attack into [a] sacred place where people come to pay their respects or silently pray”–mythical as it were in the annals of history.
The “others” of which DePalma speaks but is not specific dot the pages of history with mythology of their own. The famous battle of Troy depicted in Homer’s Iliad has often been questioned as more myth than history. In centuries to come perhaps the World Trade Center and its destruction will suffer the same fate becoming more myth than history. What will save this from happening? What will keep the Twin Towers tragedy from becoming more myth than history? Rosenberg (2006) writes of archeological excavations at Troy which have all but proven that the city of Homer’s Troy was indeed “actually six of nine cities on the same site,” as now the new World Trade Tower is the second to occupy its site. (If we dig deeper into the earth perhaps we will find other occupiers.) The discovery at Troy of “sacred objects” of jewelry, weapons, pottery, bronze, gold and silver may one day in other forms be re-discovered at the Trade Center site. Then new myths will be born about who we were and whether historical recountings were true or not.
The most significant and poignant comparison between the discovered Troy and the World Trade center is eerie. Rosenberg (2006) discusses the finding of remains of “great towers and walls built with Bronze Age tools,” consistent with what Homer describes as a “major trade center—a place where people from both western and eastern cultures would meet in order to transact business…”
Other similarities exist between the World Trade Center and the City of Troy of Homerian myth. The city was probably targeted for no other reason than Greek propensity for warfare and conquering. However, the city of Homer’s Iliad as well as the real city found beneath several layers of former civilizations did exist and was surely destroyed in violent confrontation. New layers, new cities (structures) were set atop the ruins to replace the one before.
The myth that has grown up around Troy has the benefit of the mists of history, time, and an author’s creative storytelling. The Twin Towers and World Trade Center have no such lack of clarity. The violence of the event is burned in the modern psyche. Its mythology is not a product of ancient imagination but of an evolving emotional reaction from those wishing to keep it fresh in their minds—a story to pass on to generations. The myth though differs in one way above all others. In Troy two warring entities battled it out. In New York, only one enemy acted against another in secrecy and stealth. Troy then is pictured in its myth as heroic; the other as infamous.
- de Botton, A. (2008). The architecture of happiness. Vintage Press, New York.
- DePalma, A. (2011). “The sacred and secular at Ground Zero.” Notre Dame Magazine (online). Retrieved from: http://magazine.nd.edu/news/26007-the-sacred-and-secular-at-ground-zero/
- Rosenberg, D (2006). World mythology: An anthology of the great myths and epics. McGraw Hill, New York.
- Sowa, C.A (2002). Epilogue to “holy places”: The World Trade Center as mythical place. Retrieved from: http://www.minervaclassics.com/wtcholy.htm
- The World Trade Center History (2015). 9/11 Memorial website Retrieved from: http://www.9/11memorial.org/world-trade-center-history