With the ancient city of Troy a mere 30 kms away, tourists often treat Canakkale as the pit-stop for a day tour before venturing further.
Luckily, my stay was sponsored by a European youth project that brought together 19 participants from Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Greece, Malta, Lithuania, Slovakia and Turkey. Thanks to this project I had the amazing opportunity to stay in this interesting city for a week and have a wonderful time. Barely 300 square miles in area, Canakkale is best seen over brisk walks. The compact shopping area hosts several eateries and tea gardens overlooking the beautiful waterfront.
A sip of Rakı with appetizers as the day eases into a golden sunset over the sea and little fishing boats is the best tonic after a busy day. Salep (during winters), Turkish coffee or Tea might be your thing too, if you want to soak in the Turkish custom of socializing over a quiet evening drink. For the hungrier kind, the city offers great collection of seafood.
From street-vendors selling mussels to upscale fish cuisine outlets, there are many choices. Exert moderation however, as Turkish cuisines are generous with hot red pepper flakes, paprika, yenibahar (allspice) and cumin. Else, with all that walking and the spices, next morning might be tricky! The serene tranquility of Strait of Dardanelle is like a picture postcard come to life. But the biggest tourist attraction is the famous Trojan Horse. Thanks to Homer’s Iliad and Helen of Troy, it is part of the local folklore. And if you’ve seen Brad Pitt’s ‘Troy’ you’ll recognize the proud structure right in the middle of seafront promenade. It was a gift to the city from the crew of ‘Troy’ in 2004. So even if you haven’t seen the movie, do get yourself a selfie at the spot! A few blocks in the opposite direction you find the 125 year old Clock Tower looming in the horizon. Built in 1897 by Italian tradesman Emili Vitali, who apparently shelled out 10,000 French gold-pieces for it, the 5-storey Clock Tower is one of the symbols of the town with a clock on each of its four faces. The public fountain underneath was built by a wealthy Jewish resident in 1889. Together they attract a fair amount of tourists. Tip for rich people: book a room in the Anzac hotel right across from here. The cross streets both lead to more shops, selling everything from branded clothes to suitcases for dirt cheap. Several vendors carry locally grown fruits in their wheelbarrows. We tried them out a few times, and marveled at how tasty they were each time.
A little walk further down brings you to the refurbished Egyptian Bazaar. The original one was shelled down by British Battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth during the First World War. Turkish coffee fortune-telling (kahve fali) is very common in Turkey and we definitely had to experience it!
Along the seaside are many bars to have a drink. BeachCanakkale beach attracts sunbathers, both tourists and locals. However, for a cleaner beach and quieter experience, drive down 55 miles to the south to Assos. It is totally worth it! Overlooking a quaint fishing hamlet, Behramkale, the now-forgotten town of Assos has a history dating back to 7th century B.C. The original walls guarding the city still survive, as do the acropolis and the Athenian temple. Legend has it that Aristotle founded a school while his three-year stay in the city. If the day tour wasn’t interesting enough, there was also a majestic sunset to round off the day, as the golden rays lit up the Bay of Edremit. Kemerdere Lake The little known Kemerdere Lake is yet another hidden gem. Prohibited for visit by commoners until recently, the lake and its lakeside Eden were exclusive to Sultan Mehmed and royalty. Perhaps that’s why most guidebooks or local guides seldom mention it, but it remains a beautifully preserved spot. Naval History and World War I To get a more authentic view of the history, venture out to Cimenlik Fortress, Naval & Military Museum in the area.
Cimenlik Fortress has been preserved as a military museum. With relics, static displays and shows related to the Gallipoli campaign, it preserves the rich naval history of the region.
As the World War I battleground for British and ANZAC forces, fighting for control of the straits with Germany, Gallipoli saw millions of bullets fly in a bloodbath which lasted eight months. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkish Republic, repelled the Allies but not before nearly 100,000 troops from both sides became casualties. Tourists often still find some bullets scattered on the ground between trenches, some of them only 10 feet apart! Besides being of great emotional significance to local Turkish people, Australians and New Zealanders routinely flock the region on April 25 (ANZAC day). The number of cemeteries and war memorials in Gallipoli makes you wonder about such futile wars. The Naval Museum hosts several cannons and a replica of the Nasrat mine layer. Nasrat was vital to the victory in Gallipoli campaign. Legend has it that Winston Churchill had a massive combined attack planned at the straits. But the Ottoman forces got a whiff of it and used Nasrat to plant mines all along the straits. British battle shipsHMS Irresistible, HMS Inflexible and HMS Ocean and the French battleship, the Bouvet, were among the several battleships which were stricken or badly damaged. This effectively halted any further attempts of Allies sending battleships to enter the straits. Art
Troy For centuries, the world believed Homer’s Iliad was a wonderful myth, a story about Trojan wars and sieges. In 1863 British sailor and explorer Frank Calvert discovered the ancient ruins at Hisarlik, which he believed to be Troy. I think he was just another sailor looking for a mermaid (or Helen of Troy!) German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, followed five years later with more money and men, and uncovered a string of cities dating from Bronze Age to the Roman period. He declared one of these cities—at first Troy I, later Troy II—to be the city of Troy, a widely accepted view at the time. Schliemann also dug out a collection of golden earrings, necklaces, pots of silver and gold and other items, including two ornately crafted gold diadems, collectively known as Priam’s treasure.
While Schliemann claimed the diadems belonged to Helen of Troy, later discoveries refuted it, placing Priam as the king of Troy VI or VII, several hundred years after Troy II. Like Helen herself, the treasure was smuggled by Schliemann and later donated to Berlin Museum in 1880. After World War II it was again smuggled, this time by Russian soldiers to Pushkin Museum, Moscow.
Archeological mysteries remain. Further investigation has revealed that the people who built Troy I and the people who inhabited during the Trojan wars are culturally and ethnically different. Further, the legend of a ten-year war with Greeks over the kidnapping of their queen Helen seems a little too far-fetched. Most of all, the final act of smuggling soldiers inside the wooden ‘Trojan Horse’ to win the war also seems fanciful. However, recent discovery of wooden structure remnants dated back to the era of Trojan wars have opened up new possibilities. In recent times Troy is undergoing restorative work, and could be a fairly boring trek across several excavation sites. It remains open for public however, and with a knowledgeable guide you could really see the history of nearly 5000 years (with the oldest ruins from 3000 B.C.) like a nine-layered cake of archaeological revelations. The archaeological site of Troy also features a wooden Trojan Horse, built in recent years to amuse tourists who can climb inside to have their pictures taken. Yet the Hollywood version of the Trojan horse in the harbor of Canakkale is more fascinating to me. Are the stories true or was there a different reason for these ancient hostilities? Did the stunningly beautiful Helen really exist? Did the unsuspecting Trojan soldiers really get fooled by a wooden horse? As you drive out of Troy, you are left with a curious mix of charming memories, rich historical experience and unanswered questions.
Photo credits: moco-choco and Adriano