The narrow Turkish strait connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara known as the Dardanelles is one of the most strategic waterways in the world. Its history of conflict dates back to ancient times when the city of Troy controlled the passage. Centuries later, it was the setting for the epic Battle of Gallipoli during World War 1 and the rise of the “Father of the Turks.”
A Strait of Strategic Importance
The highly strategic narrow strait of water that serves as the only outlet of the Black Sea nations to worldwide shipping lanes has the Biga Peninsula on its eastern side and the Gallipoli Peninsula on its western shore. The lands on either side of the Dardanelles have witnessed the collapse of many civilizations and much bloodshed. The Persians passed the Dardanelles in order to invade Greece and constructed the world’s first strait bridge by connecting the ships with ropes. However, this bridge had a short life span and was destroyed during a storm. Alexander the Great, the King of Macedonia, started his invasion of Anatolia by first passing through the Dardanelles. Later, the Allied Armies invaded in an attempt to seize Constantinople.
Steeped in Mythology
In Turkish, the Dardanelles are called Çanakkale Bogazi for the city of Çanakkale, whose name comes from “Canak Kale,” or the Canak Castle. The Dardanelles is also known as Dardanelya (Dardanus’ Gateway) and Hellespontus (Helle’s Sea), names with mythological origins. According to the myth, King Athamas’ children Phryxus and Helle were expelled from their homes by their stepmother and their real mother Nephele, the Cloud Goddess, senta flying ram with golden fleece to pick them up. While the prince and princess were flying in the sky, Princess Helle fell into the water and drowned, thus “Hellespontus”: Helle’s sea. The name Dardanelles comes from the town of Dardanus, an area near the city of Çanakkale. The founder of the city, Dardanus, is a descendant of the Zeus and Electra, daughter of Atlas, in Greek mythology.
Another mythological tale about the Çanakkale Strait is about the love of Hero and Leander. The two lovers, who lived in Sestos and Abydos on the opposite sides of the Dardanelles, saw each other at a festival organized for Aphrodite. Every night, Leander lit a candle and Hero swam across the Dardanelles to see her. Until one day her father learned about their rendezvous and lit a candle on a stormy day. Thinking his lover Leander was calling him, Hero swam to her and drowned.
About thirty minutes from Çanakkale, the national park containing the ruined city Troy is located on top of Hisarlık Hill overlooking the Dardanelles. According to the myth, Hisarlık Hill is the first place where the goddess Atë landed when Zeus cast her from Olympus to the Earth. The founder of the city was Ilios the son of Tros and a descendant of Dardanus. He won a competition organized by the king of Phrygia and received a black bull as a reward. He followed the black bull and decided to build a city wherever it stopped, which was the place where Atë arrived on Earth. Ilius set up the city, called Illion after him and also Troy after Illion’s father Tros. That the Achaeans later destroyed the city is thought to be because of bad luck from the goddess.
The Trojan War that Homer recounted in The Iliad took place in the ancient city of Troy, and when you visit Troy, you will have the opportunity to see the Trojan horse that was used in the movie Troy. The basis of the Trojan War was the first beauty contest in the myths. King Peleus and the sea fairy Thetis got married but they didn’t invite Eris, the goddess of strife, to the ceremony. Eris threw a golden apple on the banquet table “to the Fairest” and Hera, Athena and Aphrodite started fighting for the apple. The gods appealed for Zeus to decide the winner, but Zeus didn’t want to create more chaos and sent them to Earth where they found the shepherd Paris, son of Priam King of Troy. The Goddesses made promises to Paris each in relation to their own powers, the first ever bribes in history. And Paris chose Aphrodite, the goddess of love in exchange for the love of the most beautiful woman on Earth, Helen of Troy. With the help of Aphrodite, Paris kidnapped Helen, the beautiful wife of the Spartan king Menelaus, and this action started the Trojan War.
Although originally a port city, Troy lost its importance when the sediments carried by the river separated the city from the coast, and it was abandoned after numerous attacks. The first excavation of the ancient city was made in 1870 during Ottoman times. Thirty three layers belonging to seven different time periods have since been discovered. In order to understand the complex structure of the area, it has been divided into 9 main historical periods.
You can hire a car or take a bus from Çanakkale to Troy. However, because of the size of the area, it is recommended to use professional guides from Çanakkale.
Admission: 15 Turkish Lira
Hours: Open dailyApril-October: 8am – 7:30pm; November-March: 8am – 5pm
The Ottoman Empire and the Battle of Gallipoli
Although the Dardanelles seems advantageous for transportation and the defense of Istanbul, it provides attackers with a tempting strategic target. The Dardanelles has witnessed the efforts of various countries to pass through the strait from 16th to 20th Century. The bloodiest one in history is the Çanakkale Wars (popularly the Battle of Gallipoli), which took place during the First World War when the Ottoman Empire still ruled Turkey.
In 1915, the Ottoman Empire was aligned with Germany and Austria-Hungary against the Allied powers of the British, Scottish, Irish, French, Indian, Australian, New Zealander and North African armies. The Çanakkale Wars took place on the Gallipoli peninsula for about 8 months, both on land and at sea. In this war, more than 130,000 soldiers lose their lives, the vast majority out-gunned Turks. The fight took place on many fronts, but the story that you will read took place in the Arıburnu Front.
On the morning of April 25 at 5am, Anzac Corps (the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) enters Arıburnu. Despite the Turkish resistance, the invaders seem headed to a decisive victory. At Conkbayırı, the 19th Divisional Commander Mustafa Kemal hears of the attack during a training exercise and realizes that the enemy is coming. The Army Commander is informed but there is no answer. Mustafa Kemal makes a decision. He goes to Arıburnu and sees the Turkish soldiers are running in retreat. Kemal speaks to soldiers and quickly learns there is no ammo left. He commands them, “If you do not have ammo, use your bayonets.” Mustafa Kemal then orders the soldiers to lay on the ground. Seeing the Turks, enemy soldiers also lay on the ground. With this move, the Turkish soldiers gains some time for reinforcements.
After this Mustafa Kemal gives the now famous order:
“Men, I am not ordering you to attack. I am ordering you to die. In the time that it takes us to die, other forces and commanders can come and take our place.”
With this, the battle commenced with mutual attacks during daylight hours and close quarter combat at night. Reinforcements come and both sides dug in for a long, bloody battle.
On, December 20, 1915 at 3:57am, the war ended on this front when the last Anzac soldier left. While two-thirds of the soldiers who died during the battle were Turks, 8,700 were Australian. General Godley left a message for the Turks asking them to show respect to the memory of soldiers that died at the war as an example of courage to the next generation. However, there was no need to remind to Mustafa Kemal. He makes a move that is rarely seen in the page of history. The place is named “Anzac Cove” for the honor of the defeated and, in 1934, a monument is built to commemorate the Anzac soldiers who died there. This action forges a bond of friendship between the countries. And there is a message from Mustafa Kemal on it which is send to Anzac mothers who lost their children at war:
“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us. Where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours … You mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away the tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace after having lost their lives on this land. They have become our sons as well.”
With these words, he reminds the people of the world the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation. In memory of Mustafa Kemal, Ataturk monuments are built in Canberra and Wellington’s Tarakina Bay in New Zealand.
Every year, people from various parts of the world, but especially from New Zealand and Australia, come to Çanakkale to pay respect to their ancestors and to remember them once again with Anzac Cove Dawn rituals on 25th of April.
Plan on two days to visit every memorial and cemetery on the Gallipoli peninsula because the park is spread over 33,000 hectares. You can reach the National Park area by ferry from Çanakkale. However, like visiting Troy, a professional guide and travel agency are recommended to help with the planning and visit.
The quickest option is a short flight from Istanbul to Çanakkale. The airport is 3 km outside the city center and you can easily reach town bus or taxi. Buses are also available from Istanbul, Ankara and Eskisehir to Çanakkale or can take the ferry from Bandırma to Istanbul and then take a bus to Çanakkale.
Where to Stay
Anzac Hotel website Rooms from 90 – 150 Turkish Lira
Kervansaray Hotel website Rooms from 140-160 Turkish Lira
Hotel Helen website Rooms from 100-140 Turkish Lira