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ÇANAKKALE

Pottery Castle on the Dardanelles                Population: 120,000

DardanellesMarket day: Friday

Anniversaries: 18 March Çanakkale Day, 25 April ANZAC Day

Old name: Dardanos

Çanakkale is the town that guards the Dardanelles and access from the Mediterranean to the Marmara and thence via the Bosphorus to the Black Sea.

It is not, at first sight, a beautiful town, having lost most of its old buildings to earthquakes and war damage, but it does boast one of Turkey’s most stunning settings, so it’s a shame that most people barely give it a glance in their rush to reach the Gallipoli battlefields and the ruins of nearby Troy.Canakhorse

To see the best of what Çanakkale has to offer there are few better places to start than the waterfront. If you’re traveling from İstanbul you will probably arrive by boat anyway, crossing from Eceabat on the Thracian side of the Dardanelles in a ferry not dissimilar to those in İstanbul. Hop off the bus as soon as the boat docks. Many hotels overlook the water, so you won’t have far to walk with your bags.

This is a location that has always attracted tragedy. As you gaze out towards Kilitbahir Castle on the far side of the strait, spare a thought for the saga of Hero and Leander, legendary lovers who lived on opposite sides of it. Forbidden to see Hero, Leander would swim across every night to meet her under cover of darkness, using the light from a lamp that she hung out to guide him. Then one night a strong wind blew out the light. Poor Leander lost his way in the dark and was drowned, whereupon Hero threw herself to her death from a tower.

Given its disastrous end, one might not think Leander’s a feat many would want to emulate, but today there are a surprising number of hardy individuals who want to have a stab at swimming the straits.

Warning: In recent years Çanakkale has become a hugely popular destination for Turkish tourists. Despite the ever-growing number of hotel rooms you may well find no beds available over weekends unless you book in advance.

Around town

CanakarmyFirst stop should be the Military Museum (closed Mondays and Thursdays). Even if things military are not really your scene, this one is right on the waterfront and centred on the first of the two castles - originally the Kale-i Sultaniye and now the Çimenlik (Grassy Spot) Kalesi - that gird the straits. It was built for Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror in 1452 while he was planning the siege of Constantinople (İstanbul) and to this day its walls are as sturdy as those of Rumeli Hisarı.

Inside it contains a so-so collection of pictures of Atatürk and of the Gallipoli Campaign, better known to the locals as the Çanakkale War.

It’s worth coming to the museum just for the view across the straits to Kilitbahir and the second castle. But while you’re here you may want to visit the small Picture and Photography Gallery, one of the few places where you can still get an idea what the town used to look like before it was swamped by modern development.Canakcastle2

In the grounds there is a replica of a famous mine-laying ship, the Nusrat. During the Gallipoli Campaign the British and their allies cleared the straits of mines, but during the night the mariners of the Nusrat ventured back to relay the mines which then blew up three Allied ships. The original Nusrat is preserved in a park in Tarsus.

A short walk south of the museum is the Sarı river with a sprawling market on its banks a little way inland. Alternatively you can stroll north along the waterfront, pausing in the many little tea gardens along the way. The focal point is the port where boats arrive and leave not just from Eceabat but also from Kilitbahir and more distant Gökçeada (‘the Windy Isle’).

CanakclockJust inland the main local landmark is a clock tower dating back to 1897 which was partly paid for by Emile Vitalis, an Italian consul and local merchant. His house just across the road now has a cafe on the ground floor.

What remains of old Çanakkale clusters in the narrow streets nearby and is slowly being restored to provide premises for lively bars and cafes. Look out for the café in the inviting courtyard of the Yalı Han, and for the rebuilt Aynalı Çarşısı, once famous enough to be immortalized in song. Here, too, you will find the Kervansaray Hotel in a renovated pasha’s house dating back to 1903.

Here, too, housed in an old hotel you will find the Çanakkale Kent Müzesi (City Museum) which details the city's more recent history. The labelling is currently only in Turkish.

The streets between the Aynalı Çarşısı and the Sarı Çay (river) are very rundown and poor but if you do explore them you may come across Çanakkale's fine 19th-century synagogue, still with its wooden bima in place; and the Korfmann archaeological library. In Zafer Meydanı behind the library the late 19th-century Armenian church of St George is now used for whirling dervish shows on Friday evenings. 

On the far side of the river the pretty little Kayserili Ahmet Paşa Mosque and Library dating back to 1873 is another unexpected find. 

When it comes to the town itself, sightseeing pickings are slim, although the Archaeology Museum (closed Mondays) does house some of the finds from Troy. Until recently it also showcased some fine examples of Çanakkale-ware, a kitschy, clumpy style of 19th-century pottery that favoured brown, green and yellow glazes – a statue-sized model of a favourite design adorns Cumhuriyet Bulvarı. Most of this is now on display in the excellent new Ceramics Museum or far from the northern end of the harbour in a disused hamam. 

Lovers of İznik and Kütahya pottery tend to turn up their noses at Çanakkale offerings, regarding them as too crude to be taken seriously. But fashion is fickle, and nowadays genuine Çanakkale pottery fetches high prices. The finest collection on public display is housed in Antalya’s Suna and İnan Kıraç Kaleiçi Museum. Canakmus

Every evening the waterside promenade comes alive as locals take a turn up and down it and snack sellers turn out in force to make sure they don’t go hungry. As you follow the crowds north, you can hardly fail to notice the giant wooden horse, a reminder of the nearby ruins of Troy, the town to which Paris took Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world after he had stolen her from her Spartan husband Menelaus, thus sparking off the 10-year-long Trojan War. The horse was a gift from the film studios after work finished on the 2004 movie Troy featuring Brad Pitt, Eric Bana and Orlando Bloom.

Eating

Unfortunately fine dining is in fairly short supply. Most Çanakkale eateries are small lokantas with run-of-the-mill menus or so-so fish restaurants in noisy locations.

When it comes to bars and cafes there are now a long line of them, all looking much the same, lining the promenade as it strikes north from the harbout. Alternatively you can join Çanakkale’s large student population in the boozy bars around the clock tower.

The more docile alternative is to sip tea in the tea gardens south of the harbour and watch the world’s shipping drift by.

Sleeping

Despite an apparent plethora of places to stay I have struggled to find a bed on most recent visits. This is certainly one place where you should make sure to have a reservation at least for your first night before you arrive to avoid disappointment. 

Canakstatue

Anzac Hotel

Efes Hotel. Tel: 0286-217 3256

Helen Hotel

Hotel des Etrangers 

Hotel Artur. Tel: 0286-213 2000

Kervansaray Hotel

Limanı Otel

Maydos Hotel. Tel: 0286- 213 5970.

Entertainment

Anzac House, Cumhuriyet Bulvarı. Nightly screenings of the Peter Weir film, Gallipoli.

Yellow Rose Pension, Yeni Sokak. Nightly screenings of Gallipoli.

Transport info

There are flights to Çanakkale from İstanbul.

Otherwise there are regular buses from İstanbul’s Esenler bus station to Çanakkale (6 hrs). Most buses head west through Tekirdağ and down the Gelibolu Peninsula, crossing the Dardanelles to Çanakkale at Eceabat.

From Çanakkale there are frequent ferries to Eceabat and Kilitbahir.

Driving, you might prefer to take the fast ferry from Yenikapı to Bandırma and then continue west to Çanakkale.

Minibuses to Troy leave from the local bus station opposite the Friday market-place and beside the Sarı Çay river. This is also the place to find a minibus to Erenköy.

Travel agencies in Çanakkale run daily tours of the main battlefield sites as well as half-day tours to Troy.

Hassle-Free Tours.Tel: 0286-213 5969.

TJs Tours. Tel: 0286-814 3121.

Troy-ANZAC Tours. Tel: 0286-217 5849.

Day trip destinations

Abide

Eceabat

Erenköy

Gallipoli

Gelibolu

Gökçeada

Kilitbahir

Troy

 

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