Dardanelles and Troy

Saturday 30th April 2011, Gallipoli, Turkey
We left Selimpaşa after breakfast and made our way back along the main coast road beside the Sea of Marmara before turning off to follow the coastal route, marked on our map as both picturesque and passable. It was neither! Potentially the road along the cliffs, hugging the shore and passing through pine trees right down to the sparkling sea was indeed stunning. However, it has been used as a place for people to tip rubbish. There was a booth with somebody charging vehicles to go along the road but he made no effort to make us pay. Perhaps he was charging vehicles according to the amount of rubbish they were carrying!

Wild fennel on the clifftop, Tekir Dagi

The second problem was that the road is in an appalling state of disrepair. The person in the toll booth told us, through mime and arm waving, that a little further along the road gave out and it was rough and bumpy for ten kilometres. He waved us through, indicating we should go and look for ourselves. Just beyond the rubbish tip we gave up, turned round and returned. I had no wish to risk Modestine's tyres and axle on such a dreadful, rocky, bumpy road where we were thrown from side to side as we moved from one wheel rut to the next.

So we wasted a good hour retracing our route but we did stop for a walk in the little seaside town of Kumbağ. It was scruffy with a small harbour. It was all worthwhile however as Ian discovered a hitherto unknown manhole cover!

Sea front, Kumbağ

Traditional building, Kumbağ

Even here the Royal Wedding makes the front page! Kumbağ

Tonight we are camping at the only available site on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Linda and John, whom we met back in Kavala, are also here for a few days before they move on to Istanbul.

The Gallipoli Peninsula is known for its tragic history. It was the theatre for savage fighting during WW1 to gain control of the Dardanelles, the narrow stretch of water linking the Aegean to the Sea of Marmara and ultimately, via the Bosporus, to the Black Sea. Winston Churchill decided capturing the waterway from the Turks, who were allied with the Central Powers of Germany and Austria - coupled with overthrowing Istanbul - would be the quickest and easiest way of securing an essential supply route to sustain the Russian forces. By 1915 Russia was fighting on the side of the Allied forces and as trench warfare had reached a stalemate on the Western Front, it was essential to attack the Central Powers from the East. In April 1915 British and French troops, together with a large contingent of Australian and New Zealand forces, entered the Dardanelles confident of victory against a demoralised Turkish army lacking ammunition and resources. Instead they encountered an army prepared to die for the country under the inspired military command of Mustafa Kemal. There followed months of bloody fighting here with many thousands dead on both sides. Eventually the Allied forces gave up and withdrew, leaving the Turkish forces victorious. Militarily, Churchill's career then took a nose dive while that of Mustafa Kemal soared. He became the hero of the Turks and their military and political leader. Later, as a politician he adopted the name of Atatürk and was responsible for leading Turkey out from its mediaeval past to develop as a modern nation. Today he is still revered here as little less than a God! Statues of him are found in every city while his face looks down from hoardings and from massive flags fluttering from the fronts of buildings.

The New Zealanders and Australians in particular suffered massive casualties, remembered here annually on 25th April which has become known as Anzac Day. Originally we intended coming directly here when we entered Turkey, but realising that we would then arrive on Anzac Day changed our plans to avoid the anticipated crowds. It would have been an experience to be here then but the day belonged to the Antipodeans who venerate 25th April each year as we do Armistice Day on 11th November. Additionally, there would have been difficulty finding anywhere to camp as absolutely all accommodation had been booked months before hand.

There are Turkish war graves here too of course and today we encountered very many crowded coaches as we drove down the peninsula, packed with Turkish day trippers from Istanbul, come to pay their respects to their own ancestors. This week is as least as special for them as it is for the Allied forces. Indeed, despite it being a military battle for political ends, many Turkish visitors today choose to interpret their victory as a holy jihad. We have met and spoken with several coach loads of schoolchildren from Ankara visiting the battlegrounds. It is clearly an important part of their history curriculum.

Monday 2nd May 2011, Gallipoli, Turkey
Yesterday we stayed put on the campsite recovering from a very hectic few days and catching up with our photos and reports. This morning, before we concentrate on the battle areas and cemeteries of Gallipoli we decided we would address the second reason for our presence here. It has always been our intention to visit Troy, the ancient city made famous through Homer's Iliad. It lies across the water in the Asian part of Turkey and our car insurance won't permit us to take Modestine there. Undaunted however, we drove her to the ferry port in Eceabat where we left her for the day and took the ferry across the straits to Çanakkale on the Asian side of the Dardanelles. To cross this beautiful stretch of water, the scene of such carnage back in 1915, on a mild sunny day, overlooked by the low hills of the Gallipoli Peninsula, alone justified the journey. Once again we sailed from one continent to another for 2 lirasi (80 pence) each! Mid way across we encountered a school of dolphins playing in the waves. There must have been twenty of them, arching their fins up out of the water, rolling over and down again. We've never seen them in real life before and it was just so exciting! Unfortunately they were a bit too far away and moving too unpredictably to photograph them.

It takes twenty minutes to cross to Çanakkale. Our guide book says there is little to detain the visitor. We beg to differ. It' the nicest and cleanest place we've yet found in Turkey with trees and proper pavements lined with smart, interesting shops selling consumer goods. People looked smart and relaxed. Headscarves were rare and we only saw one lady wearing black robes. Indeed the school girls in their uniforms with short skirts and unknotted ties looked as much like inmates of St. Trinian's as any schoolgirl from England.


Port area with cafes, Çanakkale

The town is a naval port with a castle built for defensive reasons as these straits, throughout history, have always held a commanding position.

Off the main street there is a large network of narrow streets and as elsewhere, different streets seem to be occupied by different trades. There were several adjoining shops selling fish, then several bakeries. Later we found the area of saucepans and then the plumbing equipment quarter. Around the streets tea boys carried their covered circular tin trays taking glasses of tea to the shop keepers. Knowing our time was very short we bought a couple of savoury pasties to take with us to the ancient site of Troy. They were not very nice and most of mine was later eaten by a lactating cat amidst the ruins. Her need seemed greater than mine. In any case, they were very cheap.

At the port there were lots of air conditioned coaches taking visitors on tours to Troy. Not for us such comfort! A walk through the town and several helpful directions later we eventually found the town bus station where we boarded a dolmuş seating about 12 but frequently carrying about 112. These local buses move like bats out of hell but they are cheap and fun. The driver had somebody, possibly his dad, with a huge bag of washing sitting beside him at the front. We worked out that you handed over some money as you left the bus. The fare appeared to be 5 lirasi so Ian handed him a note for ten and he seemed happy. We were dropped right at the entrance to the site, along with the big coaches we'd seen back at the port and the journey took about 40 minutes.

The site, on a sunny day, is a delight. I felt as if I were back in the Peloponnese where nature has done her best to reclaim the land on which the ruins stand. All around us were wild flowers and waving fronds of grass. Poppies and yellow heads of wild dill or fennel softened the grey walls of mud bricks while from the top of the mound that once covered the excavations we could look out across the wide flat plain of Troy. I loved the beauty and the sensation that I was walking in the footsteps of the heroic figures of Homer's Iliad. This is where Helen was brought by Paris when he abducted her from her husband King Menelaus of Sparta, thus starting the Trojan wars.

I quite appreciate this is all legendary but it's exciting and makes Troy come alive in my imagination. Troy has a very long and involved history which, fortunately for me, Ian has volunteered to deal with. I cannot get over excited (as he can) about the different ages of the rebuilds of the site or the dubious practices of the early archaeologists, who were really treasure seekers. I simply wanted to look out across the plain and imagine a fleet of Greek heroes sweeping in from Sparta to recapture Helen – who, incidentally, was daughter to a swan and hatched from an egg!

So each in our different way, we both thoroughly enjoyed our visit, stopping for our picnic lunch beneath a shady fig tree surrounded by tumbled walls dating back to around 2000BC!

On the dolmuş back to Çanakkale we both fell asleep despite ourselves. Back in town we spent an hour exploring the back streets and up around the castle, under naval control but open to the public. We bought ice creams to cool off and Ian discovered an Armenian church, locked and somewhat decayed but exceptional in a town crowded with mosques. On the ferry back we bought tiny glasses of hot tea which we sat drinking on deck as we crossed the Hellespont back into Europe once more. We are becoming regular intercontinental commuters!!

Castle (Kale in Turkish) Çanakkale

Turkish mine-laying ship, Çanakkale

Armenian church, Çanakkale

On the harbour side at Eceabat is a large scale model of the Gallipoli Peninsula showing all the ridges and contours as well as the villages. It was very helpful in orientating ourselves for exploring the sites of the battles tomorrow. There is also a model of the trenches in front of a panorama, giving an impression of what the opposing forces had to contend with during the eight months of the campaign to control the waterway.

Harbour wall, Eceabat

Scale model of part of the Gallipoli Peninsua

Turkish monument to their war dead, Eceabat

Model of Turkish trenches, Eceabat

Modestine was standing outside the bread shop where a wood fire was baking apple pasties. The lady gave us one to share. We left having purchased several more and some fresh baked bread.

Supper along the harbour front of Eceabat was a less enjoyable experience. We selected a couple of steamed dishes of chicken, vegetables and rice to save cooking when we got back. They were cheap enough but small, tepid and tasteless. I'm not a very good or enthusiastic cook so when I'm served something less palatable than I can produce I know it's not good!

Ian's account of Troy
"Troy is not an easy site to understand but it is beautifully situated and it is best to wander the ruins and soak up the atmosphere, feeling that one is treading on historic ground. Its importance as the inspiration for the works of Homer have made it into a UNESCO World Heritage site. Troy was occupied for about four millennia and archaeologists have divided it into nine main levels, each built on top of the other, raising the mound of Hisarlik some 30 metres above the plain.

A complex site. Troy

Troy I, the oldest, started in about 3600 BC but Troy II was the first major settlement with massive walls surrounding the citadel which was approached by a ramp and imposing buildings, including the Megaron building whose mud bricks were burned red when the city was destroyed by fire in about 2300 BC. The mud bricks now form a home for innumerable bees' nests.

Walls and ramp leading to citadel. Troy II

Walls of Megaron. Troy II

On the ruins of earlier settlements was eventually constructed Troy VI in about 1700 BC. The formidable walls are perhaps the most conspicuous remains on the site, although the way they slope inwards made it possible to scale them, as several children were demonstrating while we were there. Finds show that it was an important trading centre with objects imported from the Mycenaean regions and also from the east. This city was destroyed by an earthquake in about 1275 BC and in brief succession there followed Troy VIIa which was destroyed by fire a generation later and Troy VIIb.

Walls and north-east gate. Troy VI

Plain of Troy from north-east tower. Troy VI

South gate and street leading to citadel. Troy VI

Troy VIII and Troy IX were the classical Greek and Roman cities respectively which flourished from about 700BC to 400 AD. The site became an important religious centre and a temple was constructed to Athene and to the heroes of the Trojan wars. Even the Persian king Xerxes visited it on his way to Greece and Alexander the Great presented his armour as a gift. From this period too dates the Odeion an intimate little theatre to the south of the site.

Sanctuary. Troy VIII/IX

Odeion. Troy IX

Storage containers and water pipes. Troy

Tunnel supplying water to city. Troy

None of this complex history worried amateur archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann when he cut his massive trench through the middle of all these layers in 1871, destroying much evidence on the way but finding important bronze, silver and gold treasures with which he adorned his wife before removing them to Germany. These he claimed were the treasures of King Priam (just as he later claimed to have discovered Agamemnon’s mask in Mycenae. In fact he was a millennium out. The treasures were found in the levels of Troy II while archaeologists now identify Homeric Troy with either Troy VI (the Turkish preference) or Troy VIIa (the American option)."

Schliemann’s trench, view towards plain. Troy

Schliemann’s trench, view towards citadel. Troy

And finally a bit of tackiness to bring you back down to earth!

Jill has a cunning plan for getting in to Troy without a ticket!

This evening I've just been across to the reception desk to complain about the state of the facilities provided for campers in the grounds of the hotel. We've all been grumbling about them to each other and each morning we expect somebody will come to sweep and wash through, clean the sinks and loos and hopefully even provide toilet paper. Every day the only thing that happens is that the staff disappear in there to use the showers themselves or to sluice themselves from a jug of cold water in the Turkish loos. There are western style facilities provided for campers but either the chain doesn't work or has fallen off, the seat has broken, or the bowl is in a mess. Campers have to provide their own loo paper but we cannot flush it away as the drains cannot cope. Instead it is deposited in a bin without a lid. The bins were almost full when we arrived and have never been emptied. It's all a bit whiffy and unhygienic. Considering the importance Muslim people place on washing and cleanliness I'm beginning to feel the neglect of such facilities for campers as a personal affront. It's as if they are saying that providing European guests with clean facilities is not worth bothering about. It's not exactly hospitable!