Dear fellow travellers
Çanakkale is a mere dot on the map, but mere dots in distant lands so often turn out to be bustling cities. And thus it is with Çanakkale, a seaport and fortress town on the east side of the Dardanelles. Çanakkale is a community of more than 100,000 people. Choose your vantage point on the waterfront with care, and you will be rewarded with fine views across the water to the great fortress at Kilitbahir across the west side of the Dardanelles.
History and myth both come in bucket-loads hereabouts. Whether it be Troy or the Golden Fleece, Persian invasions or Peloponnesian maritime confrontations, Leander braving the cold waters of the Hellespont in winter to swim over to Hero on the European shore, or ill-tempered armies confronting each other around Çanakkale in World War I, this geopolitical hotspot has been a theatre of love and war for millennia.
It is always interesting to see how communities recount their own histories. Walk south from the centre of Çanakkale towards the fortress (for fortresses in this region always come in pairs, one on each side of the Dardanelles), and you will find the crumbled wreck of an old German submarine and torpedo tubes from a Turkish destroyer. Atatürk's pocket watch is on display in a museum. This is not any old timepiece, but the one that famously saved Atatürk's life at Gallipoli. It was serendipitously placed in Atatürk's breast pocket and thus perfectly positioned to intercept a piece of shrapnel. The watch, it has to be said, did not survive the encounter in good shape.
Elsewhere on the Çanakkale waterfront, there is an enormous wooden horse, a reminder that Çanakkale has strongly played the Trojan card in a bid too attract visitors. Fact and legend dance hand in hand in local accounts of the region's connections with the great epic poems of Ancient Greece.
And this is Asia, or so they say. A town and region so shaped by European interests, and a place that looks across the water to Europe. That's the beauty of Çanakkale. It is a good spot to linger over a tea and think on Europe. The tea is served as always in those tulip-shaped glasses that are so characteristic of Turkey. There is a good view of ferries crossing the Dardanelles, the bastions of Kilitbahir on the opposite bank a strong reminder that history was forged around this narrow waterway. Dark banks of winter cloud gather over the hills on either side of the Dardanelles and soft rain falls over the Çanakkale waterfront. But Çanakkale still seems like a good place to be. Looking over to the west bank, a slender minaret prods the sullen European skies.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)