Also known as the Hellespont, the Dardanelles is also famous as a challenge to swimmers. Legend has it that a youth named Leander swam it nightly to secretly visit his lover Hero on the far shore, but one night was swept away to his death by the swift current.
Lord Byron famously swam it, as have many others since.
This critical maritime transport route has been contested for millennia, ever since the Trojans and the Achaeansdid battle for control of it—the Trojan War.
The history of Çanakkale and this region is pretty much the story of the Dardanelles, as symbolized by the mighty 15th-century fortresses (Çimenlik and Kilitbahir) built on both sides of the strait to control shipping.
Çanakkale makes the best base for visiting the Gallipoli battlefields on the Gallipoli peninsula across the Dardanelles from Çanakkale. If you don’t have your own vehicle, you probably want to take a tour because the historic sites are spread over many kilometers on the peninsula.
You can even tour the battlefields on a long day-tour from Istanbul.
The Military Museum (Askeri Müzesi) in Çimenlik fortress is open to visits, and it’s right in Çanakkale, an easy walk from the main square, ferry docks, and clock tower. (Here’s more on the Gallipoli campaign and battlefields.)
Near Çimenlik is the Naval Museum with exhibits on the Gallipoli campaign of 1915-16, most famous of which is a model of the mine-layer Nusrat. After Allied minesweepers cleared the mines, the Nusrat re-laid some under cover of night so that when the Allied fleet attempted to pass the strait the next day and get to Constantinople, three Allied ships were sunk, sending the rest into retreat.
Çanakkale’s Archeology Museum (Arkeoloji Müzesi) is more than 2 km (1.3 miles) south of the main square and clock tower, a walk of about 25 to 30 minutes. Exhibits range from ancient fossils through the Bronze Age to more modern times, with some exhibits being about Troy.
—by Tom Brosnahan