On the Shores of Canakkale

I was awoken that morning in my hotel room by the blast of a ship’s whistle as it sailed through Canakkale Strait - the Dardanelles. The city was still asleep, apart from the bakers who had started work before dawn and were already filling crates with oven-hot bread and the newspaper delivery vans. An inter-city coach full of sleepy passengers rumbled its way into the city. After purchasing some golden, crusty loaves of bread, I drove off. I planned to make my way via Geyikli to Assos, a distance of 92 kilometers. Six kilometers past the signpost to Troy, I turned off the main highway towards Geyikli and Bozcaada. The first village I passed through was Tastepe, followed by Pinarbasi, Mahmudiye, and Uvecik. Beyond Uvecik, I came to a fountain and stopped for breakfast. I boiled water and made myself a cup of tea. The only sound was that of dozens of different birds. On the plaster of the simple water fountain, the craftsman had written ‘Kumburun Village Association Fountain 1941’. So for over half a century, this watering-place had been a halt for travelers, wild creatures, and birds.

After leaving Kumburun, I reached Geyikli, where I took the road signposted to Bozcaada island and was soon at Odunluk Quay on the Aegean, where the ferries leave for Bozcaada. A few fishing craft were tied up at the pier, on which some anglers were fishing. Here there are a handful of restaurants and cafés, and some guest houses offering accommodation in the summer season.
Then he went inside to fetch sweets for his visitors. Along the wall of his blue painted house was a row of old tin cans containing a mass of different plants: basil, chili peppers, tomatoes, various colored geraniums, fuschias, and carnations, transforming the pavement into a colorful street garden.

This was the neighborhood of Giritli bordering Mutareke Square. With its old houses lining the road along the seafront, I was reminded of the Bosphorus. The old part of Mudanya is now an urban conservation area, centering around the main streets of Oniki Eylul, Fevzi Pasa and Mustafa Kemal Pasa, and the side streets leading off them.

Scattered amongst the houses shaded by great plane trees are old buildings where once olives were stored and processed for oil. This area is an 18th-century church that now houses the Ugur Mumcu Cultural Center.

From Odunluk Quay, I drove on again, turning off to visit the picturesque fishing village of Dalyan, which has some small fish restaurants facing the sea. Here, 150 meters south of the fishermen shelter, are the ruins of the ancient harbor of Alexandria Troas. The ruins of the city proper are spread over a wide area two or three kilometers away from the village. Alexandria Troas was founded in 310 BC by Alexander the Great’s general Antigonos, who called the city Antigonus. Following the death of Alexander, King Lysimachos of Thrace brought in settlers from the surrounding region to the city, which he renamed Alexandreia Troas. The city was largely destroyed in a subsequent earthquake, but the remains of the theatre, palace, agora, temple, baths, necropolis, and city walls are still worth seeing.

The theatre and palace lie west of the main road amidst thick bushes and are virtually impossible to find without the help of a guide. If it had not been for the detailed directions of Sait, a local shepherd whom I encountered, I would never have found either. Right by the necropolis are the Kestanbol thermal springs. Troy, about 30 kilometers to the north, overshadows the other ancient sites of the area, where the Troy Festival begins during the first week of August and continues for fifteen days every year. The program of concerts and various other events attracts visitors from villages all around. My next stop after Dalyan was the small town of Gulpinar, the ancient Chrysa.

On the way, it is possible to make a detour to the village of Ulukoy, near which are the ruins of another ancient city, Neandreia, dating from the late 8th century BC. In the Bahcelerici district of Gulpinar is the Temple of Apollo Smintheus, where excavations are continuing under Prof. Coskun Ozgunel.

This Ionic style temple built in 150 BC is the only surviving example of its kind in the Troad region of northwest Anatolia. Featuring a double row of blind columns, it is the work of Hermogenes, the architect who set his stamp on the Hellenistic period Anatolian architecture. This region is rich in underground water sources, and in antiquity, it is thought that underground channels supplied the city with water.

The cult of Apollo centered around places with an abundant water supply, since clean spring water was required for Apollo to make prophecies. Neandreia was the regional most important oracular center. On the coast, 9 kilometers southwest of Gulpinar is Babakale, Turkey’s most westerly point. Here is the last castle built by the Ottomans, in 1723. One of the most popular bathing beaches is the bay of Ak Liman, which lies just to the north. The area was infested by pirates in past centuries and had a nautical tradition.

The 16th-century Ottoman seaman and cartographer, Piri Reis, relates in his Book of Navigation that the tomb of a seaman named Peksimetyemez Latif Baba, who was buried in Babakale, was revered by sailors.

Whenever the Ottoman naval fleet sailed past Babakale, the crews would toss bread into the sea in the direction of the tomb for good luck, a custom which is still followed by local fishermen and those on boating holidays in the area. Now I turned eastwards towards Behramkale, better known by its ancient name Assos, my last stop. This journey is full of surprises. You might happen across a spring or harvest festival in one of the villages you pass through, or a wedding celebration, lending a striking color to your travels. Local people will tell you of visitors caught up in such festivities which ended up staying for days in villages they had had no intention of even stopping at.


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