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Death and Glory in Canakkale

TURKEY | Wednesday, 18 July 2012 | Views [1480]

Trojan horse donated by Mr Pitt

Trojan horse donated by Mr Pitt

Oh Troy, your tales of heroism, my childhood fantasies, I'll be enthralled till the days of lost memories. In my thoughts, your story sounds like the melody that sweetly play through my childhood dreams. Homer, it's all your fault. Putting all sorts of nonsence about heroes and the glory of war into the heads of little boys the world over. Now I have to take a 7 hour bus ride to from Selçuk to Çanakkale to feed the boyhood nostalgia. 

It's also a bit of a puzzle why the buses leave from Selçuk at midday, meaning it would be well into the evening before arriving. Arrived the we did at 9.30, about 1 hour late. The bus doesn't even stop in town, but in some bus station 2km out. This is a major surprise. As the site of the Town and Harbour that was my landmark recedes into the distance, I'm starting to panic as none of the few remaining passengers seem to speak English. Eventually a girl moves from the back of the bus to the front in readiness to get off and she explains (in English) that there's a free shuttle bus that takes passengers into the town. Then the Turkish cult of hospitality kicks in. She goes well beyond the call of duty and explains to the shuttle bus driver and another passenger what I want and which hotel I'm going.

I'm so looking forward to seeing Troy, I can hardly sleep for thinking about the story. The Iliad that is, not the travesty of a movie. I even dreamt of Troy (the movie). Telling the little punk Orlando Bloom to dump Helen, that there's plenty more fish in the sea.

So why visit Troy at all. Those of us from the west are taught from the beginning of schooling to the end, that our civilization comes from ancient Greece. These stories from the past are part of our heritage. Outside of religion, little has inspired as much artwork and admiration as Greek myths and legends as much as Troy. Not just in the now or in the recent past. To the Greeks, the siege of Troy were real historical events. A cursory visit to any museum in Greece will verify this. The Romans too were not immune to charms of the story. Not just in artwork,. In Virgil's Aeneid, he traces the mythical founding of Rome to Aeneas, a relative to the King of Troy who escaped the destruction of Troy. Traversing through time all the way to our present, people long to traverse back through time, to look for our origins. To visit the places where history took place, to stand in the grounds where our heroes once stood.

With only one full day in Çanakkale, seeing both Troy and the battlefields of Gallipoli could only be done with guided tours. I want so badly to savour every moment in Troy, I'm happy to use a guide for Troy.

Tour of Troy

The Troy starts off poorly with the tour guys 45 minutes late and it takes about 30 minutes from the centre of Çanakkale to the archaeological site. Just inside the entrance to the site is a garish looking wooden horse. 

Then there's the guide, Mustafa Askin. Epitimising everything I hate about guides. Reluctant to answer questions except for whatever was in his scripted repertoire, seems to think that being a professional guide qualifies him as an expert, in this case an archeaologist. AND!!! He's written a guide book, never missing an opportunity to plug it at every stop.

But back to Troy. Actually there's not much to see and it takes real imagination to place the stories, palaces, gates etc. Most of the site is just piles of bricks. The highlights were an assumed gateway and a fairly large section of a defence wall.

The fields where it's speculated the battles took place outside the city walls:

The most applicable thing to be said about the tour is that it started off badly, the ending was worse and the less said about the middle the better. In fact, much of the guided tour and placing of events are completely speculative

In the end, I failed to heed the warnings from guide books about Troy. The whole tour was a major disappointment, aggravated by an appalling guide more interested in plugging his book than providing information any child could have gotten from the Dorling Kinderslyy illustrated history of Troy. IMHO, it's only worth visiting the site if you have a actual interest in archaeology or classical history.

Tour of Gallipoli

1915, in the midst of WWI, The war on the Eastern Front is not going well for the Russian allies. As all land routes to Russia were through the enemy territory, the Allied nations were keen to open up a sea route. In theory strenthening the Eastern Front to ease the pressure on the Western Front. Unfortunately the sea route would have to be through Ottoman held seas. The Allied plan was use their navy to force their way throught the Dardanelles, Sea of Marmara, land in Istanbul, scaring the heebie jeebies out of the Ottomans into submission. Thus knocking them out of the war.

Due to poor reconnaissance work, out of date information about land forts and sea defences, the Allies were unaware of the dangers. The Allied fleet sailed up the Dardanelles not realising the Germans and Turkish navies had already heavily mined the straits. The British lost 3 battleships and the French lost 1. The opening moves were stopped pretty much as soon as it began. The losses prompting the Allies abandon the attempt to force the straits. Deciding that it was necessary to use ground forces to take the forts guarding the straights. In theory, with the guns silences, the minesweepers would clear the waters, allowing the fleet to sail up.

A delay of six weeks to prepare for the land campaign gave the Ottomans an opportunity to prepare defences on the peninsular. The grand plan of the land campaign called for Allied troops to land simultaneously at multiple points on the southern tip of Gallipoli peninsula, link up and fight their way north.

In fact, the whole area looks a lot like this:

Flat beaches bounded by high cliffs. It's hard to imagine how soldiers could have been tasked to take such positions. Of course back then, the Ottoman war plans had assumed any Allied invasion would take place much further north, on more suitable. The southern tip was not considered a likely invasion spot and consequently relatively lightly defended. Except that is by Mustafa Kemel, who commanded the region.

The guide does tell us an amazing story of Turkish resistance. At one of the landing sites, now called ANZAC Cove, there were too few Ottoman soldiers to force the Australians off the beaches. Unfortunately for the Allies, Mustafa Kemel was in command. Convince this was a full fledged invasion and not a feint. He disobeyed his superiors and ordered the entire 57th Regiment forward to defend the area. On the morning of April 25th, with the regiment completely out of ammunition, Kemel gave his now famous speech. "I do not order you to fight, I order you to die. In the time which passes until we die, other troops and commanders can come forward and take our places". And they did. Every soldier of the 57th were either killed or wounded. To this day, there is no 57th Regiment in the modern Turkish army to honour their actions.

With the element of surprise lost, the Ottomans began to send troops into the area. The fighting developing into trench warfare and the same stalemate of the Western Front. Both sides pouring in soldiers for the next 6 to 8 months before the Allies finally decided to withdraw. Ironically, it's said the evacuation was the most operation of the whole campaign.

And how to I know all this? In sharp contrast to the crappy Troy guide, the Gallipoli guide was knowledgable. I suspect he knew more about Gallipoli than even history enthusiasts. If you're interested, the guides were from TJ tours. Personally, I think the idea simply sailing up the Dardanelles to Istanbul and knocking the Ottomans out of the war is fantasy. It's hard to believe that the Ottomans would not have continued the elsewhere.

Other great places on the tour:

Lone Pine Memorial and Cemetery - Site of the Battle of Lone Pine. A cemetery and memorial to Allied soldiers who died at the battle:

Mehmetçik memorial to honour the Turkish soldier who carried a wounded British soldier back to the Allied trenches:

The Alay Anıtı or Memorial to the 57th Regiment, to honour the regiment and fallen Turkish soldiers:

Arıburnu Cemetery on the Anzac Cove:

This was early in the tour as the guide gave us the first of many amazing lectures on the Gallipoli campaign:

In the evening I took a little stroll around the town. The area around the harbour where I stayed. It's actually quite a nice area, but touristy. Worth a stay if you have the time. Everything about Town seems to be Troy oriented, including the Trojan horse donated by Brad Pitt:

A model of Troy:

Tags: ancient history, canakkale, gallipoli, troy, turkey


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