Situation and ImportanceThe Dardanelles, (the Hellespont of antiquity), which take their name from the ancient Greek city of Dardanos, are the straits between the Gelibolu (Gallipoli) peninsula on the European side and the mainland of Asia Minor. They provide a link between the Aegean (and Mediterranean) and the Sea of Marmara and also, by way of the Bosporus, with the Black Sea. These straits between Europe and Asia have been an important waterway from time immemorial. The excavations at Troy have shown that the Hellespont area (the "sea-coast of Helle", mythical daughter of Athamas, who fell into the sea here when fleeing from her stepmother) was already settled by man about 3000 B.C. In the 13th century the territory was conquered by Achaeans from Greece. The siege of Troy described in Homer's "Iliad" probably took place during this period.The legend of Hero and LeanderAbydos and Sestos, on opposite sides of the strait, are associated with the story of Hero and Leander, which was recounted by the Greek poet Musaeus (Mousaios; end of sixth century A.D.?). The handsome youth Leander lived in Abydos and Hero was a priestess in the Temple of Aphrodite in Sestos. Meeting at a Festival of Aphrodite, they fell in love, and thereafter Leander swam across the Hellespont every night to be with his loved one, who lit a beacon on a tower to show him the way. One dark night the beacon was extinguished by a storm and Leander was drowned. When his body was washed ashore the following morning Hero cast herself into the sea to be united with her lover in death.As he boasts in "Don Juan", Byron later repeated Leander's feat by swimming from Abydos to Sestos early in May 1810 (it took him 70minutes).Physical GeographyThe Dardanelles are 61km/38mi long, 1.2-1.7km/0.75-1mi wide and 54-103m/177-338ft deep and were formed by the drowning of a river valley as the land sank during the Pleistocene period. The Sea of Marmara came into being at the same time. Clearly visible raised beaches are evidence of temporary rises in sea level at various times in the past.The surplus of water from the Black Sea flows through the Bosporus and the Sea of Marmara into the Dardanelles and thence into the Mediterranean. The difference in density between the water of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean resulting from the inflow of great quantities of fresh water into the Black Sea has the effect of producing a strong surface current flowing at a rate of up to 8.3km/5.2mi an hour from the Sea of Marmara into the Aegean - which makes it difficult for small vessels to enter the Dardanelles. This applies particularly when the so-called Dardanelles wind is blowing from the east-northeast - while at the same time heavier water with a high salt content is flowing back along the bottom into the Sea of Marmara at a slower rate.The hills of Tertiary limestone and marls which rise to heights of 250-375m/820-1,230ft along the shore of the Dardanelles have a certain amount of tree cover. The mild and rainy winter climate favors the growing of olives, which constitute the main source of income for the rural communities.Gallipoli Campaign 1915At the beginning of the First World War the land fortifications (some of which were somewhat antiquated) comprised three defensive cordons. From February 1915 onwards the Allied fleet tried unsuccessfully to force a passage through the straits. Landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula and the Asiatic coast beginning at the end of April 1915 were finally beaten off after bitter trench warfare, so that in December the Allies were forced to abandon the Dardanelles adventure after suffering heavy losses. Mustafa Pasa, later President of the Turkish Republic and better known as Atatürk, distinguished himself during the fighting. (Memorial; a prominent landmark visible for mi around.)After the First World War the Turks secured, together with recognition of their independence, an acknowledgment of their sovereignty over the straits, which had been occupied for a time by the Allies. Under the Montreux Convention, signed in July 1936, Turkey was granted the right to fortify the straits and to prohibit passage to the ships of belligerent States in the event of war.At the present time there is an extensive military zone along the Dardanelles, though this does not seriously impede the movement of travelers. Most passenger and cargo ships, however, pass through the strait at night.FerriesFerry services (cars carried) cross the Dardanelles between Gelibolu and Lâpseki and Çanakkale and Eceabat. Roads follow the coast on both sides.
About 8km/5mi north of Çanakkale is Nara, on Nara Burun, which is believed to occupy the site of ancient Nagara. The cape is the second narrowest point (1,450m/1,590yd) on the Dardanelles, which here turn south. In ancient times, when this was the narrowest part of the Dardanelles, some 1,300m/1,420yd wide, it was known as the Heptastadion (Seven Statia) and was crossed by a ferry. It was here that Xerxes, Alexander the Great and the Turks (1356) crossed the straits into Europe.
About 40km/25mi northeast of Çanakkale on the east side of the Dardanelles, near the entrance to the Sea of Marmara, lies the ancient little port of Lâpseki, situated in the kusova (Bird Plain) amid olive groves. From here there is a ferry (cars carried) to Gelibolu on the Gallipoli Peninsula, on the European side.Lâpseki occupies the site of ancient Lampsakos, where Aphrodite was said to have given birth to Priapos; and Lampsakos accordingly was the chief center of the cult of Priapos. When the Phoenicians established a settlement here the place was known as Pityoussa, and according to Strabo was an important town with a good harbor. In 482 B.C. the philosopher Anaxagoras of Klazomenai (b. ca. 500 B.C.) died in exile here. Lampsakos was also the birthplace of the fourth century rhetor and historian Anaximenes, who accompanied Alexander the Great on his expedition and was able to save his native town from destruction when Alexander's army passed that way.
A few kilometers southwest of Çanakkale, to the right of the old coast road where it curves beyond the Kepez valley, rises the acropolis hill of ancient Dardanos, today crowned by a memorial to the fallen of the World War II (Sehitlik Batarya).A signposted turning barely a kilometer further on (southwest) leads to the Dardanos Tümülüsü, a burial mound situated close to the sea. It was opened up by Rüstem Duyuran in 1959. Beyond an entrance corridor he found a burial chamber with three stone benches (still in situ) and an array of grave-goods, including jewelry, vanitory items, vases, lamps, figures and coins. There were also remains of a musical instrument and inscribed funeral urns (now in the museum in Çanakkale) dating from the fourth century B.C. well into the Hellenistic period.
About 30km/19mi south of Eceabat, near the village of Abide, the Ottoman fortress of Seddülbahir, constructed in 1657, faces Kumkale Fort on the opposite (Asian) shore. Built to guard the southern entrance to the Dardanelles, both forts are now in a restricted military zone. On the east side of the small bay where once the ancient town of Elaios stood, are Turkish and Allied war memorials and cemeteries (1915/16).
The ruins of ancient Alexandreia Troas, often just called Troas (present-day Eskiistanbul) occupy a now lonely site 80km/50mi or so south of Çanakkale near Ezine. An important city at the time of Lysimachos, the massive remains date mainly from the Roman period. (Note the therme with its lovely portal).