Çanakkale is a smallish town of around 75 000 people, which is also the administrative centre of the province of the same name. The province includes the Gallipoli Peninsula on the other side of the Dardanelles (and also on another continent). We stayed in a hotel on the banks of the Strait, close to its narrowest point. It is only about a mile wide here, and some of the Gallipoli memorials are clearly visible across the water.
This locally produced Çanakkale tourism site gives a good idea of some of the flavour of the area (at time of writing it also has a brief story and picture on our visit).
The area is a historical treasure trove, which is perhaps not surprising given its strategic geographic location. There are ancient towns, cities, artefacts and museums of various sorts scattered throughout the region. Less than 100 kilometres away is Assos, where Aristotle lived for a time and where they are restoring a Temple of Athena on the hilltop.
We didn’t have time to go that far, but we did go to look at the ruins of Troy, which is only 20-30 minutes drive out of Çanakkale. Before this trip I was only half sure Troy was a real city rather than just a legend, let alone that it was in Turkey. Archaeological digs are still continuing there, but there are enough walls and other structures around to get a sense of the city at its various stages.
The horse used in the recent version of the movie Troy, starring Brad Pitt, is on the main waterfront in Çanakkale. Damn ugly if you ask me, but somewhat noteworthy I guess.
We also had a meeting with the Governor of Çanakkale, which not surprisingly focused on Gallipoli, but also on some of the many other things which should draw people to the area. The awareness of Australians is certainly very high in this region, and references to Anzacs and other Australian themes (such as the Boomerang Café, etc) are fairly widespread. While Anzac Day services will always have primacy, encouraging people to visit throughout the year would be beneficial. There’s not much doubt tourism will be a major part of the area’s future, but as always this needs to be managed intelligently.
Whilst the outskirts of Çanakkale looked much like the everyday urban style of all the other cities and towns we’d been through, the middle of the town looked older and more attractive. After finishing all the activities for the day, some of us thought we’d go have a look around the town, with one of our Turkish liaison people with us for guidance.
Somehow or other people ended up in nightclub called TNT. There was a band playing, who I think were called Sarpedon, in a smallish room which was fairly crowded. (My instant research tells me that Sarpedon was the son of Zeus who fought at the siege of Troy, so I’ve learnt something I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t gone out on the town.) The town has a University and most of the people there (apart from us) seemed like they would fit the category of Uni students.
There was a huge TV screen showing a soccer match on one wall, and whenever a goal looked like being scored it brought a big roar or cheer from the crowd, even if they were in the middle of singing along to the band. Even the band seemed to spend half their time watching the screen. Apart from that (and the fact that there was a bunch of grey haired Australian MPs standing out amongst the twenty-somethings), it seemed rather like any inner city pub venue in Australia, including the obligatory pool table used by people to sit or put things on.
Many of the people there were friendly enough to us and quickly picked us for Australians. The band was quite good too, even though many of the songs were (not surprisingly) sung in Turkish. They also did a good version of Talking Heads’ Psycho Killer, which rounded out the evening well – it did make me feel even older, but also not quite so out of place. Qu’est-ce que c’est?