Following in the footsteps of Great War's fallen heroes
MY PATERNAL grandmother's name was Troy. I never met the lady, but as a very young child on hearing the fantastical story of the wooden horse of Troy, I just assumed there was a connection.
This unscholarly interest continued over the years including, and despite, Brad Pitt's wig in the 2004 epic film.
My knowledge of Gallipoli was also a bit ropey and again was enhanced by the eponymous movie, starring Mel Gibson on a slightly better hair day. I was, therefore, a very blank canvas when offered the opportunity to travel to this part of the world.
Many Irish people go to the Turkish Riviera south of Izmir on the Aegean coastline, guaranteed sunshine, good food and as much or as little archaeology as they need. I was staying north of the country, in the Marmara Region, where Europe ends and Asia begins. Across the Turkish Straits lies Gallipoli (or Gelibolu), to the south Troy and Assos and off the coast the lovely island of Bozcaada.
We were based in Canakkale, a buzzy university town, with a corniche-style waterfront and an easy-going atmosphere. It is a popular destination for weekending Turks, who come for the great bars and excellent restaurants.
It makes a great stopover base for visiting Troy and Gallipoli, a perfect place to unwind. After dinner on our first night I walked along the seafront among the promenading families, and watched fishermen sell their catches out of buckets on the quayside, surrounded by some very interested cats.
Troy is a 30-minute drive south of Canakkale through almond and olive groves. We arrived just in time for lunch – fish and salads prepared by a tiny, elderly granny in a tiny, elderly kitchen.
Despite 4,000 years in existence, Troy is still a work in progress, which adds to its accessibility and charm. Little has been done in terms of interpretive centres usually attached to sites of such archaeological and historic importance. There are some outdoor market stalls selling souvenirs and a small restaurant. From my schooldays I have a very basic knowledge of the story of Troy which centred on the myth of the Trojan Horse. There are references to Troy in Greek literature and art, the best-known being the epic poems of Homer – The Iliad and The Odyssey. It was a very strategic place to live, a perfect natural harbour on the edge of the Dardanelles which, together with the Bosphorus, connects the Black Sea through to the Aegean and on to the Mediterranean.
The many ships travelling through were taxed, amassing great wealth for the rulers of Troy, which is why it was rebuilt as many as nine times despite being destroyed by war, fire and earthquakes. In the 1870s the excavations of German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann confirmed Troy's existence.
We walked through the ruins, standing under the ancient walls, our excellent guide Adam Bicer filling our imaginations with his knowledge and stories of the history around us, keeping us guessing as to whether the wooden horse ever really existed. There is a wooden horse at the site (more a photo opportunity than an exact copy) with a more impressive replica on the seafront in Canakkale, the model from the film made in 2004. A museum is being built at the site, which should be finished by 2015, the 100th anniversary of the battle of Gallipoli, and this will house all the artefacts from Troy which up to now have been dispersed all over the world.
At the end of a fascinating and informative day, and with the sun going down, I looked west across the bay and could clearly see the hills of Gallipoli, where several hundred years after the final destruction of Troy another war of similar significance would take place.
April 25 is Anzac Day (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps), the most important national occasion for both countries. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by the forces during the First World War. Allied forces were to push their way through the narrow Dardanelles Straits, seize the Gallipoli peninsula from the Turkish/German allies, and open up the straits for Allied warships to attack what was then Constantinople, now Istanbul. This would provide a route to supply Russia, and to invade Germany through the European back door.
The British Forces (which included Irish and French troops) were to land on the southern tip of the peninsula, the Anzacs further north. The battle raged for eight long months, degenerating into hand-to-hand trench warfare, with fighting so brutal that the Allies, Anzacs and Turks developed a mutual respect for the endurance and courage displayed on both sides.
Mistakes by Allied leaders, coupled with fierce opposition and the inspired leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, meant the Allies were defeated and a decision to evacuate was made. They left behind 130,000 dead.
The remains of the young men from both sides are now buried in the 31 cemeteries and memorials built by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in the area. The commemoration ceremony is attended by thousands of people who, every year, gather through the night in Anzac Cove to wait for the dawn of April 25, the time their forces first came ashore.
We arrived to the festival-like site at midnight, and joined the many Australians and New Zealanders, some slumbering in their sleeping bags in the specifically assigned areas in front of the stage. We sat among the audience and watched a variety of programmes and documentaries shown on the large screens nearby. I was not looking forward to five or so hours sitting on a hard seat through an intensely cold night, but it was such an extraordinarily moving experience that time passed quickly. We listened to some specially commissioned music and I was both impressed and moved by the performances and by the quiet dignity of the audience.
Many of the young people were dressed in hoodies (blue for Australia, yellow for New Zealand) and wore the medals of a long-lost relative. At five o'clock, nearly 10,000 people fell silent and waited for the first threads of dawn to come into the sky above us. It was a lesson in the challenge of remembering without hate, a fitting testimony to those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives; you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Our final day was spent on Bozcaada, the third biggest island in Turkey. Formerly known as Tenedos, it was a centre for many civilisations and is often referred to in mythology. After a short ferry trip across the Aegean from Canakkale, a stroll through the town shows the variety of influences on the streets and houses, and on the castle which overlooks the harbour. You can tell which area you are in by the size of the streets – Greek streets are two donkeys wide, the Turkish only one. We sat in the sunshine, watching the fishermen repair their nets and ate another wonderful lunch of grilled fresh fish, salads, and firinda helva (baked helva with walnuts). A real delight of this trip was the wonderful Turkish food and all its variety.
Great pride is taken in using locally sourced, in-season produce. There is always a huge choice of appetisers or meze, all types of the freshest fish, herb-infused mountain lamb, succulent kebabs, cheeses and yoghurts.
All too soon, we were boarding a ferry to take us back to Istanbul and our flights home. I was enchanted by the charm of Canakkale, and will definitely go back to this delightful region. There's still a lot on my to do list – a walking tour of Gallipoli, a visit to the ancient site of Ephesus and the altar of Zeus at Maltepe, the thermal springs of Kestanbol, not to mention diving, fishing and horse riding. And I still have to experience the joys of the hamam (Turkish bath). I quite like idea of a kese session – there's nothing like a good scrub with an abrasive mitt at the end of a long day's sightseeing.
Transport: There are direct flights from Dublin to Istanbul Ataturk Airport For further information on Turkish Airlines visit www.turkishairlines.com Turkish Airlines Dublin Office: 353 (0) 1 844 7920 Turkish Airlines Call Centre: 353 (0) 1 525 18 49
General information: The Turkish Culture and Information Office in the United Kingdom can provide further information. Visit www.gototurkey.co.uk or telephone 0044.207 839 77 78.
Accommodation: Judy stayed in the Buyuk Truva Oteli hotel in Canakkale. The hotel is situated at Mehmet Akif Ersoy Cd No:2, Canakkale. To contact it, telephone +90 286 217 10 24 or email email@example.com Alternatively, visit www.truvaotel.com
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