Historic Çanakkale (pronounced “Chanekkaley”) is located on the strategic Marmara Sea and is the scene of a massive Turkish defense in World War I against English invaders and the reason for Anzac Day.
The Turks call The Battle of Çanakkale "the war of technology and perseverance." The British call it the tragedy of Gallipoli (which was made into a film starring Mel Gibson). Whatever name you use for this historic place, the fact remains that it marked a turning point for the British Empire and for Turkey.
The Battle of Çanakkale was an amazing upset by stubborn, low-tech Turkish soldiers to defend their homeland against high-tech British invaders in 1915. During World War I, France and England wanted to send ships up the Marmara Sea to conquer Constantinople (now Istanbul) and then sail on to fight Russia on the Black Sea. England's Royal Navy tried to forge past the narrow point where the small, ancient city of Çanakkale guards the entrance to the Marmara Sea that connects the Aegean Sea to the Black Sea. Many ships were lost, including the battleship, HMS Goliath.
Didn't the English remember the story of David, the shepherd boy who fought a giant to save his people?
Thousands of soldiers from England and its colonies of Australia and New Zealand lost their lives (which led Australia and New Zealand to declare independence from Great Britain). Their bones still rest in Turkish soil or under the Marmara Sea, and visitors from these far-away islands come to Çanakkale every year on April 25 to remember Anzac Day.
Çanakkale also symbolizes Turkish freedom, and every patriotic Turk visits it at least once in his or her lifetime. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who was a commander at the Battle of Çanakkale, led Turkey's War of Independence and established the Republic of Turkey in 1923. Some Turks say that Turkish blood flowed so much at Çanakkale that the crescent moon and a star reflected in it, and that's how the Turkish flag was born.
Çanakkale is more than just historical stories. Çanakkale is the strong emotional connection that Turks feel to their forefathers who fought and died there. If you travel to Çanakkale (which has a good bus route from Istanbul), you can visit the small town with its quaint cafes and markets. You can even see the huge wooden Trojan horse that was used in the 2004 film, Troy. As you sail on a ferry across the Marmara Sea, you can look up to a hillside memorial that bears words of a famous Turkish poem, visible for miles:
"Dur yolcu! Bilmeden gelip bastığın,
Bu toprak, bir devrin battığı yerdir . . ."
("Stop wayfarer! Unbeknownst to you this ground
You come and tread on, is where an epoch lies . . .")
Beneath the hill is a military cemetery and the army camp that was the main battle base. You can tour old bunkers with life-sized reenactments from actual battle scenes, complete with fully-dressed soldiers, real swords and guns, sound tracks, and fake fire.
You can also go to the Ottoman castle ("kale") by the water's edge and tour the tower museum that features old photos, journals, and weapons behind glass. The friendly docent showed me a newly discovered box of hundred-year-old skulls and mine fragments taken from the Marmara Sea. I bought a brass bullet souvenir. After climbing the castle stairs and enjoying sea views from its turrets, I sat on an ancient stone step, unscrewed the bullet top, and scooped in a little memorial sand. Turks say that the blood of their heroes is in that sand, and it will make me strong as I remember Çanakkale.