- This page describes the town of Gelibolu. For the battlefields and monuments of the Gallipoli Campaign of World War I, see Eceabat town.
Gelibolu or Gallipoli is a town in Eastern Thrace in Turkey. It's on the north or European side of the Straits of Dardanelles, and is one of the ferry ports to cross them. Don't get off the bus here if you're aiming for the Gallipoli landing sites! - they are much further south, around the towns of Eceabat and Kilitbahir.
In 2018 Gelibolu had a population of 31,041, with another 12,500 in the surrounding district. It's the only town of any size in the middle section of the Gelibolu / Gallipoli peninsula, so sights in that section are described here. One of those sights is the Çanakkale 1915 Suspension Bridge (Çanakkale 1915 Köprüsü), a 3.563 km monster opened in March 2022.
Gelibolu takes its name from Greek Καλλίπολις, Kallipolis, "beautiful city". It's midway down the peninsula that bears the same name, at the point where the Sea of Marmara narrows into the 60 km straits of the Dardanelles or Hellespont. The town therefore controls the sea route along the straits, which link the Mediterranean with Istanbul and the Black Sea, and land traffic down the peninsula. It's therefore been of strategic value since antiquity. Legend tells of how Jason and the Argonauts came by in search of the Golden Fleece, and of Leander swimming nightly across the straits to meet his lover Hero. In 480 BC Xerxes I of Persia is said to have constructed a pontoon bridge to march his army across, and when the waves wrecked this, he not only beheaded his engineers but set about whipping and fire-branding the sea itself. This may have taught the sea a lesson, as a second pontoon succeeded.
The initial powerbase of the Ottomans was here, and they established shipyards and a navy headquarters; in the 16th century the admiral and cartographer Piri Reis produced a remarkable series of maps. It remains to this day a garrison town, and that in a nutshell is why the 1915 Allied Gallipoli landings were not at Gelibolu, and never came close to reaching it. The straits were heavily fortified and the shore guns could tear apart any hostile shipping - and did so against the first seaborne assault. The Allies therefore landed to try to silence the shore guns, open the straits to their fleet, link up with the Russians and knock Turkey out of the war. This was achievable if it was fast, but the campaign was bungled and got pinned down, turning into a slow-motion disaster that a century later is still seared into western collective memory. And Turkey discovered that it could face down even the strongest foreign power, and could take its rightful place as an independent nation.
Frequent buses from Istanbul towards Çanakkale take four hours to Gelibolu and set down / pick up at the end of the bridge, for a single adult fare in July 2022 of 230 TL. Operators on this route include Çanakkale Truva, Metro, Pamukkale and Istanbul Seyahat.
Gelibolu otogar is 200 m west of the 1 ferry pier, which is served by:
- Gestaş ferry sails to 2 Lapseki hourly round the clock, 25 min. As of Aug 2023, an adult single is 15 TL and a car is 155 TL.
- The ferries to Çardak east of Lapseki were suspended after the bridge was opened.
Hellespont and the Golden Fleece
In legend, a usurper seized the throne of a Greek kingdom and slaughtered the deposed dynasty. Phrixus and Helles escaped by flying away east on a ram with golden wool, but Helles dozed off, lost her grip, fell into the straits and drowned - hence they were named the Hellespont. Phrixus reached safety in Colchis, where the ram was sacrificed (becoming the constellation Aries) with its golden fleece guarded by a dragon. When Phrixus' descendant Jason sought to regain the throne, he was promised it if he could bring back the golden fleece. But didn't anyone have the sense to breed from the ram before sacrificing it? In reality yes - Colchis was ancient Georgia, which harvested alluvial gold by trapping it on sheep fleeces.
The town is walkable, and the bus or dolmuş can get you to sights along the main highway. You need a car to reach anywhere else, and to explore the Gallipoli battlefields further south.
- Gallipoli War Museum (Gelibolu Savaş Müzesi), Alaeddin, Kore Kahramanlar Cd. No 15 (100 m west of ferry pier). Tu W F-Su 08:00-17:00. Small but interesting collection, not much signage in English but the photos, military materials and soldiers' possessions tell their own story.
- İskele Cami ("port mosque") is in a back-alley a block inland from the War Museum, set among old wooden houses.
- Tractor Museum (Antika Traktör Müzesi), Camiikebir, 29, Kore Kahramanlar Cd (200 m west of ferry pier). W-Su 10:00-17:00. Just what you were hoping to find in town, some 75 lovingly-polished ancient tractors, many in working order. Adult 10 TL.
- Piri Reis Museum (Piri Reis Müzesi), Belediye Cd. No 17 (facing harbour). Tu W F-Su 09:00-17:00. Ahmed Muhiddin Piri was born 1460-ish in Gelibolu. He was a sea captain (Reis means Captain or Admiral), part of the fleet that ejected the Knights of St John from Rhodos, and leading the Ottoman victories at Aden and Hormuz. But he's best known as a cartographer, producing detailed maps of the Mediterranean, and some of the first maps to depict America and Greenland. This museum, in an old turret guarding the harbour, depicts his life and times. He settled in Cairo but was beheaded by the Vizier there, which he may have regarded as a blessing in disguise, as this punishment was for declining to go off to do battle in the Persian Gulf at the age of 90.
- Gazi Süleyman Paşa Cami is the most interesting mosque in town, founded 14th century but rebuilt in the 19th. It's at the centre of town, inland from the harbour.
- Dervish dancing is practised at the Mevlevihane lodge, 300 m back from the beach. Check their website for sessions the public can watch. The building itself is interesting, with the double external staircases.
- Mehmed-i Bican Efendi Türbesi is a mosque and shrine to the author of the Muhammadiye commentary on the Koran.
- A headland divides the main part of town from the beach strip of Hamzaköy Bay. The Flag Tomb, richly draped in Turkish flags, commemorates Karaca Bey, a standard-bearer in the Ottoman forces. In 1410 the flag was about to be captured by the enemy so he cut it into pieces and swallowed the lot. His comrades didn't believe this so he cut his own stomach open to demonstrate, and this also spared the flag the indignity of a natural expulsion.
- The French Cemetery is just north of the headland, on the slope facing Hamzaköy Bay and beach. Most burials are from the Crimea War of 1854-56.
- The tombs of Sinanpaşa and of Emir Ali Baba are at the north end of the beach.
- Aladdin Cemetery is northwest of centre near Piri Reis mosque, which is modern. It contains a monument and graves of the White Russians: in 1920 they were defeated by the Reds, the Bolsheviks, in Crimea, and fled to Istanbul. Over 25,000 were interned near Gelibolu in a makeshift, squalid camp.
- 1 Çanakkale 1915 Bridge soars across the Dardanelles just south of town.
- Saros Bay or Gulf of Saros, Saros Körfezi, is the sea inlet on the west coast of the peninsula. There are villages and beaches along it, though the best are on the opposite shore, accessed from Keşan.
- 2 Güneyli is one of the larger villages, at the point where the main highway leaves the Saros coast to cross to the east of the peninsula. There's food, accommodation and boating facilities.
- 3 Bolayır is a village 15 km northeast of Gelibolu just off the main highway. Here are the tombs of Süleyman Pasha, the Ottoman commander who captured Eastern Thrace from the Byzantine Empire in the 14th century, and Namık Kemal, the 19th century national poet of Turkey. The tombs (and others around them) have Ottoman / Arabic carvings but you mostly come for the cultural associations and the view from the attractive cemetery garden onto the farmlands below. Buses will drop you on the modern highway, and you walk 1 km up Istanbul Cd, which was the historic highway along the peninsula.
- Çimpe / Tzympe Castle is 2 km southwest of Bolayır along Istanbul Cd, which is almost as ruined as the castle - consider parking up and walking. Erected early 14th century on a hill at the narrowest point of the entire peninsula, this castle was the Ottomans' first stepping-stone towards becoming the regional superpower. It was taken by Süleyman Pasha in the 1350s though it's debated whether he captured it in battle as legend says, or was granted it by the Byzantines as allies against rivals in their imperial civil wars. The region was shattered by an earthquake in 1354 and the Ottomans re-located to Gelibolu. Almost 700 years of further earthquakes mean that what you see now is mostly 19th century reconstruction. But the site was also fortified during the Crimean War, the First Balkan War and the Gallipoli campaign, and these redoubts and buttresses dot the landscape. The site is free 24 hours and you'll have it to yourself.
- 4 Kömür Limanı is an attractive little stony cove on the west coast, reached by the bad road heading inland from Gelibolu past the village and lake of Fındıklı. There's a campsite with toilets and showers, though you have to pay 20 TL and hold your nose to use these.
- 5 Sestos Castle or Akbaş Kalesi has almost disappeared, as its stone was taken to build Bigali Fortress circa 1790. But in legend, Sestos was the abode of Hero, a priestess of Aphrodite / Venus. Leander lived on the other side of the straits: Hero was won over by his argument that she could hardly call herself a devotee of Aphrodite if she didn't make love herself, and also by his prowess in swimming across the straits every night to assist her in this. But come winter the sea turned rough, Hero's guide lamp blew out, and Leander drowned. Hero hurled herself into the sea so splosh!, they were reunited in death. In 1810 Lord Byron swam across the straits here with Marines Lieutenant Ekenhead. They didn't have the same thing going together as Hero and Leander, but Byron's coded letters indicate that he wasn't averse, only his Grand Tour had already surfeited him. The modern fame of Akbaş is for the daring raid on its arms depot in 1920 to supply the Turkish resistance.
- 6 Bigalı Fortress: see Eceabat for this 18th-century fortress along the main highway, and other sights further south.
- Make a landing at Gallipoli - take the ferry to Lapseki and back, just for the ride and the view and to say you've done it. You'll have time for a cup of coffee and a biscuit as you cruise across the channel, with the bridge to the south and Ukrainian freighters lumbering down from the Black Sea. And you'll land not in a hail of bullets but with port hands helpfully directing the traffic. Of course if you come in a tank you'll be required to use the Çardak ferry instead and pay extra.
- Don't swim across the Hellespont unless you're an experienced distance swimmer and have proper back-up and local expertise over currents and shipping lanes. Swimming specialist agencies can organise this, such as Swimtrek, and there's an annual Hellespont swim race in late August. Never treat it as an afternoon lark of "last across buys the beers", look how Leander and Byron turned out, and they didn't have the Ukrainian freighters to contend with.
- Lots of little convenience stores around the harbour.
- Akbank by the harbour has an ATM, and there's more along Tuğsavul Cd.
- Buy a used car ferry, anyone? A residual ferry service may continue after the bridge opens, but most of the fleet will become redundant. It's amazing where in the world pre-owned ferries can find themselves. There's surely some township up a muddy creek in Borneo that is overdue for replacing its transport link, and is scanning the Small Ads.
- Lots of places around the harbour, all geared up to people in transit who want to shovel pide down themselves quickly and be on their way.
- 300 m inland, Gelibolu Cadde 17 Çorbaci is a pleasant change: a soup cafe open M-Sa 06:00-15:30.
- Balkan Restaurant, Hoca Hamza, ☏ . Daily 11:00-00:00. Clean well-run place on the beach, serves alcohol.
- Even the Australians weren't expecting to find pubs when they came ashore at Gallipoli. Try The North Shield on the beach next to Balkan Restaurant, open daily 10:30-02:30.
- Wine: Gelibolu is part of Marmara wine-growing region, though more is produced further south in the maritime climate of Eceabat and the Troy coast.
- The main cluster of hotels is by the ferry jetty, with another group along Hamzakoy beach northeast of town centre.
- Kaya Suit Otel is on Camikebir Mahallesi, Subaşı Sk. No 3. It's basic but clean, double 400 TL, under new management since autumn 2020.
- Hotel Gelibolu is a decent mid-price place next to the pier, but there's noise from the trucks going on and off the ferry. B&B double 500 TL.
- Hotel Milestone 1915, Alaaddin mh, Kore Kahramanlar Cd. No:61 (500 m west of ferry pier), ☏ . Clean modern place near pier. B&B double 600 TL.
- Taş Konak, Hoca Hamza, Mahallesi, Kemal Reis Cd. no 51 (On beach to northeast), ☏ . This gets great reviews for comfort and service. B&B double 400 TL.
As of Dec 2020, there is good 4G coverage from all Turkish carriers in Gelibolu, its ferry crossings, and all along the main highway; there may be dead spots up the lanes in the hills. 5G has not yet rolled out in Turkey.
- Eceabat further south down the peninsula is the main base for visiting the Gallipoli battlefields and memorials, for ferries to Çanakkale, and for ferries to the island of Gökçeada.
- Çanakkale has places of interest but is mainly a stopover on the way to ancient Troy, and to the island of Bozcaada by ferry from Geyikli.
- Çardak and Lapseki on the Asia-side beach strip are not worth a stop, so continue east to Bandırma.
- Keşan to the north is a stopover, then head either south to the Saros beach resorts, east to Istanbul, north to Edirne or west into Greece.
- Istanbul to Izmir is an itinerary with one branch following the Gallipoli road.
|Routes through Gelibolu|
|Kırklareli ← Keşan ←||N S||→ Eceabat → Çanakkale|
|İpsala/Kipi ← Keşan ←||N S||→ Lapseki → Junction (W) → Bandırma → Bursa|