This article has been previously published as a part of book Gallipoli Peninsula and the Troad: TAN Travel Guide by Izabela Miszczak
Kilitbahir is a small town and fishing harbour in the southern part of Gallipoli Peninsula. Its importance for tourism is due to the presence of the vast Ottoman fortress and the existence of the ferry terminal that enables crossing the Dardanelles to the Asian shore.
The word "Kilitbahir" means "Key to the Sea." It reflects the critical role of the fortress built here to defend the Dardanelles Strait and the entire Ottoman Empire. During the siege of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453, the Genoese fleet managed to get through the Dardanelles in an unsuccessful attempt to save the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Mehmed the Conqueror drew the right conclusions from this situation and later decided to strengthen the Dardanelles with a chain of strategically placed fortifications. The immediate reason for the construction of fortresses on both shores of the Dardanelles were the fears of the sultan that the Venetians would attempt to wrestle Constantinople from the Ottoman control. The Italians spoke of these fortresses simply as i Castelli that is the castles.
The Ottoman fortress in Kilitbahir was strengthened and renovated over the centuries. During the war with Italy in 1911, the entrance to the strait had been mined. In 1914, the fortress became one of the key points of defence against the Allied troops, and a torpedo base was set up near Kilitbahir. The preparations to repel the attack turned out to be a good strategic move when, in February 1915, the Allied fleet composed of British and French ships launched an attack on the Dardanelles. Their primary goal was the elimination of artillery batteries positioned in Kilitbahir. The fleet suffered a great defeat, especially after the ships encountered naval mines. As a result, the decision of the Allies was not to repeat the attack by sea and to launch the land campaign. Its bloody history is described in the chapter devoted to the Battle of Gallipoli.
Even today, Kilitbahir is the place firmly protected by the Turkish army, and the soldiers can be observed during manoeuvres in the neighbourhood.
Kilitbahir Fortress (tr. Kilitbahir Kalesi) dominates the European shore of the Dardanelles at its narrowest point. The fortress is located opposite the city of Çanakkale, on the Asian shore of the Dardanelles. Its twin in Çanakkale - Çimenlik Fortress (tr. Kale-i Sultaniye) - is clearly visible across the water. Both castles were built on the orders of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror in the years 1462-1463. Their aim was to ensure the control of the Ottoman Empire over the strait which was the most important sea passage to the Ottoman capital - Istanbul.
Kilitbahir Fortress is characterised by an unusual architectural concept. It was built on the plan of a five-leaf clover, obtained by the demarcation of three partially overlapping circles. Perhaps this plan was to symbolise the shape of a key, which would explain the origins of its name. Because it was built on such a plan, the walls do not run in straight lines, but in arches that were marked by the principal architect with a compass. Apparently, the passion of Sultan Mehmet felt for geometry inspired the creation of such an unusual shape of the fortress.
A sever-storied tower rises over the castle. It was built later, during the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. In the old days, it provided the vantage point for the continuous observation of the waters of the Dardanelles, aimed at early detection of approaching enemy ships. A full garrison of Ottoman troops was stationed in the fortress at all times, just in case of an unexpected attack.
Kilitbahir Fortress has been renovated over the past few years and is currently not open to the public. However, there is a museum in the Yellow Tower (tr. Sarıkule Müzesi) that collects the relics of the battle of Gallipoli Peninsula (admission 1 TL).
The castle is surrounded by an additional line of the outer fortifications with three bastions: Sarıkule, Mecidiye, and Namazgah. Namazgah redoubt (tr. Namazgah Tabyası) is the complex of massive bunkers built in the 19th century, during the reign of Sultan Abdülaziz. The Museum of Naval Battles (tr. Kilitbahir Namazgah Tabyası Müzesi) operates inside this bastion.
Namazgah was designed to strengthen the defence of the Dardanelles at its narrowest point. In the 19th century, it was the greatest stronghold of the entire Dardanelles region. A complex of artillery batteries was installed here, and it was only removed in the 50s of the 20th century. In 2006, the bastion underwent a complete renovation, in 1980 the Turkish Ministry of Culture recognised it as a protected historic building, and in 2006 the museum was organised inside.
The interior of the Museum of Naval Battles, located in one of the bunkers, displays the exhibits related to the military history of the Dardanelles. There are paintings, sketches, and photographs illustrating the state of the fortifications and the weapons over many centuries. You can also see the photos of warships from the times of the First World War.
In the display cases, there are items of soldier equipment, stationery, shoes, keys, guns, bullets, and cannonballs. An unexpected addition to this collection are the examples of antique ceramics from Çanakkale. There is also a gap in the bunker - a reminder of shelling during the First World War. Today it is glazed, so it is possible to look into the museum from the outside.
Within the bastion, there is a large mock-up showing its plan. It is worth to climb the stairs onto the walls towering over the Dardanelles to see the views of the Asian shore and the city of Çanakkale.
Admission to the bastion is free of charge, but to get to the bunker with the museum exhibitions, you have to buy a ticket. Its cost is 2 TL for adults, and 1 TL for the students. Information boards, not only in Turkish but also in English, are a great asset of the museum.
Opposite the compound of bunkers, on the opposite side of D550 route, there is severely ruined building that formerly was a place of prayer for the Ottoman soldiers. It is called namazgah (an open-air prayer area) and it gave the name to the whole bastion. A much better-preserved example of such a structure can be seen in Gelibolu.
On the street leading from the fortress uphill, in a nicely renovated house, operates the local Center for Culture and Arts (tr. Kültür ve Sanat Merkezi). In its interior, there is an exhibition displaying the relics of the First World War I and ethnographic exhibits from Kilitbahir region.
The district of the town situated away from the coast is a maze of narrow cobbled streets, where one can find several historic houses from the Ottoman period. You can also locate a fountain built at the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries, on the orders of Damat Ibrahim Pasha, Grand Vizier, and a son in law of Sultan Ahmed III.
The mosque and tomb of Cahidi Ahmed Efendi (tr. Cahidi Sultan Ahmet Türbesi ve Camisi), restored in 2014, is another historical curiosity. Cahidi Ahmed Efendi, born in Edirne, was the founder of a powerful Sufi sect known as Halvetiyye. He died in Kilitbahir in 1642, and his tomb was erected here.
Just behind Kilitbahir, to the south, on D550 road, there is a monument of Seyit Onbaşı (tr. Seyit Onbaşı Anıtı), similar to the one which stands in the centre of Eceabat. It is a favourite stop for organised tours that take tourists to the battlefields located on the southern tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula. Kilitbahir is a good starting point for the exploration of the memorials from the times of the First World War.
The people who visit Kilitbahir for the first time might get a false impression that this town is made up only of one street (the D550 route), fortifications on the coast, and the ferry terminal. Meanwhile, there is yet another face of Kilitbahir - an old quarter which situated on the hills above the fortress, with its narrow streets and charming old buildings.
The D550 route runs along the coast, and in Kilitbahir it is known as Wharf Street (tr. Yalı Caddesi). Just at the northern entrance to Kilitbahir, there is a ferry terminal, some restaurants and shops. Kilitbahir Fortress and the bastions stand a little further to the south.
Right at the entrance to Kilitbahir, Wharf Street forks off, and its western branch - Market Street (tr. Çarşı Caddesi) takes you to the old district of the town. Both roads converge again to the south of Kilitbahir.
In Kilitbahir, several restaurants specialise in fish dishes and seafood. They are located near the ferry terminal, on the D550 route. In addition, just over the fortress, there is a local tea garden (tr. Park Çay Bahçesi), where you can relax in the shade of trees and sip hot tea while your children can enjoy the playground.
Accommodation options in Kilitbahir are very limited, and it is much easier to find a place to stay in Eceabat. If you are determined to spend the night in Kilitbahir, Kilitbahir Apart Butik Otel is the most attractive option. It is located on a hill, on a side street just off Market Street. The hotel offers both simple rooms with shared bathrooms, as well as larger suites with kitchenette.
On the southern side of the town, just off the coast, there is a beach club and a camping ground called Zargana Tatil Köyü. There you can relax, swim in the Dardanelles, and spend the night in a rented tent. There is an on-site café and a restaurant. This holiday village operates only during the summer season, i.e. from May to October.