In 1810 the Romantic poet Byron swam across these straits, following in the path of the smitten Leander of ancient Greece, who was said to have swum the strait (the Hellesponte) each night to visit his lover Hero. Byron, exhausted after reaching the other side, is said to have remarked on the uncomfortable and hazardous nature of the currents. As the waterway has become a major crossing point for international trade and commerce rather than a crossing point for star-crossed lovers, we would advise against any further emulations. Ultimately connecting the Aegean and the Black Seas via the Bosphorus, these hazardous straits are in some places less than a kilometer (half a mile) wide, and have been centers of strategic importance and commerce for thousands of years.
In 1915 the strategic importance of the straits was proven again, with devastating costs in lives. Nearly half a million men were registered as casualties in this 9-month campaign, in which the Allies in WWI attempted to gain access to the straits and thereby, to Istanbul. Half of the Ottoman troops defending the peninsula perished or were injured in battle. One who emerged as a hero and brilliant leader, however, was Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who would go on to found the democratic Turkish Republic eight years later. The battlefields of Gallipoli are today riddled with cemeteries, monuments, and tombstones bearing some of the most moving and beautiful inscriptions to be found anywhere.
A monument engraved with a poem written by Ataturk after the battle reads:
Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives…
You are now lying in a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace…
You the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons too.