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The Dardanelles (ancient Hellespont), leads from the Grecian Archipelago into the sea of Marmara, and separates Europe from Asia. The ancient Greek name Hellespontos means "Sea of Helle". It was so named after the legendary Helle, who fell into the strait and was drowned while escaping with her brother Phrixus from their stepmother, Ino, on a golden-fleeced ram.

One of the greatest engineering feats of ancient times, Xerxes' bridge over the Hellespont, was actually two bridges. In the fall of 481 BC, Xerxes great army reached the city of Sardis, where they spent the winter. The following spring, 480, they began their march to the Hellespont, where his engineers and components of his navy, composed primarily of Egyptians and Phoenicians, had prepared a bridge across the entrance to the Black Sea, which the Greeks called the Euxine Sea. At first the Greeks determined to stop Xerxes' advance in Thessaly at the pass of Olympus, but when they sent an advance party of men, they realized that Xerxes army was far too numerous, and so they abandoned that idea and decided to defend the much narrower pass at Thermopylae.

The Dardanelles is a sinuous or winding strait having a general SW and NE direction. The length of the strait from cape Helles at the south-west end to Gallipoli lighthouse at the north-east is 33 miles. Its breadth varies from 1,400 yards to 4 miles, and averages about 2 miles; its depth in mid-channel 25 to 55 fathoms. The width of the sea of Marmara at its western end for about 30 miles eastward of Gallipoli is on the average about 9 miles.

From Basliika point to cape Yeni-shehr, at the entrance of the Dardanelles, the coast of Anatolia is composed of sand and rocks, on which it is difficult to land in boats. In making for the Dardanelles, the island of Tenedos is first sighted, to the north of which a vessel ought always to steer, if the wind allow of so doing. It is seen from a great distance, either from the westward or the southward; and, after having made it out, ships steered so as to pass either to the northward by the main channel which it forms with Lemnos island, or to the southward by that which it forms with the coast of Asia to the eastward. The first-mentioned passage is named Lemnos channel; the second, Tenedos channel.

The Plain of Troy was presumed by some to be to the eastward of this part of the coast. Straho of Cappadocia, who wrote under the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius, and who gave a description of these parts, left the question undecided, although some authors place ancient Troy at the foot of mount Ida, on the western side, on the border of Simois, at 5 miles to the eastward of the sea, and at 7 miles to the southward of the Dardanelles, near a Turkish village named Bounarbashi. The numerous ruins of this ancient capital of Troad, which are perceived near the village of Bounarbashi, were discovered in 1811.

There is a marked difference in the conformation of the two shores of the Dardanelles. The coast of Asia, generally flat towards the sea, extends in the form of an amphitheatre to the foot of mount Ida. This vast plain is watered by numerous springs, and is fertile and well cultivated. Shoals, banks, and ledges, border throughout the Asiatic coast, which affords bays and roadsteads, most of which are good and easy of access. The European side is generally high, and almost without exception steep-to. Partly from its cliffy character, partly from its superior cultivation (chiefly corn), it presents an uniformly yellow and apparently arid aspect. The Asiatic, less steep and more thinly populated, affords, by its wooded hills and tree-covered plains and valleys, an agreeable relief to the yellow glare of the northern side.

The sea of Marmara (ancient Propontis) is united to the Black sea by the Bosporus, and to the Archipelago by the Dardanelles. It is about 110 miles in length from east to west, without reckoning the deep gulfs of Ismid (ancient Nicomedia) and Mudania, and 40 miles in breadth in its widest part from north to south. The width at the western end for about 30 miles eastward of Gallipoli is 3 to 10 miles. From Gallipoli the north coast trends to the north-east 25 miles, and then abruptly returns to the east for 65 miles to Constantinople. The south coast, after bending a little to the south, regains its direction eastward for about 80 miles, then turns towards the north and joins the north coast at the Bosporus, thus forming a vast gulf.

The sea of Marmara is terminated to the eastward by two deep gulfs, of which one, that of Ismid, is 30 miles in length, and the other, that of Mudania, 20 miles. These two gulfs are separated by a high peninsula. There are two other smaller gulfs on its south coast, one to the eastward and the other to the westward of the peninsula of Artaki or Kapu Dagh. They are separated by a small strip of land, which, according to Strabo, was formerly covered by the sea, and over which two wooden bridges had been thrown to communicate with the shore of Asia.

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