Canakkale Ceramics

Following the Traces of a Great Pottery Tradition

Çanakkale (pronounced chaa-nak-kaa-leh) is a town on the southern (Asian) coast of the Dardanelles (or Hellespont) at their narrowest point. The city was called “Hellespontos” or “Dardanelles” in ancient times. As the city is located on the Dardanelles Strait (Çanakkale Boğazı), one of the two major water passages connecting the Aegean and Black Sea, it is rich in history and culture (among other it is the nearest major town to the site of ancient Troy). During World War I, Çanakkale was the stage of a year-long battle between the Allies and Turkish forces. In addition, from April 1915 to January 1916, a joint British and French operation was mounted to capture the Ottoman capital of Constantinople. The attempt failed, but not without heavy casualties on both sides. Çanakkale was an Ottoman fortress called Kale-i Sultaniye or Sultaniye kalesi (Fortress of the Sultan). It later became known for its pottery, hence the later name Çanak kalesi ‘pot fortress’ (from the words canak = ceramic bowl and kale = fortress) or ‘Çanakkale.

Dardanelles 1958 - Fort Chanak Kalesi

Çanakkale ceramics from late 17th to 20th century attest that the city was one of the most important centres of ceramic production during Ottoman Empire. Recent research (by Prof. G. Öney) proves that the pottery industry in Canakkale was active in the late 17th century and this is significant as it shows that Çanakkale ceramics run in parallel to Iznik and Kütahya pottery industries. Thus it can be assumed that Çanakkale ceramic production, especially those broad plates with central compositions, may have been produced in such large numbers in this period in order to make up for the loss of Iznik production.

Çanakkale ceramics gained popularity in 18th and 19th centuries, and benefiting from the city’s geographical location on the water passage of all commercial and naval ships, became widely known as souvenirs and gift articles. It was as early as the beginning of the 18th century that Canakkale ceramics caught the attention of many foreign travellers. Edmunt Chishull who visited Çanakkale in 1701 wrote in his book “…The town is large, but mean; Yet famous for a curious sort of earthen ware finely glazed, which is made here, and vended in great quantities…” (Travels in Turkey and Back to England, London 1747).

Port of Canakkale 19th c.

Another Englishman traveler Richard Pococke, describes the town as being rather flourishing with some 1200 inhabitants. Concerning pottery he writes “… they make here a sort of ware like that of the Delft, which is exported to the value of fifteen thousand dollars a year …” (A Description of the East and Some Other Countries, London 1743-45, Vol II). A few decades later, Dr. John Sibthorp provides us with information on the techniques of ceramic decoration in Çanakkale, “…Our consul accompanied us in a walk along the marina to the north of the town: we passed by numerous potteries, in some of which were manufactured vases and pots of no elegant shape. We observed at the Dardanelles the artist very adroitly painting them, but the paint was not burnt in. The clay was dug out of some low flat ground at the end of the town…” (Travels in Various Countries of the East, London 1820). Dr. Sibthorp refers to the painting over the glaze, a common practise in Çanakkale potteries.

Canakkale 19th - Plate with Medallion, Private Collection Athens Greece

In Çanakkale the production was mainly plates, bowls, jugs, pitchers and vases (up to now, no wall tiles have been found). Broad 18th century plates with skilful and varied designs, including ships, buildings, ibrik, and simple geometric and plant motives, belong to the finest ceramics ever made in Çanakkale. Apart from these, along with the use of various techniques in production and ornamentation, there was a huge variety of ceramic vessels which were made in the potteries of the city. Plates, deep dishes with stylized floral motifs composed of free brush strokes, large or small jars, bowls and deep dishes with or without lids, jugs, bottles, ewers, mugs, decanters, vases, basket-weave trays, fruit and sugar bowls, leaf-shaped plates and even braziers, barrel-shaped containers, spice holders, gas lamps and model ships, pen holders, writing sets, etc., that are immediately recognizable by their bulbous bodies, bright splashing colours, long narrow necks terminating in beak-shaped or animal-head mouths, lids with lions, birds, cats, horses and various other animals, superficially applied ornamentation with floral rosettes, garlands, plaque-like gilded eagle figures, candleholders, leaves, sea shells, roses, hyacinth bouquets and other flowers. All these constitute the magical world of Çanakkale ceramics.

Mass ceramic production became predominant during the second half of 19th century. The abundance of ornaments in relief and painting over the glaze are characteristics of this period. Certainly this was a production of degraded quality, tasteless in the opinion of many scholars, but this does not mean that there weren’t beautiful ceramics during this period, such as long-necked jugs with twisted handles, or animal figurines, which we will discuss below.

Animal figurines is another category of late Çanakkale ceramics very popular among collectors. Horses, lions and camels (standing or sitting) and rarely fantastic birds with long tails like kangaroos, decorated with rosettes and painted with various colors, were offered as souvenirs to the sailors and travelers of the countless ships passing through Çanakkale. All these pottery animals have a hole near the tail for filling and a small opening on the mouth for pouring out the contents.

Drawings from Albert Smith's Book (1850)

These animal figurines must be made in Çanakkale at least from the mid 19th century, as evidenced by a travelogue of Albert Smith. In his book “A Month at Constantinople” (London 1850), Smith describes his visit in Çanakkale “…The people put off in boats, and brought rude pottery for sale, made here to a great extent. The traffic was principally in tall, and not ungraceful water-jugs, ornamented with gold leaf; but I bought a bottle, made like a stag, as a present for a friend – certainly the ugliest thing I ever saw in my life…”. On pages 40-42 of this book, there are drawings of two vessels, a jug with a braided handle and a zoomorphic, probably the one which Smith purchased in Çanakkale. Although the figurine seems more like an antelope, we can safely assume that at the time Smith visited Çanakkale such kind of animal figures were made in local potteries.

A French named Vital Cuinet in his book “La Turquie d’ Asie, Geographie Administrative” Vol. III, (Paris 1893-94) gives us important information and statistics for the population and the pottery workshops of Çanakkale. Cuinet estimates the population of Canakkale to around 11,062 residents in 1890s. The majority of the population was Muslims, but there was a thriving community of Orthodox Christians of Greek origin, as well as Armenians, Jews and others.

Cuinet claims that Çanakkale pottery has been declining since 1867 when production began gradually to decrease. In the 1890’s there were only 12 potteries with an annual production which had a value of 82,800 francs, in contrast to 1867 when the total value of production was 740,000 francs. In the late 19th century, large quantities of Çanakkale ceramics were mainly exported to Greece and Cyprus. In 1889, 389,750 pieces were exported to Egypt.

Canakkale 19th - Potter gives form to a pitcher

In every pottery work shop there were a supervisor, two potters, a worker for the preparation of clay and two other workers for various jobs. Two types of clay were found in the region, but potters preferred the finer quality red clay which contained a high level of iron and produced the best results. Turks and Greek potters were working on standard forms, using the same techniques in making, glazing and decorating pottery.

The decline of the Canakkale pottery becomes stronger in the first decades of the 20th century. Already in the beginning of 20th century, we observe further deterioration of style and quality. The disastrous earthquake of 1912, the wars, the loss of markets and the forced migration of many craftsmen, gradually led to the final extinction of a great pottery tradition in the mid 1920’s.

Woman from Almiros (Thessaly Greece) with a Canakkale Pitcher

The ceramics from Çanakkale have brought great novelty to Anatolian Turkish ceramic art because of their unique style, composition, colors and designs. Occupying a special position between traditional pottery and the elite craftsmanship of the Ottoman era, Çanakkale ceramics were very popular among Muslims and Christians of the Ottoman Empire, particularly in the eastern Aegean islands, Sporades and the Dodecanese, where the Greek sailors brought large quantities of this kind of pottery with which they decorated many of their houses until today. These ceramics, particularly during the 19th and until the early 20th century, were echoing the taste of the emerging social classes of merchants, captains, bankers, businessmen and even the preferences of the middle classes.

According to Gönül ÖNEY “…Canakkale ceramics, which in view of their intermediate positions between traditional folk pottery and the high art of Turkish ceramics in the Ottoman era, should be approached not only with an eye to the taste of a certain period, but also bearing in mind its ethnographical qualities as reflective of the diversity of creative energies and excitement displayed by folk art …

The love for Çanakkale ceramics passed to younger generations who grew up and emotionally tied to them. For example, many Christian children have been baptized with the water flowing from colorful Çanakkale pitchers. Many dishes from Çanakkale have been walled in Greek churches in the 18th and 19th century for decorative purposes. On the island of Skyros pottery from Çanakkale with other European and Ottoman ceramics, was an important asset of the family, with great sentimental value.

The Balkan and Greek folk pottery has been significantly affected by Çanakkale ceramics, as many potters copied forms and decorative motifs. After 1922 many Greek potters from Çanakkale and Kutahya, came as refugees in Greece, where they continued to make pottery greatly influenced by the ceramics of their homeland. For all these reasons, Canakkale ceramics continue to be collected by many collectors around the world, but mainly in Turkey and Greece.-


1. Turkish Period Canakkale Ceramics, Gönül ÖNEY, Ankara, 1971
2. Çanakkale Ceramics, Prof. Dr. Ara ALTUN, Suna – Inan Kirac Mediterranean Civilizations Research Institute, Istanbul, 1996
3. Τσανάκκαλε Το κάστρο των Αγγείων, Κατάλογος Περιοδικής Έκθεσης Κέντρο Μελέτης Νεώτερης Κεραμεικής (Κ.Μ.Ν.Κ.), Ρέθυμνο 2006
4. Τα κεραμεικά του Τσανάκκαλε 1670-1922, Κατερίνα Κορρέ-Ζωγράφου, Ίδρυμα Μείζονος Ελληνισμού, Αθήνα 2000
5. Later Islamic Pottery, Arthur Lane, (London, Faber & Faber, 2nd edition 1971)

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