From Turkey, Australia and New Zealand to Britain and France, people join together every 25 April to remember soldiers who died in the Allies’ fight against the Turks at Gallipoli during World War I. While Anzac Day has come to encompass all soldiers lost in the war, the day still has distinct meaning for countries across the world. Visiting the Anzac Commemorative Site in Gallipoli is almost a rite of passage for young Australians and New Zealanders. Despite the campaign’s failure to capture Constantinople (now Istanbul), which was an ally of Germany during WWI, it was the first major action the two countries took part in and is seen as a defining moment for their countries’ national identities, making them distinct from Britain.
Turkey, on the other hand, views it as a monumental moment in Turkish history where the underdogs won the battle against all odds, laying the grounds for the Turkish War of Independence and the foundation of the Republic of Turkey. This victory is celebrated as the Çanakkale Naval Victory (Çanakkale Deniz Zaferi) on 18 March.
Crowds of visitors turn up to the Gallipoli peninsula for the dawn Anzac Day memorial service, one of the most popular events in Turkey for foreign visitors. In 2005, more than 20,000 people came to mark the 90th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings, overwhelming the peninsula’s modest infrastructure. Just as many people are expected in 2015, the year of its 100th anniversary.
Locals estimate about 5000 people come every year to take part in Anzac Day. Traffic still reaches all-day jam proportions the day before, preventing even those in nearby Çanakkale from making the service on time. As a result, many people camp at the Anzac Commemorative Site to ensure they don’t miss the event.
If you’re interested in the Gallipoli campaign, here are our tips on the must-see sights beyond the 600-metre strip of sand at Anzac Cove.
- In Istanbul, it’s worth visiting the Askeri Müze (Military Museum), which tells the story of Çannakkale from the Turkish perspective. Artefacts from the campaign include the watch that stopped the bullet that would otherwise have killed Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a commander at Gallipoli that led Turkey to victory.
- Near the beginning of the Gallipoli peninsula, 50 kilometres away from Anzac Cove, you’ll find Gelibolu. This pretty little harbour town is home to the Gallipoli War Museum. Explore the glass displays that are placed above and below you and walk past the sand bags and barbed wire outside. This museum allows you to imagine the battle clearly, evoking the human cost of the campaign.
- Across the Dardanelles in Çannakkale, you’ll find another Military Museum, with informative exhibits on the Gallipoli battles, including fused bullets that hit each other in mid-air. As the chance of this occurring is around 160 million-to-one, it gives a chilling insight into the amount of ammunition that was fired.
- The ‘Heavenly Island’ of Gökçeada was an important base during WWI as Allied Commander General Ian Hamilton stationed himself at the village of Ayıncık (then Kefalos) on the island’s southeast coast. The area sits as a rare example of an Aegean island still untouched by tourism.
While people flock to Gallipoli every 25 April, its beauty can be enjoyed throughout the year. Many visitors often find their emotional experience more poignant when they take the time to explore the historical landmark away from the bustle of the crowds.
Jane Atkin is part of Lonely Planet's online editorial team.
This article was first published in April 2012 and was republished in July 2012.