Its tranquil hills and gullies are now covered in pine forests and wildflowers, but one hundred years ago this slender peninsula between the Dardanelles and the Aegean Sea was the location of a prolonged, noisy and bloody battle that is seared into the memory of many nations.
Now protected as a Turkish national park, Gallipoli is an increasingly popular destination for both Turks and foreigners, who come to pay homage at the memorials and celebrate the bravery, stoicism and camaraderie of the soldiers who fought and died here.
Touring the Battlefields
Fringed by turquoise waters and covered in a well-maintained network of roads and walking tracks, this historically rich landscape in northwest Turkey is home to 40 Allied war cemeteries, at least 20 Turkish cemeteries, and a number of memorials. Covering 335 sq-km, it is divided roughly into two sections: the Northern Peninsula, where the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp (Anzac) troops landed on 25 April 1915; and the Southern Peninsula, where British, Indian, French and Australian troops landed on the same day. Suvla Bay, where British reinforcements landed in August 1915, is on the Northern Peninsula.
If you have your own transport, it’s easy to tour independently. Roads are clearly signposted, and locals are happy to supply advice and information. The tour we have outlined below is achievable in one day, although adding Suvla Bay and taking two days is more satisfying. For more information, see the Visit Gallipoli (www.anzacsite.gov.au) and Commonwealth War Graves Commission (www.cwgc.org) websites.
Gallipoli Simulation Centre
The starting point for all independent tours should be the Gallipoli Simulation Centre (Çannakale Destanı Tanıtım Merkezi; canakkaledestani.milliparklar.gov.tr; admission TL 13; 9.30-11am & 1.30-5pm), just east of the village of Kabatepe on the Northern Peninsula. Opened with great fanfare in 2012, it comprises 11 galleries in which hi-tech 3D equipment takes the viewer on an historical journey through the Gallipoli naval and land campaigns, alternating between the Turkish and Allied points of view.
From the Simulation Centre, it’s a short drive north along the coastal road to Anzac Cove. This now extremely narrow stretch of sand beneath and just south of the Arıburnu cliffs was where the ill-fated Allied landing began. Another 300m along is the Arıburnu Sahil Anıtı (Arıburnu Coastal Memorial) highlighting Atatürk’s famous reconciliation speech about the ‘Johnnies’ (Allied troops) and ‘Mehmets’ (Turkish troops) lying side-by-side on Turkish soil. Just beyond the memorial is Arıburnu Cemetery, first used in 1915 and enlarged in the 1920s when graves from other parts of the peninsula were brought here. Canterbury Cemetery, 750m further north, is the resting place of soldiers from the New Zealand Mounted Rifles. Between them is the Anzac Commemorative Site (Anzac Tören Alanı) at North Beach, where dawn services are held on Anzac Day (25 April) each year. From here, look up towards the cliffs and you can easily make out the image in the sandy cliff face nicknamed ‘the Sphinx’ by young ‘diggers’ (Aussie infantrymen) who had arrived from Australia via Egypt.
Less than 1km further along the seaside road, on the right-hand-side of the road, is No 2 Outpost Cemetery, established in 1915 next to a battlefields medical post. Next to it, New Zealand No 2 Outpost Cemetery dates from the same time, as does Embarkation Pier Cemetery 200m further north, on the left-hand side of the road.
If you only have one day at your disposal, you should turn around at this point and backtrack to Kabatepe. Those with an extra day can continue further north to visit the Green Hill, Lala Baba, Azmak and Hill 10 Cemeteries at Suvla Bay.
Lone Pine to Chanuk Bair
Backtrack to the Simulation Centre and then follow the signs uphill to reach Lone Pine, perhaps the most moving of all the Anzac cemeteries. Australian forces captured the Turkish positions here on the afternoon of 6 August 1915. During the battle, which was staged in an area the size of a soccer field, over 4000 men died and thousands more were injured.
About 1km uphill from Lone Pine is the 57 Alay Şehitliği, a cemetery and monument for the Ottoman 57th Regiment, which was led by Mustafa Kemal (later to become known as Atatürk) and was almost completely wiped out on 25 April while halting the Anzac advance.
Continuing a short distance uphill, you come to The Nek, where, on the morning of 7 August 1915, the 8th (Victorian) and 10th (Western Australian) Regiments of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade were ordered by their British commanders to ‘go over the top’ (vault out of their trenches) into direct and relentless Turkish fire, an incident immortalized in Peter Weir’s powerful 1981 film, Gallipoli.
Finally, on the top of the hill, you arrive at Chanuk Bair (Conk Bayiri in Turkish), the first objective of the Allied landing in April 1915, and now the site of the New Zealand Cemetery and Memorial, and the Conkbayırı Atatürk Anıtı (Conkbayırı Atatürk Memorial), a huge statue of the Turkish hero. There are wonderful views over the peninsula and down to Suvla Bay from up here.
The Southern Peninsula
Having driven back down the hill to Kabatepe (make sure you follow the instructions for one-way roads), you can then drive south to the village of Alçıtepe (formerly Krithia) and on to Cape Helles, where a stone obelisk honours both missing Australians who died at Helles and British and Indian soldiers who perished at Gallipoli and have no known graves. It bears over 21,000 names. Nearby, at Morto Bay, is the French War Memorial and Cemetery, where over 3000 French soldiers are buried. Even further east is the Çanakkale Şehitleri Anıtı (Çanakkale Martyrs’ Memorial), a gigantic stone structure overlooking the Dardanelles. This commemorates the 86,000 Turkish soldiers who fought and died during the campaign. Turks often call it the Abide (Monument).
Where to Stay
There are accommodation options for every budget in the areas surrounding the peninsula, but only one notable choice in the battlefields area itself. Run by Belgian military-history buff and genial hotelier Eric Goossens and his wife Ozlem, The Gallipoli Houses is set in a farming village on the Northern Peninsula and has hosted prime ministers, Hollywood film directors and generals galore. It offers extremely comfortable rooms, has a bar and restaurant and is the perfect choice for those touring the peninsula under their own steam. Other recommended options are in Çanakkale, a lively university town across the Dardanelles, and on the unspoiled island of Gökçeada in the Aegean. Both are relatively short car-ferry trips away (Çanakkale is reached via Eceabat and Gökçeada via Kabatepe). Backpackers tend to gravitate to Hotel Crowded House in Eceabat.
Virginia Maxwell researched the Gallipoli Peninsula for the upcoming edition of Lonely Planet’s Turkey guidebook, to be published in 2015.