Battlefield Tourism – Gallipoli & The Dardanelles

The entire Gallipoli Peninsula was a battlefield scene from 25 Apr 1915 to 9 Jan 1916, when Churchill and the French along with a number of Australians and New Zealanders (ANZAC) tried to capture the Ottoman capital of Constantinople and open a route to Russia by sea. The use of naval power proved futile, however, as minefields planted by the Turks destroyed both British and French battleships. Ground forces were brought in, but the Turks held on to their country and control of the Dardanelles Straits. Churchill’s dream of victory on Gallipoli ended in failure, with numerous casualties on the battlefield and countless deaths from illness, lack of supplies, and unpredictable weather.

ANZAC Cove, Cape Helles, Lone Pine, and the Nek are some of the names familiar to historians, archaeologists, geologists, and educators, as well as to the Commonwealth and Turkish descendants of those who fought in the Gallipoli Campaign. Memorials, cemeteries, abandoned trenches, bunkers, and other evidence of the ugliness of war can be found throughout the 13,000-acre Gallipoli National Park and along the banks of the Dardanelles, which remains one of the most popular battlefield destinations for both Turkish and international visitors.

The 1981 film Gallipoli starring Mel Gibson and Mark Lee is a story of two young Australians who are ill prepared for the “game of war” and the tragedy of defeat in the Battle of the Nek and on Lone Pine Ridge.

Tourists visiting the battlefield will find a good place to stay either in the small town of Eceabat, about 5-6 hours from Istanbul, or Canakkale, a ferry ride across the Dardanelles. Driving is the best way to see the various attractions and a map is essential. Most of the battlefield sites are free and accessible year round to visitors.

Memorials & Museums:

The largest is the Canakkale Martyrs’ Memorial located a few miles from the town of Alcipete. This beautiful cemetery is dedicated to the 250,000 soldiers who fought under Ataturk, the brilliant Turkish military commander who became the first president of the Republic of Turkey. The 137′ monument of 4 widely spaced square columns can be seen while sailing through the Dardanelles. Words from an inscription by Mehmet Ersoy, writer of the Turkish national anthem…”Do not ignore the ground on which you have walked, It is not ordinary soil…” remind us to respect and honor the sacrifices that were made on Gallipoli. The small War Museum beneath the memorial features sniper shields, photographs, uniforms, and a variety of other personal and military artifacts.

Going further south, you’ll arrive at Cape Helles and the British and Commonwealth memorial, a monument at the entrance to the Straits. This memorial is dedicated to the 20,000 soldiers who were never identified or presumed lost at sea. You can read the names of all the ships in the Campaign, as well as those of the combined UK forces, 248 Australians, and 1500 soldiers of the Indian Army. In addition to “V” Beach and Lancashire Landing cemeteries on either side of the memorial, many others commemorate battlefields at Pink Farm, Skew Bridge, and Redoubt on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

About 2 miles south of ANZAC Cove, you can visit the museum and Visitors Center in the small village of Gabapete (Kabapete). The Gabapete Museum houses numerous weapons, ammunition, handwritten letters, photographs, and other artifacts gathered from the Gallipoli Campaign. Admission: $3. (A familiar landmark on the cliffs at ANZAC Cove is the rocky formation known as the Sphinx.) More cemeteries and memorials can be seen along the Pine Ridge cliff road. One gravesite of particular interest at Lone Pine is that of Pvt James Martin who entered the war at the age of 14, but saw little action and died aboard a hospital ship. This young soldier’s medals, letters, and photographs hold a place of honor at the War Memorial in Canberra.

Other monuments include the French War Memorial overlooking Morto Bay, or “S” Beach, where the French were successful in attacking Canakkale, but were defeated along with the British at Cape Helles. Another attraction in visiting the Gallipoli battlefields is the memorial to the 57th Turkish Infantry Regiment, commanded by Lt Col Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk), who ordered his soldiers not to attack, but to die.

Chunuk Bair is the battlefield site of an August 1915 assault, a short-lived success for the Allies who were once again defeated by the Turks. It stands as a national memorial to the 850 New Zealanders Expeditionary Force, as well as a statue of Ataturk honoring Turkish soldiers.

Perhaps the most famous memorial on the Gallipoli Peninsula is the Ariburnu at the north end of ANZAC Cove where visitors can read the words spoken by Ataturk in 1934; an excerpt follows…”Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives

You are now lying in the soul of a friendly country.

Therefore rest in peace…”

(Note: Unfortunately, some memorial sites have been degraded with souvenir stands and food and ice cream vendors, an inevitable result of tourism commercialism.)

ANZAC Day – 24 & 25 April. This annual event is sponsored by Turkey, Australia, New Zealand, Britain, and France to commemorate those who fought in the Gallipoli Campaign. These brave soldiers formed an unbreakable bond even in the midst of heartbreaking defeat. After the various international services at dawn in Gallipoli National Park (open to the public), visitors should plan to walk to the memorials and battlefield sites. ANZAC Day is celebrated in Australia, New Zealand, and worldwide.

Guided Tours: Many available. For example – all day, leaving from Istanbul, $137 p/p. 2-day ANZAC tour, $128 p/p, 5-day, $330 (tours include all entrance fees, hotel, and meals.)

Where to stay:

In Eceabat – TJ’s Hotel, $58/dbl. You can arrange a guided tour here with TJ. Hotel Crowded House, a family owned guesthouse, is located across from the ferry terminal. It offers both private and dormitory rooms at a very reasonable rate of $33 single, buffet breakfast included. They also organize battlefield tours and snorkeling of a WWI shipwreck.

In Canakkale – Recommended are the 5-star Kolin Hotel, $145-$203,Tusan, $72-$109, Akol overlooking the Dardanelles, $87-$231, and Anzac, $43-$189. (Rates subject to change.)

Getting there: Flights to Istanbul. Rent a car, or take the 6-hr bus ride from Istanbul to Eceabat, $26, ferry to Canakkale.

Ferries: ½-hour ride to Canakkale (Asian side) from Eceabat (European side), leaving every hour, 7am-1am, 3am & 5pm. Prices: Avg $15 per car, less for bike or pedestrian.

(Note: An excellent documentary on Gallipoli, released in 2005, featured Jeremy Irons and Sam Neill narrating the story in vivid detail through letters, journals, photographs, animations, and re-enactments gathered from in-depth research by Tolga Omek, the Turkish film producer.)

Sharon L Slayton

Filed Under: Grief tourism

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