Gallipoli – a tour of the WWI battlefield

By | Category: Travel destinations
panoramic modern shot of Gallipoli

the Gallipoli landscape today

Çanakkale in the Gallipoli region of Turkey has witnessed many bloody battles throughout its chaotic history, from the Achaemenid era to the battle for Troy and the story of the Trojan horse all the way through thosuands of years of history to then, the battle of Gallipoli, which took place only a century ago.

The graveyards of the Turkish and Allied soldiers have not been forgotten. and it is interesting to see how the story of the triumph and defeat is still alive. The cemeteries of dead soldiers have become green parks, laid across the unspoiled landscapes of the Gallipoli Peninsula, and all within green forests full of pine trees, edged with wild shrubs and olive woods, along the beautiful beaches of the Aegean coasts. The effects of the war has influenced all small fishing villages in the region and changed the life of local people forever.

wooden monument to the Trojan Horse

a reminder of the famous story of the Trojan Horse

What brings ordinary travellers, battlefield tourists, war experts and enthusiast to this region to pay tributes to unknown soldiers who spilled their blood on a foreign land? The memory of this epic battle is not only relevant to Turks, but also to British and Anzacs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) who suffered heavy casualties. There is a magnet inviting visitors, historians and researchers to step onto a glorious land to discover a rich and informative remnant of the war. Gallipoli has become a big open-air war museum embracing monuments, graveyards and displays of war artifacts, cannons, guns and soldiers’ personal belongings.

The Gallipoli Campaign was the biggest test of history for the triumphant Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who led the resistance to Winston Churchill’s war plans to reach Istanbul and the black sea by naval forces, through the Dardanelles Straits in order to force Turkey out of World War I which failed after nine months of fighting. The ground forcesmay have left but the corpses of their fellow countrymen were left behind.

ferry arrival area at Kilitbahir

arriving in Canakkale

The victorious Turks embraced the dead soldiers of its enemy and the cemeteries of the lone graves within a National Park. Today, the  monumental shrines praise the human dignity of those whose souls perished in the battle. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) administer over 30 cemeteries of over 100 graveyards in the peninsula at the cost of half a million pounds per year. There are a lot of graveyards and memorials to see in the area where the memories of dead are very much alive.

I joined a tour of the Gallipoli to learn about the war heritage of the region We took a car ferry from Canakkale to the opposite village and the port of Kilitbahir. There was a beautiful distant view of the fishing village and Kilitbahir Fortress. As the ferry got closer, the 15th century castle built by Sultan Mehmet appeared mightier before our eyes, emphasising the importance of the stronghold just opposite Çanakkale’s Çimenlik Fortress and which protects the narrowest section of the Dardanelles Strait.

staue of Corporal Seyid carrying a shell

the man who carried the shells – Corporal Seyid

We continued our journey towards south along a hilly road overlooking the Dardanelles strait. We passed Namazgah and Hamidiye Bastions and reached Mecidiye Bastion and Martyrs cemetery in the hill where you can still see gun positions in the steep mount. As I walked pass the souvenir stalls, there was a monument dedicated to sixteen soldiers who were killed by a fire from the Allied forces fleet in a heavy battle along the strait in 1915. The group burial location of these soldiers has been designated as the Martyrs’ Cemetery of Mecidiye. Next to the monument is the grave of Feyzi Efendi, an architect who was commissioned during the reign of Selim III to strengthen the protection of the Dardanelles strait. He was executed due to his failure, when a hostile British fleet crossed the strait in 1807.

In the Mecidiye Bastion, there is a heavy German artillery gun with a statue of Turkish soldiers and particularly Corporal Seyid who was very heroic, carrying heavy bombshells in defending his homeland against the British fleet in March 1915. His large statue is  located downhill by the coastal road.

graves in a Turkish cemetery

a Turkish cemetery

We continued our journey towards the south driving through green forests and passing the small villages that are close to the sites of the battlefields. We stopped in Alçıtepe, which used to be inhabited by Greeks in the early twentieth century. The village witnessed the Battle of Krithia during Gallipoli and suffered heavy damage to its mediaeval architecture and the destruction of two churches. But it resisted and was never captured by allied forces due to the bravery of the defenders. The village is a pleasant place for tourists to refresh themselves perhaps by drinking Turkish coffee and eating sweets and there are shopping opportunities in the many souvenir stalls located in the main square of the village.

The densities of the many cemeteries with their thousands of graveyards have empowered the whole region with the soul of deceased Turkish and Allied soldiers who lost their lives in the battle. It is just as if their spirits are still around us. We could not stop in every cemetery to pay our respects as we were heading to reach the Çanakkale Martyrs’ Memorial on Hisarlik Hill near Morto Bay. Our minibus entered into a tunnel of trees in a hilly road leading us to an intense forest full of pine trees. We walked up the hill and reached the top of the mount where there is  a large flat, open site edged with the trees in the southern part of the peninsula overlooking Morto Bay in the strait.

the Martyrs memorial

Looking up at the Turkish flag in the Martyr’s Memorial

A huge 42 metre monument standing on the four square columns was built in 1960 as the Martyrs’ Memorial in commemoration of Turkish soldiers from all regions who fought in the 1915 battles. A large Turkish flag is placed inside the ceiling of the structure and there are several statutes of MustafaKemal Ataturk, wounded soldiers and inscriptions in the field around the monument. Opposite the monument, a large 45-metre wall with the Statute of  Ataturk in the front depicts the timeline of the battles and the bravery of the Turkish army. Behind the wall and within the forests, there is a symbolic cemetery with the names of 59,408 soldiers who died in the battle.

In the front of the cemetery, there is the grave of an unknown soldier and a marble stone inscribed by the famous words of Attaturk in 1934 to the mothers of Allied soldiers: “Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives. You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore, rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side. Here in this country of ours, you, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom, and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well”.

start of the Run for Peace

publicising the annual “Run for “Peace”

We continued our journey downhill to Morto Bay where, each October, a marathon is held under the slogan “Run for Peace.”  Over 6,000 runners were on the same courses that allied soldiers used when advancing in a deadly, hide and seek game against the local inhabitants and soldiers defending their lands. The sounds of bombs, guns and shootings are now superseded by applause and the laughter of young and old from all over the world.

Our next stop was to visit Cape Helles, the largest Memorial built by the British in Gallipoli near the Sedd el Bahr Front. The memorial is dedicated to the Royal Navy losses. The names of soldiers and information about the warships and troops are inscribed on the stones around the square monument, which is dominated by a 32.9 metre high column.

We continued our journey to the north of peninsula passing several other cemeteries and monuments. We reached the North Beach in Ariburnu Bay where the Anzac Commemorative Site near Anzac Cove is located. The memorial was opened in 2000 in the presence of the prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand. A short story of the war is depicted on the memorial wall.

memorial for Quinn's Post

Quinn’s Post – claimed to be the dangerous position during the battles

From there, we headed towards the forest by following winding roads in the steep hills. We reached the Chunuk Bair Hill, one of the highest points in the Sari Bair range, where the site of the battle between New Zealand troops and Turkish defenders is located. On the hill, there are five Mehmetcik Monoliths symbolising a hand with written inscriptions on the story of the battle from the landing of enemy forces on 25th April until their defeat on 10th August 1915.

allied cemetery

one of many allied cemeteries

Further up in the highest point of the Chunk Blair Hill, the CWGC built in 1925 a 20.5-metre polygonal monument in the form of a belfry in honour of 856 New Zealanders who lost their lives on the slopes leading to the summit. The New Zealand cemetery is to the east of the monument further down the slopes. In the Chunk Hill, there is also a bronze statue of Ataturk who commanded the assault on 10th August 1915. Today you can still see the  trenches and ditches and these encircle the monument. Standing on this hill, you have a fantastic and panoramic view of the Aegean Sea, the beaches and the coast to the west with the hilly green forests sitting above.

in the market - that is to explore next time

in the market – that is to explore next time  in Canakalle

I learned a lot in my short stay in Canakalle and Gallipoli. There is a lot more to see and experience in the old town of Canakkale from its history to its traditions. You could discover the Bazar, Hamams, museums, the castle and taste a variety of cuisine and pastry in city’s cafés and restaurants. You can also do a day trip in land to visit the ancient ruins of Troy and Assos or take a ferry to two nearby Islands of Bozcaada and Gökçeada.

Images and story © Mohammed Reza Amirinia

For more about Turkey and Gallipoli, click here.




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