The Battle of Gallipoli (The Dardanelles) and Anzac Day

Anzac Day, April 25, is the day when patriotic Australians and New Zealanders make a pilgrimage to Gallipoli to commemorate the soldiers who fought for their country in World War I as well as in other armed conflicts.
Not only does it serve as a reminder of the tragedies of war, but the beauty of the surrounding scenery and the beach makes it worth the trip.

Picture of Anzac Cove in Gallipoli, Turkey.
Anzac Cove in Gallipoli. © Photo by Viator

The Dardanelles

Located 200 kilometers southwest of Istanbul, the Dardanelles is a narrow strait that connects the Sea of Marmara with the Aegean Sea. It was named after Dardanus, who was an ancient king of Çanakkale. It separates continental Europe from mainland Asia and has been the site of legends and heroic feats.

In ancient times, the name for this strait was Hellespont, meaning “Sea of Helle.” Legend has it that the Greek goddess Helle fell into the strait and drowned. Another legend tells of Leander, a young man from Abydos who swam across the Hellespont every night to be with his lover Hero. This was later emulated by Lord Byron in 1810, who remarked on the strait’s hazardous currents; the water flows in both directions via a surface current and an under current.

More recently, in World War I the Dardanelles became the site of a failed Allied campaign.

Çanakkale and Gallipoli

Gallipoli is a slender peninsula on the northwestern side of the Dardanelles. For centuries it has been the objective of military campaigns as the key to capturing Istanbul, capital of eastern Europe, and World War I was no exception.

Across the Dardanelles from Gallipoli is Çanakkale, a small university town six hours away from Istanbul by bus. It is a good place to stay overnight if you are planning a trip to the Dardanelles and Gallipoli.

The Battle of Gallipoli

Atatürk overlooking the battle of Gallipoli, Turkey.
Atatürk in Gallipoli.

Also known as the Gallipoli Campaign, it was an Allied offensive conducted during World War I by joint British and French forces in order to capture Istanbul and to secure a sea route to Russia. It was the first major battle that involved the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, or ANZAC. The attempt failed.

An upstart officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, had correctly anticipated the Allied plan which his commanders failed to do. He defied orders and as a result, he was able to stall the Allied advance which wiped out his entire division. After having run out of ammunition and with nothing left but bayonets, he issued his most famous order: “I do not order you to fight, I order you to die.”

Commanding in full view of both his soldiers and the enemy despite suffering from malaria, this campaign paved the way to his promotion to general and his becoming a folk hero. The campaign lasted from April 25, 1915 to January 9, 1916 with over 130,000 casualties, including 8,709 Australians, 2,721 New Zealanders, and an estimated 86,692 Turkish.

Foundations of Anzac Day

Anzac Day was officially declared in 1916, which involved marches, ceremonies, and services to remember the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fell in the Battle of Gallipoli. Later, the day became a focal point for recruitment for other wars, and also began to commemorate soldiers who subsequently lost their lives. This day, as well as the creation of the “ANZAC legend,” became important to the foundation of the national identity of both Australia and New Zealand.

Dawn Service to Commemorate the Battle of Gallipoli

Picture of Anzac Day Dawn Service in Gallipoli, Turkey.
Anzac Day Dawn Service. © Mike Little

The Dawn Service symbolizes the dawn landing at Gallipoli. The Gallipoli veterans wanted to remember their comrades during the quiet moments before dawn, and this became a common ceremony during Anzac Day in the 1920s.

In 1990, Autralians and New Zealanders began traveling to Gallipoli to have a special Dawn Service there as well. It was held in the Ari Burnu War Cemetery at Anzac Cove until 1999, when the increasing amount of attendees forced the service to be moved to the more spacious Anzac Commemorative Site on North Beach. This commemoration is also done in Gallipoli because, in the words of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, “After having lost their lives in this land, they have become our sons as well.”

When Best to Visit Gallipoli

If you are planning to visit for Anzac Day, it is best to stick around to see the activity for the week. If you just want to see the restored battlefields from the war then it is best to visit some other week when the peninsula is not as busy.

Further Recommended Reading

  1. Public, National and Religious Holidays in Turkey
  2. Istanbul Festivals and Events
  3. Visa Requirements and Procedures for Istanbul, Turkey
  4. 250 Useful Turkish Words and Expressions for Tourists

Last updated on 04/07/2015