The World War I battle for control of the Dardanelles(Hellespont) strait was fought mainly on Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula (map), with appalling casualties. Around 100,000 were killed and 400,000 wounded during the nine-month campaign (1915-1916) between the Ottoman Empireand the Allied powers (British Empire and France).
Today, the Gallipoli battlefields are silent, preserved as a national historic park strewn with marble and bronze monuments, among the most emotionally touching places in Turkey.
Planning Your Visit
The best base for visits to Gallipoli, the Dardanelles and Troy is the town of Çanakkale, on the Dardanelles’ Anatolian shore (map). Eceabat, on the Gallipoli peninsula shore, is closer but has fewer accommodations. Kilitbahir, across the Dardanelles from Çanakkale, has a useful ferryboat dock, but no other travel services.
The battlefields on the peninsula cover an extensive area from Abide – Cape Helles at the southern tip of the peninsula north for over 35 km (22 miles) to the Anafarta hills in the north.
The central point is the Çanakkale Epic Presentation Center (Çanakkale Destanı Tanıtım Merkezi) at Kabatepe, a dramatic building offering an elaborate hour-long multimedia presentation on the Gallipoli campaign, and a number of museum exhibits.
Visiting on ANZAC Day
A Bit of History
Invading armies and navies have coveted the strategic Dardanelles strait since the days of the Trojans because it controls sea traffic between the Black Sea, the Sea of Marmara, and the Aegean/Mediterranean.
Only 1.2 km wide at its narrowest point (Kilitbahir – Çanakkale), and over 100 meters (328 feet) deep, the Dardanelles is also the key to Constantinople (Istanbul): warships that could get through the Dardanelles could easily train their guns on the sultan’s palace in Istanbul and bring the Ottoman Empire to its knees.
The British navy wanted very much to get its battleships through the Dardanelles and attack Constantinople to knock the Ottoman Empire, an ally of the Central Powers, out of World War I. This would allow another Allied power, Imperial Russia, to use the Ottoman straits (Dardanelles and Bosphorus) for shipments of vital military and other supplies.
Ottoman forces, some of whom were commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Kemal (later Atatürk) knew that if the Allied ships got through, it might mean the conquest of their country. It was here that Kemal proved his brilliance and courage as a military leader, which made him a national hero, and later the founder of the Turkish Republic.
—by Tom Brosnahan