Burdened with a grim military history, but nonetheless endowed with fine scenery and beaches, the slender Gelibolu (Gallipoli) peninsula – roughly 60km long and from 4km to 18km wide – forms the northwest side of the Dardanelles, the straits that connect the Aegean with the Sea of Marmara. Site of the 1915 Gallipoli landings, the peninsula is scattered with memorials, both Allied and Turkish.
The World War I battlefields and cemeteries are a moving sight, the past violence made all the more poignant by the present beauty of the landscape, which consists of fertile rolling country interspersed with thick scrub and pine forest that’s alive with birds. Much of the flatter land is farmed, and every year ploughing still turns up rusting equipment, fragments of shrapnel, human bones and even unexploded munitions.
The entire area southwest of Eceabat and Kabatepe is a national historical park, which means no camping, picnicking, fire-lighting, foliage-plucking or second-home development beyond the few existing villages. The Allied cemeteries and memorials, built in the early 1920s and mostly designed by Scottish architect Sir John Burnet, replaced and consolidated the makeshift graveyards of 1915. Over half the deceased were never found or identified, however – hence the massive cenotaphs.
The battlefields and cemeteries are also popular with Turkish visitors – up to two million annually – who arrive on massive pilgrimages often organized by municipalities run by the nationalistic-leaning AK Party, especially in May and late September. These religious tourists venerate the Turkish fallen as şehitler, or martyrs for Islam – in pointed contrast to the secularist narrative spun around the eight-month Gallipoli campaign, which made famous a previously unknown lieutenant-colonel, Mustapha Kemal, later Atatürk.