With a military background, having previously walked the Kokoda Track with son Stewart in 2009, and already having a reason to be in Turkey at the appropriate time of the year, now was a great opportunity to tick another item of the “bucket list” and make the pilgrimage to Gallipoli – to offer personal thanks to our ANZAC’s of World War One.
Finally my darling (FMD) stayed on a hard stand at Marmaris Yacht Marina over winter. As part of my plan to attend the 99th anniversary commemoration of the Gallipoli landings in 1915, I booked my return flight from Australia for 21st March. This would give me adequate time to complete her annual maintenance, put her back in the water, and allow sufficient time to travel the 430 kilometres from Marmaris to Eceabat on the Gallipoli Peninsula, while doing some sightseeing on the way.
With FMD secure in a marina berth at Marmaris until the end of the month, my rucksack was packed, camera primed and ready (Brooke’s Nikon digital SLR that took all last year’s great shots), and on 16th April I headed for the local bus station at Marmaris. I joined a large Mercedes coach on the first leg of the journey inland to firstly Denezili and on to Pamakkale, for the first of several must see locations in Turkey: the white calcified rivulets at Pamakkale. Immediately above the rivulets, the ancient city of Hieropolis with its famous spring-fed calcium enriched waters was waiting to be discovered. Well before even Roman times, the apparent healing powers of the mineral rich waters had been realised. Waters directed into large man-made shallow ponds set one above the other as the water fell down the valley, and as the calcium built up, so the walls of the pond became solid calcium. When the Romans arrived, they created immense covered bath houses, the remains of which still exist today.
The outline of the city and a number of the columns that once dominated the skyline of Hieropolis still remain, but are generally in poor condition due to the ravages of earthquakes over the millennium. Like famous Ephesus, where records of civilisation go back to 3,000 years Before Christ (BC).
The delicate tradition of weaving a Turkish carpet: note the small band of silk weave starting at the bottom and working up. That in it self was six weeks work and the carpet will take two years to complete.
From Pamakkale, it was on towards the coast at Selcuk (pronounced Sell-chook) by fast, modern three-carriage diesel train to visit probably the most famous and important sites of ancient civilisation: the city of Ephesus, and once one of the seven wonders of the world, the Temple of Artimus. In Selcuk, I stayed at the ANZ (Australia and New Zealand) Guesthouse run by Turkish born but former long-time Melbourne resident, Harry and his family. Speaking Australian with a slight Turkish accent, Harry was a real font of knowledge, and his guesthouse was one of the favourites for visiting Aussies and Kiwis.
The stunning structures at the ancient city of Ephesus almost deny explanation that would do them justice. Until excavation of the huge site commenced in the 19th century and continued until around 1958, Ephesus lay under up to six metres of soil and vegetation, abandoned in about 400 AD after it had again been levelled by another earthquake. When the effects off flooding and erosion reclaimed the sea, its previous importance as a seaport vanished. Leaving the city some nine kilometres from sea, and separated by a rich, flat alluvial plain.
Indeed Ephesus and the surrounding area had seen a number of earthquakes through its nearly 5,000 years of existence. While evidence of different cultures that’d inhabited the site in ancient times was clear through the use of columns, blocks and massive marble road pavers taken from demolished buildings of a former era. Materials were found in locations at times hundreds of metres from where they were originally intended or constructed. We saw one such example where a beautifully engraved square pillar with hieroglyphics on the three visible sides, had been put to use in another location, but upside down. Appears the people using the recycled stone couldn’t read, or otherwise chose to place it that way.
After two days in Selcuk, it was back on the bus again, this time a large Volkswagen maxi-bus, for the four and a half hour trip on one of Turkey’s many new, very modern highways to Bergama and the ancient city of Pergoman. On the way, we travelled through the large, modern port city of Izmir. Unfortunately, my run of good weather had ended on leaving Selcuk, and Izmir was seen through drizzling rain and low misty cloud, killing any plans I had of maybe spending a night there to see the limited historical sites Izmir had to offer. Just north of Izmir however, the sun broke through to reveal a beautiful clear coastline near Aliaga. Despite it having a large power station, a coal and oil port, the bay and waters near Aliaga remain pristine with crystal clear deep blue waters.
Arriving to Bergama around mid-afternoon and with rain still threatening, I quickly found accommodation in a 140-year-old former Ottoman terraced home, now the Pergoman “Pension” or guesthouse. Located in the old city section of Bergama at the foot of the 330 metre high knoll that held the amazing Akropolis, and within walking, or should I say hiking distance, of most other famous sites of Pergoman, my accommodation was excellent and the included breakfast was huge.
Like Ephesus, history shows different civilisations and cultures had inhabited Pergoman from at least 3,000 BC. Again, like Ephesus and many other former wonders in the Anotolia region, sites were devastated by occasional earthquakes and resulting fires. Yet their strategic location saw them rebuilt until the most devastating earthquake of all, in 262 AD. The polished marble covered structures, pillars and 10,000-seat hillside theatre must have been an amazing sight from the valley below.
By around 200 AD the city had come under Persian influence, but soon after St John saw the building of the last of seven St John churches on the Akropolis. In the 7th and 8th centuries AD, Pergoman came under attack and fell to the Arab commander Maslama and the city at the bottom of the Akropolis hill continued to flourish until it was taken over by the Selcukians around the 14th century.
From Bergama it was off on the final 270 kilometres of my trip. The route took me to Cannakale (pronounced “Chan-ak-a-lay”) for a visit to ancient Troy, and then just one nautical mile across the waterways of the Dardanelles to Eceabat and the former battlefields of Gallipoli.
Within an hour of booking into the Crowded House Hotel located just 60 metres from the ferry terminal at Eceabat, I, along with a small group of fellow Aussies and Kiwis who had just arrived by coach from Istanbul, were on a bus with Turkish guide Bulant. Our guide introduced himself by his preferred name of “Bill” and commenced with a history lesson going back to two years before the start of the First World War. He described how Turkey became involved by the then Ottoman Empire, when at the time Turkey had tried to remain neutral.
Blessed with a glorious sunny day and led by one of the best guides on the peninsula, our tour took in all of the special historical sites of the doomed campaign. We quickly formed the view that the folly that was the allied invasion – onto the Gallipoli Peninsula to take and hold the narrows of the Dardanelles and the strategic entrance to the Black Sea – had little chance of success from the very first day. And that in the following months, about 500,000 allied soldiers and about the same number of Turkish soldiers were slaughtered as successive poor, misinformed, ill-considered decisions were made by in many cases, totally incompetent British Generals.
To stand at the Nek in Shrapnel Gully, the main objective of the high grounds at Chanuk Bair; on the stones that form the beach at tiny Anzac Cove; to wander quietly through numerous, beautifully manicured cemeteries; and see so many headstones showing soldiers names, regiments, and their so terribly young ages, will always be for me, a lasting and treasured memory.
Having concluded the battlefield tour, we looked forward to being dropped off at North Beach, about 250 from Anzac Cove, at 8:00 pm 24th April, to find a spot in the large area prepared for the Dawn Service, and wait patiently for dawn to arrive. Although well prepared with warm clothing just in case, the night was relatively mild, and with ongoing commentaries, video clips shown on multiple large screens, and lots of food vendors nearby, the night passed quickly. Soon enough the Dawn Service began and was followed in quiet reflection by about 8,000 attendees. Many of whom were draped in Australian or New Zealand flags, with some standing-to still cocooned in their sleeping bags or ponchos.
With the sun now raised above the backdrop of a feature known by the diggers as the “Sphinx”, we walked as almost one massive body along 3.5 kilometres of roadway up past the Shrapnel Gully cemetery to Lone Pine where the main Australian ceremony was held.
By midday services were concluded and we waited patiently for the hundreds of buses that were efficiently loaded and despatched back to Eceabat. After a BBQ lunch at the Crowded House Hotel, I bid farewell to the rest of the group I had joined. As they boarded their coach back to Istanbul, I headed for the ferry for a brief ride across the narrows to Channakale, and from there took an eight-hour bus trip back to Marmaris, arriving at Marmaris Yacht Marina.
What struck me throughout my trip was the nature and warmth of the fantastic Turkish people. While my Turkish was limited to only a few words, and in many cases their English was non-existent, there was real warmth and at no time had I felt uncomfortable or unsafe. I was often asked where I was from, and on hearing my reply “Australia”, the word “Australia” was often repeated and accompanied with gentle back slaps and smiles all around. On the odd occasion I was asked if I was going to Gallipoli and I’m sure that certainly the much older folk still recall the ANZACs. During conversations with some who spoke English, I was able to recite some of Kamal Mustafa Ataturk’s poignant words. Words that were spoken after WWI regarding our fallen sons, brothers, fathers now buried in Turkish soil whom were now Turkey’s brothers, sons and fathers, and that we should not weep for them as Turkey would look after them. They too knew the words of General Ataturk’s speech.