The beautiful city

The Anzac soldiers coined many of the names we know today. They tell the story of their conflict: Quinn’s Post. Walker’s Ridge. Russell’s Top. Lone Pine. Sphinx.

The Turks know these landmarks as Bomba Sirt, Kanli Sirt, Seddulbahir, and Chunuk Bair. The allies sometimes used Turkish names to describe specific landscape features. These names are now part and parcel of English campaign vocabulary.

The fact that Greek-speaking populations lived in this region from antiquity, probably as early as the 7th century B.C., adds another layer of complexity to the names used in the area. The Dardanelles (ie. The Hellespont was viewed by the Greeks to be a natural border between their world and the Barbarians and especially the Persians.

Name Gallipoli

Gallipoli’s Greek population was not a mere ancient phenomenon. The Greeks continued to live in Gallipoli until the beginning of the 20th century, just before the First World War.

Winston Churchill’s 1915 attack was carried out in a region where the Greek language was more common than Turkish.

The Greeks left behind some physical remnants and names of places in the area. In the south of Alcitepe peninsula, the name Krithia (meaning barley) comes from ancient Greek. This was the predominant crop in antiquity.

Madytos, or Maidos, now known as Eceabat, is another well-known Greek town famous for its brickmaking. I was a member of the Department of Veterans Affairs Historical and Archaeological Survey of the Gallipoli Battlefields that found evidence of Greek presence in the peninsula. This included bricks from Madytos, made before the war.

The names of some allies are, therefore, derived from ancient Greek, including Helles, Dardanelles, and Gallipoli. Cape Helles shares a name with Hellespont, the Sea of Helle. This name appears throughout the Iliad.

Dardanelles, as a name, is a modern invention that traces its roots back to the Iliad and references to Dardanus. Dardanus was the first king and son of Zeus of the city that was situated on Mount Ida. Aeneas briefly mentions him in Book 20 of the Iliad, and he plays a key role in the story of Troy.

Gallipoli is derived from the Greek word “Kallipolis,” meaning beautiful city or town. Gallipoli is the name of the city that lies across the waterway, further up the peninsula, from Lampsachus or, as it is now called, Lapseki.

In antiquity, there were many Kallipolisses, one of which was on the west coast of Turkey, near Kos, and another in South Italy. These cities were named by their founders because they wanted them to be identified as beautiful.

Gelibolu is the modern Turkish name for the Greek original word.

Gallipoli: The Beauty of Gallipoli

You aren’t just speaking ancient Greek when you say “Gallipoli” or “Gelibolu”. You are also unconsciously invoking an idea of beauty (Kalli). Gallipoli was originally meant to describe the Greek town, but due to its size as the largest settlement in modern times, it came to refer to the entire peninsula.

The beauty of the peninsula is reflected in the name. The arm was known for its beauty even in ancient times. Xenophon called it “beautiful” (kale as in Kallipolis) and “prosperous”. Early on, the Athenians and others saw this region as having excellent agricultural potential and used it accordingly.

Gallipoli, the peninsula, was not only beautiful in antiquity. Some accounts of the 1915 campaign include it as a major part.

Trench warfare in Gallipoli. State Library of South Australia CC by

As strange as it might seem, many participants took the time to appreciate the beauty of Gallipoli’s landscape. It appears that this was especially true for the Australian reaction to the Gallipoli terrain. P.A. As an Australian Gallipoli scholar, P.A. Pederson, says :

Many Dardanelles servicemen were struck by the paradox of the Peninsula’s beauty and serenity, even in the midst of fierce fighting. The magnificent sunsets are something that few men tire of.

View from the trenches

The repeated references to the beauty and splendor of the landscape, first in Egypt, then on the Greek Islands, then at Gallipoli, is one of the most striking aspects of the diary published by Australian sapper Cyril Lawrence.

Lawrence’s comments about the weather were usually limited to the beautiful summer days. “The sunset was just magnificent; jingo, it was fine.” (May 28); “glorious dawn” (June 8,); “today again is glorious.” Since we landed, everything has been perfect (July 1)

He writes later about “another glorious morning. Once popularized, this place would surely be a rival to Nice and Cannes. It’s magnificent”.

Lawrence was a sapper with an engineering unit and spent a lot of time digging underground. He had a difficult life, but like many Australians, he was fascinated by the scenery around him. Many men wrote similar things in their diaries and letters.


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