Gallipoli visits – pilgrimage or tourism?

Next Saturday is the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli (in Turkey) during World War One. I thought it might be interesting to add an essay I wrote for a university course I did on pilgrimage. Admittedly, this was written over 10 years ago, but I don’t believe it has dated too much. There would now be a lot more material available online and now there are so many visitors the Turkish authorities have had to limit numbers.

Essay Topic: Describe the modern visits made to Gallipoli and their history. Discuss whether you think modern Gallipoli visits are pilgrimages or not, and support your conclusions with reference to theoretical discussions of pilgrimage and sacred places.       

In my essay I included a photo from: Stanton Hope, (1934) Gallipoli Revisited: an account of the Duchess of Richmond pilgrimage-cruise, Royal Naval Division Officers’ Association, London. Instead, this is the start of a news item from the local Wellington newspaper about that visit:

 Gallipoli pilgrims


Most pilgrimages involve people and a place recognised as sacred, and their interaction[1]. Thousands of men were killed fighting on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey in World War 1 (mostly in 1915). Many people have visited the battle sites since then, some on organised tours, others individually. In considering whether these trips are pilgrimages, we need to consider whether the site is sacred, and the motivations, behaviour and reactions of the visitors who go there.

I believe the site has become sacred to, at least, some people in some of the countries who fought there. Some of the people who have visited could be described as, and have considered themselves, pilgrims. But I do not believe that all people who visit are pilgrims or on a pilgrimage.

History of return visits

The first return visits occurred shortly after the end of World War 1, mostly by ex-servicemen or family members of men who had died there. At least seven organised pilgrimages were made in the 1920s and 1930s[2]. The St Barnabas Society (formed by a New Zealander in England), the YMCA and Salvation Army organised visits to war graves[3]. These were described as pilgrimages and are often accompanied by religious language and imagery, usually including a commemorative service. Some family members felt that by visiting the place where their loved one died it was possible to get closer to their spirit[4]. In the 1920s, newspapers and magazines frequently likened battlefield pilgrims to medieval pilgrims, and some pilgrims consciously used a pilgrim’s stave[5].

Nevertheless, there was also a tension between those seen as pilgrims and those seen as tourists. Apparently pilgrims were expected to respect the dead “by attempting to understand the deeper meanings underlying these sites”[6]. There were also some who felt unease at the commercialism of tours. Some ex-servicemen’s groups would not organise pilgrimages because they ‘did not want to make money out of those who had died’[7].

In 1934 the Royal Naval Division in England organised a pilgrimage (described as such) aboard the Canadian Pacific liner the “Duchess of Richmond”[8]. Seven-hundred and twenty people took part. According to Stanton Hope, who wrote an account of the voyage:

The flood of correspondence from all parts of the world till sailing day, emphasised the fact that Gallipoli is a powerful magnet to those who served there. The place has an allurement not possessed in the same degree by other war fronts. (Hope,1934: p15)

He mentions ‘tourists’ who on previous visits to Gallipoli have complained about the poor roads, and says the men on this pilgrimage are not likely to complain because “they will recall too vividly the agony of the long dragging marches…”[9]. Here he clearly draws a distinction between tourists and pilgrims – the pilgrims being the ex-servicemen who have memories of the place in wartime. But it does seem that tourists may become pilgrims if they display the proper (respectful, interested) attitudes. He notes that some on board had no direct involvement in the war, but were interested in the ship-board lectures held about the Gallipoli war[10].

April 25th (Anzac Day in New Zealand and Australia) was spent at sea, and after a commemorative service and during the two minute’s silence that followed:

   …a single cloud…gradually took the form of a rough cross…Then a bird flew across the port rail…and winged directly toward the cloud. All who noticed these things were greatly impressed, and some saw in them a symbol from God.[11]

The day before they arrived at Gallipoli “men and women talked in hushed tones, like visitors do in the transept of a cathedral”[12]. He also describes the “miracle of Gallipoli” as being that the landings were actually achieved in such difficult terrain and a hold retained for months.[13] Wreaths were laid at the main national memorials and, like many pilgrimages, there were souvenirs available – enterprising locals offered pottery made of Gallipoli soil[14].

In the 1950s and 1960s there was a declining interest in Gallipoli and in Anzac Day commemorations in both Australia and New Zealand. Alistair Thomson, who traces the Anzac ‘myth’ in Australia, suggests this arose for a number of reasons:

  • The Returned Services League was identified by many with social and political conservatism, and Anzac day gained a reputation with many as a “boozy veterans’ reunion that had little relevance for other Australians.”[15]
  • Opposition to the Vietnam War, and the growing feminist movement also led to criticism by some who saw Anzac day as a glorification of war and a male-dominated view of history.

I also wonder if the more comfortable economic conditions of the 1950s and 1960s caused many people to want to forget the hardships of war.

Nevertheless, 1965 was the 50th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing and a party of about 300 Australian and New Zealand “pilgrims” (about half of whom were Gallipoli veterans) visited Gallipoli[16]. Eighty of the 300 were from New Zealand, and many complained about the poor accommodation on the Turkish ship “Karadeniz”. If one characteristic of pilgrimage is a difficult journey[17] some of the elderly New Zealanders felt they experienced it in cabins with eight bunks each and the nearest (smelly) toilets and bathrooms on the deck above. Many also got sick on the voyage.

Ken Inglis notes that “four young Australians” hitchhiked to be at Gallipoli on Anzac day[18] – far fewer than the thousands who go now. It was a ceremony at the New Zealand memorial where a Maori veteran, Peraraka Tahiwi, placed a mere, that the author says was the most moving:

…for once, some of these reticent people wept. For a few moments the word ‘pilgrimage’ was more than a metaphor and became charged with its full range of meaning.[19]

One of the veterans on this 1965 trip wrote in a letter that:

          Even if we were disappointed at the changed scene, none of us would have missed the opportunity of revisiting the place where we, as young men…helped to make history[20].

One of the other members of the same party noted in his diary that most were not interested in sites of ancient Greece or Turkey that were included on the trip, but:

          …most of the old diggers [wanted only to] stand once more on the ground where as young men they had had the greatest and most momentous experience of their lives, and a comradeship they had never before or since known[21].

I do not think these two comments are quite the language expected from pilgrims. This seems more like elderly men reliving their “glory days” – even if it was an awful experience, and so many of their mates died.

In 1990 (the 75th anniversary) about 10,000 people – tourists, pilgrims, politicians and royalty – visited for Anzac day.[22] Naturally, this time there were far fewer Gallipoli veterans. However, the popularity of both Anzac day and visits to Gallipoli had increased. There are likely to be a number of reasons for this:

  • Travel to the area is easier and cheaper than it used to be[23];
  • Increasing interest in national identity and history[24] in both Australia and New Zealand[25];
  • More writing appeared about WW1, and more particularly the film Gallipoli in 1981[26] was a huge popular success, especially in Australia[27];
  • The divisiveness of Waitangi Day (in New Zealand) and the lack of glamour about Australia Day (celebrating Federation)[28] may also be why people want to commemorate a day of unity; and affirm a sense of collective identity: “Anzac day is a time when we reflect on what it means to be a New Zealander”[29];
  • Another factor may be that there are very few “ceremonies” for New Zealanders, especially now that religious holidays are not religious occasions anymore for most people; Anzac Day is one such ritualised occasion.[30]
  • As the number of Gallipol veterans declined[31] the events became the stuff of legend and easier to idealise and memorialise.

Pilgrimage and sacred sites

According to the Oxford Concise Dictionary of World Religions[32] an exterior pilgrimage (as opposed to an interior – metaphorical – one):

          is a journey to some place which is either itself associated with the resources or goals of a religion, or which is the location of objects which may assist the pilgrim, e.g. relics. The reasons for pilgrimage are extremely varied. They may, for example, be for healing, holiness, cleansing, penance, education, gratitude, in response to a vow, to recapitulate an event which occurred at the pilgrimage centre…

Visits to the Gallipoli Peninsula differ from many traditional pilgrimages in that it is not a site associated with a deity, a ‘holy’ person, or a religion. People are not going there to seek divine blessing or intervention; or healing (although some bereaved and ex-servicemen might say they were seeking spiritual healing). It is not a “religious” site – for this reason two people I spoke to who had visited Gallipoli were reluctant to consider it a place of pilgrimage, although they both described their visit as a “moving” experience.

Despite it not being a religious site it is often described as a “sacred place”[33] or having sanctified ground[34], because so many men died, and are buried, there. The common notion of the “sacrifice” of so many men (for ‘King and Country’[35]), also uses religious language and adds to the idea of Gallipoli as a sacred place.

The Encyclopedia of Sacred Places[36] says that:

          Places dedicated to sacred memories are a part of all the world’s religious and spiritual traditions. In these sacred places the seeker encounters the holy and, through rituals, meditation, and revelation, experiences a call to move beyond the self.

Gallipoli could not be considered ‘sacred’ in the traditional, religious, way, but it could be ‘sacred’ for a modern, secular, democratic society because so many men died there for their country. Erik Cohen[37] argues that a pilgrim travels to a centre of his/her world, whereas a tourist travels away from a centre to seek “other” cultures and experiences. He considers that non-religious “centres” can exist (e.g. political and cultural). Gallipoli is considered by many[38] as an event that helped forge national identity in New Zealand and Australia. One young visitor describes it as “Australia’s most sacred piece of soil”[39]. Many New Zealanders and Australians who visit could therefore be said to be going to a centre of cultural and national identity[40] and a place often described as ‘sacred’. It is notable that anyone analysing or seen to be criticising the Anzac ‘myth’ usually gets criticised themselves.[41]

Pilgrims or tourists?

What distinguishes pilgrims from tourists? I believe it is a combination of the motivations or intentions of those going; the behaviour (e.g. rituals) they exhibit while there; and their ‘reaction’ to the site (e.g. spiritual transformation).

[I had a diagram in here, but it didn’t make a lot of sense to me on re-reading this!]

Referring back to the definition in the Oxford Dictionary, it is unlikely anyone visiting Gallipoli is doing it for holiness, cleansing, in response to a vow, or penance, but they may be doing it for education, gratitude (to those who fought and died there), or to recapitulate an event which occurred there. There are probably also other reasons – to share in or re-affirm one’s identity as a New Zealander, or Australian, for example.

Cohen notes that pilgrimage is traditionally expected to provoke religious ‘rapture’ or ‘exaltation’, whereas tourism is expected only to give pleasure and enjoyment.[42] A number of visitors to Gallipoli describe it as ‘moving’ or spiritual, but this does not seem to me to be quite the same as rapture or exaltation. For David Brown “genuine tourists” are pleasure seekers, whereas “genuine pilgrims” pursue authenticity[43]. Nevertheless, it is easy for one to become the other. In this sense it could be argued that some visitors to Gallipoli are “genuine pilgrims”.

I do not consider all the people visiting Gallipoli are ‘pilgrims’, despite the rhetoric. For example, on at least two occasions’ newspapers have run stories about “rowdy Aussies” sullying the Anzac spirit[44]:

          This year young tourists in Turkey cranked up the stereos and liquor consumption to honour the fallen in a display that has been attacked as a violation of a sacred site.[45]

Some of this may be New Zealand media hype – the article is at pains to point out that young New Zealanders do not appear to be engaging in this ‘inappropriate behaviour’. Nevertheless, I wonder whether for some young people the visit is simply an “occasion” – an opportunity to meet and mix with other young New Zealanders or Australians living overseas. The package tours make it easy to visit, compared to the more difficult travel conditions of the 1920s-1960s.

In a Sunday Star Times travel section[46] Rosemarie Smith describes her day trip from Istanbul to Gallipoli and Troy, noting that if “you’re planning a similar pilgrimage, don’t do it all in one day, unless like us there is no other option.” Compare this with Stanton Hope who was one of the ex-servicemen on the 1934 pilgrimage who said that even the few days he spent on the peninsula wasn’t long enough to recapture the “haunting spirit of the Peninsula”[47].

An internet site – described as travel writing about ‘the world’s festivals and events’ – includes an article about Anzac day at Gallipoli in 2003[48]. He says his “pilgrimage” began in Istanbul. The day before Anzac day “it was amazing to see all the young backpackers…walking quietly among the headstones at Ari Burnu not saying a word to each other. We almost felt embarrassed of the noise of our cameras…”. However, that night he notes the behaviour of drunk “Aussies, even at the most holy of holy places”. He also got a “great photo” of people asleep lying on individual graves: “It was like watching the living dead”. Having been at the dawn service, he says that the midday Australian service is in a more buoyant and festive mood: “Girls were getting their photos taken with the Turkish soldiers who put on big silly grins…and one lucky tourist was even allowed to hold a soldier’s machine gun for the pose”.

It is perhaps ironic that this festive, noisy behaviour was more akin to later medieval pilgrimages[49] than the visits of ex-servicemen in the 1920s, which were often likened to medieval pilgrimages. However, we have come to expect more solemn and quiet behaviour at modern burial sites (note the earlier quote from the Dominion about ‘violation of a sacred site’ and the many visitors who say they spoke in hushed voices).


I believe the site has been deemed ‘sacred’ by enough people (and governments) to consider it a sacred site. Although this is not due to connections with a religion, deity or holy person, it is because thousands of men “sacrificed” their lives there. It can also be considered a ‘centre’ of national identity for Australia and New Zealand. The visits to Gallipoli, beginning soon after World War I, by ex-servicemen, or those with family members who died there, have elements of pilgrimage – and many of these people describe their visits in this way. Some other visitors may also find their visit spiritually moving and describe it as a pilgrimage. However, I do not believe everyone visiting is on a pilgrimage – even if they claim to be. In Brown’s[50] terms some are “fake pilgrims” (or “genuine tourists”).


Bowker, John (ed) (2000) Oxford Concise Dictionary of World Religions, Oxford University Press, Oxford

Brockman, Norbert (1997) Enclyclopedia of Sacred Places, ABC-CLIO, Snata Barbara

Chambers, Stephen (2003) Gully Ravine: Gallipoli (Battleground Europe), Leo Cooper, Yorkshire

Evening Post (2002) Editorial: Our de facto national day, 27 April 2002

Fewster, Kevin, Basarin, Vecihi & Basarin, Hatice. (2003) Gallipoli: the Turkish Story, Allen & Unwin, NSW, originally published 1985

Helm, Arthur (1983) “Back to the battlefield of brave men” in Evening Post, 23 April 1983

Hope, Stanton (1934) Gallipoli Revisited: an account of the Duchess of Richmond pilgrimage-cruise, Royal Naval Division Officers’ Association, London.

Inglis, Ken (1991) “Gallipoli pilgrimage 1965” in Journal of the Australian War Memorial, no. 18, April 1991.

Inglis, Ken (1990) “Anzac today” in Journal of the Australian War Memorial, (1990) Special Anzac issue, No. 16 (April 1990):page 53

Journal of the Australian War Memorial, (1990) Special Anzac issue, No. 16 (April 1990), Reflections: A symposium on the meanings of Anzac: pages 50-57

Kay, Martin (2003) ‘Anzac day’ in Dominion Post, 24 April 2003

Kerr, Greg (1997) Lost Anzacs: the story of two brothers, Oxford University Press, Melbourne

Lane, Joanne (2002) “We will remember them” in Evening Post, 22 April 2002

Lloyd, David (1998) Battlefield Tourism: Pilgrimage and the Commemoration of the Great War in Britain, Australia, and Canada, 1919-1939, Berg, Oxford & New York.

Morrison, Glenn (2003) “Anzac Day” at website:

Shadbolt, Maurice (1988) Voices of Gallipoli, Hodder & Stoughton, Auckland

Smith, Rosemarie (2002) “Gallipoli legend at first hand” in Sunday Star Times travel section, April 21 2002

Sumption, Jonathan (1975) Pilgrimage: An image of Mediaeval Religion, Faber & Faber, London

Thomson, Alistair (1994) Anzac memories: living with the legend, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Willis, Elizabeth (1997) “Changing images of valour:1915-1923” in Journal of the Australian War Memorial, no. 31 (October 1997), Canberra. On-line at:


[1] As visits to Gallipoli involve a physical journey, this essay does not consider metaphorical journeys.

[2] David Lloyd, 1998 Battlefield Tourism: Pilgrimage and the Commemoration of the Great War in Britain, Australia, and Canada, 1919-1939, Berg, Oxford & New York: p97

[3] ibid: p142.

[4] ibid: p5.

[5] ibid:142.

[6] ibid: p43

[7] ibid: p44

[8] Stanton Hope (1934) Gallipoli Revisited: an account of the Duchess of Richmond pilgrimage-cruise, Royal Naval Division Officers’ Association, London.

[9] ibid:p19

[10] ibid:p31

[11] ibid:p27

[12] ibid:p35

[13] A friend said of her visit: “when you see how narrow the beach is (and very rugged terrain and isolated) it is very evident how awful it must have been – and they were sitting ducks for snipers.’

[14] ibid:p52

[15] Alistair Thomson, (1994) Anzac memories: living with the legend, Oxford University Press, Melbourne. p189

[16] Ken Inglis, (1991) “Gallipoli pilgrimage 1965” in Journal of the Australian War Memorial, no. 18, April 1991:p20

[17] For example see Jonathan Sumption, Pilgrimage: An image of Mediaeval Religion, Faber & Faber, London 1975:p182-3

[18] Inglis, op cit:p22

[19] ibid:p26

[20] Kerr, op cit:p253

[21] Inglis, op cit, p22

[22] For example, see The Dominion, 26/4/90: p6, and Inglis op cit.

[23] An internet search found many package tours offered for Anzac day 2004, of varying lengths, most giving prices in British pounds whether they were organised from Turkey or elsewhere.

[24] E.g “For New Zealanders sensitive to their nation’s history Gallipoli is an emotional ambush. By day’s end my wife and I spoke to each other in whispers”. (Shadbolt:1988:p8)

[25] For example, see Thomson, op cit p192; and Martin Kay, (2003) Anzac day in Dominion Post, 24 April 2003

[26] The screenwriter David Williamson claimed to be motivated by the quest for national identity: ‘as for myth, a country, for its own psychological well-being needs to generate its own myths, otherwise it doesn’t feel whole’ (Thomson: op cit p192). Many of the Anzac day package tours to Gallipoli show a screening of Gallipoli on one of the evenings.

[27] Thomson, op cit, p192

[28] Ken Inglis, “Anzac today” Journal of the Australian War Memorial, no. 16 April 1990: p53

[29] Evening Post, editorial 27/4/02; see also Martin Kay, op cit

[30] E.g: “This is a day of special reverence. For many New Zealanders, Anzac Day inspires more spirituality than Good Friday, more patriotism than Waitangi Day” (Dominion Post editorial, 25/4/03)

[31] The last New Zealand Gallipoli veteran, Bright Williams, died in early 2003.

[32] John Bowker, (ed) (2000) Oxford Concise Dictionary of World Religions, Oxford University Press, Oxford

[33] For example, Greg Kerr, (1997) Lost Anzacs: the story of two brothers, Oxford University Press, Melbourne; page 15

[34] For example: “Recognising the sanctity of this ground, in 1973 the Turkish government designated 33000 hectares…of land…as the Gallipoli Peninsula National Historical Park”. (Fewster, et al, Gallipol:The Turkish Story: Allen & Unwin, NSW p147)

[35] Other slogans were, “For God, King and Country”, or “For Empire”. See Elizabeth Willis, (1997) “Changing images of valour:1915-1923” in Journal of the Australian War Memorial, no. 31 (October 1997), Canberra.

[36] Norbert Brockman (1997) Enclyclopedia of Sacred Places, ABC-CLIO, Snata Barbara

[37] Erik Cohen (1992) “Pilgrimage and tourism: Convergence and Divergence” in Sacred Journeys: the Anthropology of pilgrimage, Alan Morinis (ed). Greenwood Press, New York:p50

[38] See, for example, Thomson, op cit; and Journal of the Australian War Memorial, no. 16 April 1990: “Reflections – A symposium on the meanings of Anzac”:p50 – 57

[39] Glenn Morrison (2003) “Anzac Day” at website:

[40] I think there are limits to this – the cultural identity forged there is a very male-centred one.

[41] Thomson, op cit: p200, 216-221 and Journal of the Australian War Memorial, no. 16:p50

[42] Cohen, op cit, p53

[43] David Brown “Genuine Fakes” in The Tourist Image, Tom Selwyn (ed). John Wiley & Sons, New York: p41.

[44] See Dominion, 7/5/02 and Dominion, 26/4/90

[45] Dominion, 7/5/02

[46] 21/4/02

[47] Hope, op. cit.:p52

[48] Glenn Morrison, (2003) “Anzac Day”

[49] See, e.g. Sumption, 1975:p211

[50] David Brown, op cit:p45


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