An Ottoman Traveller

Guidebooks, histories, biographies, novels...any good books having to do with Turkey and things Turkish.

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An Ottoman Traveller

Post by Bill_Miyorum » Fri Mar 10, 2017 6:08 pm

The full title of this book, which was a very welcome Christmas present, is "An Ottoman Traveller - Selections from the Book of Travels of Evliya Çelebi." Now, while I'd heard of Evliya Çelebi, I did not know that his Book of Travels was, at least in the view of the writers of the Introduction, "probably the longest and most ambitious travel account by any writer in any language" or that it was an important text for students of the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century.

Born in Istanbul in 1611, Evliya Çelebi spent most of his adult life travelling across the Ottoman Empire, which of course amounted to much more than present-day Turkey, and beyond its borders, mostly out of curiosity but sometimes on military campaigns that Çelebi, a pious Muslim, saw as a holy cause. If that makes Çelebi sound fanatical we have to remember that he lived in highly religious times, and that contemporaries in the Christian camp exhibited a similar intensity of religious feeling. In fact, commentaries portray Çelebi as someone who, despite an ability to recite the Koran, was not given to fanaticism, and the Introduction to this work credits him with a tongue-in-cheek approach. Does he, for example, really expect us to believe that his little band broke away from the Ottoman armies fighting in Hungary in order to raid Amsterdam? There is no evidence that such an operation was carried out, and we learn that the tale may be Çelebi's way of saying "Travelogues are full of fiction and I'm not going to be denied a fiction of my own." Evliya lived long before the Turks took surnames; Çelebi is an honorific meaning Gentleman or Esquire, but he could easily have become known as Evliya Efendi, on account of his religious knowledge.

Dervish orders; quotations from the Koran (Çelebi seems to have one for every situation he encounters); popular culture; medicine (in both Ottoman and Christian lands); the administrative organisation of the Empire; wildlife; what happens to the Hajj when snow (!) intervenes; a visit to the Crimea, then in the hands of the Crimean Tatars, Ottoman allies; various accounts of witchcraft (in which Evliya appears to believe up to a point, despite his religious convictions); the evasive action to be taken when one's patron falls from grace in violent times, and countless detailed descriptions of mosques from Bitlis to Cairo: All these things and more can be found in the pages of this volume.

ISBN 978-190601 158-1 (in the UK)

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