Retracing the route of a 17th-century Ottoman traveler

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 8/7/2011 12:00:00 AM | IŞIL EĞRİKAVUK

Ottoman historian Caroline Finkel along with a group of riders, rode on horse for six weeks, re-tracing the steps of Evliya Çelebi, a 17th century Ottoman traveler, who traveled more than 250 cities in 40 years and wrote a 10-volume book

Almost everyone knows about Marco Polo, but how many people in the world are familiar with Evliya Çelebi, a 17th-century Ottoman traveler, sociologist, war reporter, historian , gourmet chef and writer who visited more than 250 cities over 40 years and wrote a 10-volume book?

Such was the question that triggered Ottoman historian Caroline Finkel and her fellow travelers who mounted their horses and followed the route of the early stages of Evliya Çelebi’s pilgrimage to Mecca. The story about their travels is now published as a guidebook for those who want to follow in Çelebi’s footsteps.

Finkel, who is also the author of “Osman’s Dream: History of the Ottoman Empire,” has been living in Turkey for more than 25 years and says that after sitting in libraries for so many years, she wanted to do something that touches on real life.

“Çelebi is such an interesting man, yet nobody knows about him,” Finkel told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview. “He comes from the court, but he is a people’s historian. He chronicles social and economic conditions; he goes and writes about wars, religious sects, food and language. Yet, we didn’t have a proper copy of his texts until recently and that’s why his writings were looked down upon.”

[HH] Riding on horse

For their travel, Finkel and five others looked at Seyahatname and traced Çelebi’s route, riding out from the Hersek village in northern Turkey. The group then followed an ancient route southward to İznik, a town famous for its ceramics, and then headed toward Kütahya, Çelebi’s ancestral city.

“We went to more than a hundred villages and almost everywhere we went, we were met with children, men, women and they all knew that Çelebi came to their villages,” Finkel said. “Even though many people in the cities don’t know about him, the villagers were so proud about Çelebi that we didn’t have to explain him to them.”

When asked about their interactions with the locals, Finkel said they spoke to many people and often shared their food.

“Riding on a horse is a much more natural way to meet people, because they respect you or they consider you more equal to themselves. There is a strong horse culture in Turkey, which is now fading but still people ride horses.”

Finkel said one interesting part along the route was to discover the popularity of two traditional sports in the countryside: rahvan (pacing with two legs on the same side) and cirit (javelin).

When traveling, Finkel and her group stayed in tents, but Finkel said it was likely that Çelebi usually stayed in other people’s homes.

“Çelebi was also on business during most of his travels. He worked as an imam, a muezzin, a peace envoy and a tax collector. For example in 1665 he was sent to Vienna as a member of a delegation to negotiate a peace treaty with the Habsburg emperor,” she said. “He speaks to so many people during these travels and from him we have learned about many figures who we didn’t know about from official histories.”

[HH] Sustainable Tourism

Finkel said Çelebi could contribute a lot to sustainable tourism in Turkey.

“Many people may want to know what the place they live in now was like 350 years ago. It is also interesting for tourists who want to see other parts of Turkey, not just the country’s beaches and the sand. This is also a good way to involve locals and tourists in sustainable tourism.”

Finkel and Kate Clow’s book, “The Evliya Çelebi Way,” which comes with all the information about the route, along with GPS coordinates, maps and history, is coming out this month in English and will be published in Turkish in a few months.



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