In 1671, a man with a passion to travel and document departed from Istanbul for the Arabian lands. His purpose was to undertake the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. However, his route was so circuitous that his journey took twice as long as he originally expected, but the experiences he had were absolutely unbelievable! He wrote extensively about his journey in the ninth volume of his famous Book of Travels called the Seyahatname.
This man was Evliya Çelebi, whom the UNESCO has recognized as “Man of the Year” in 2011. Nowadays, he is a part of an exhibition opened by the Young Foundation & Maslaha in London. The exhibition is part of the British Council’s Our Shared Europe Project which seeks to emphasize the contribution of Islamic culture to the development of European societies and cultures. Evliya, a largely unknown figure by many, has further been acknowledged by the Council of Europe. In an exhibition opened in Strasbourg, the Council has recognized Evliya as one of the twenty major historical figures who played a significant role in bridging different cultures and civilizations.
Born in Istanbul in 1611, Evliya Çelebi was the son of a jeweller for the Ottoman court. His father was from Kütahya and his mother from Abkhazia. He received an excellent palace education and became become famous with his stories he told the people who surrounded him. His desire to travel, observe, and record started at an early age. In his twenties, he started his travels in İstanbul and its neighboring villages, took notes on people, buildings, mosques, market places, festivities, customs and culture. In 1640, he began his travels outside the city and for forty years he traveled throughout the Ottoman Empire, from Anatolia to North Africa, from Iran to the Balkans. His notes from all his travels formed his magnus opus: The Seyahatname.
The Seyahatname is a book of travels consisting of ten volumes. The first volume is exclusively about Istanbul and completed in 1630, whereas the final volume deals with Egypt and Sudan, completed in 1672. There are volumes about almost every Ottoman land from Caucasia, to Mecca, from Crimea to Crete. He depicted the lands he crossed in a lively but exaggarated manner. For example he magnified the cities and villages he passed through, overstated numbers of people, and blow out of proportions. Despite his exaggarations, his Seyahatname is received very well by travelers, academics, and historians. It is valued by those who study Turkish culture, history, ethnology, and linguistics.
We should all get prepared for the ‘Year of Evliya’. We should visit the Evliya Çelebi exhibitons opened in Europe and read his Seyahatname. Once we know the “Man of the Year” we can be ready to traverse the ‘Evliya Çelebi Way‘, which I am going to tell in my next post in detail.