History on Horseback: The Evliya Çelebi Way

In my previous post, I talked about Evliya Çelebi, a Turkish traveler who journeyed through the territory of the Ottoman Empire and neighboring lands over a period of forty years in the 17th century, whom the UNESCO has recognized as “Man of the Year” in 2011. Now, I want to tell you the Evliya Çelebi Way, a new cultural route through the Anatolia countryside.

The Evliya Çelebi Way is an international project that has two connected goals: historical re-enactment and cultural re-connection by establishing cultural routes in Western and Southeastern Anatolia. The first central goal, historical re-enactment, is aimed to be achieved through following Evliya Çelebi’s hoofprint and passing the routes traversed by Evliya some 400 years ago. The second goal is to revitalize Turkey’s disappearing horse culture and reconnecting past and present by creating equestrian routes. In other words, the project aims to further understanding of equestrian legacy of Turkey.

The Evliya Çelebi Way is an off-the-beaten track that has existed for many centuries but has begun to be forgotten. The route has been proposed by Professor Caroline Finkel, Ottoman historian and author of Osman’s Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire to commemorate Evliya Çelebi’s 400th birthday. Historian Gerald MacLean, who wrote the books The Rise of Oriental Travel and Looking East, cultural historian Donna Landry, oral historian and anthropologist Leyla Neyzi, and botanist Andrew Byfield are also part of the team. Finkel and her colleagues want to write a book about the Evliya Çelebi Route, similar to the trekking guides the Lycian Way and the St. Paul’s Trail, but they want to emphasize more on its historical significance. They also plan to mark the route and promote historians, hikers, and all sorts of visitors to follow Evliya’s hoofprints.

The first phase of the project has been succesfully completed. The team achieved to finish the Istanbul-Kütahya stage of the Evliya Çelebi Way in 2009. Although the distance between the two cities is less than 400 kilometres by car, they traveled more than 1000 kilometres, because they followed the exact circuitous route and criss-crossed the rarely-visited towns of Northwestern Anatolia which Evliya visited four centuries ago. From Istanbul, they went to Bursa-Inegöl-Tavşanlı-Kütahya-Afyon-Sandıklı-Banaz-Ovacık-Uşak-Gediz-Simav-Gediz and terminated their voyage in Kütahya.

Now, they are preparing for the second phase which they label “2011 Evliya Çelebi ‘Turkey-Syria Friendship Ride’ and seeking sponsorship for it. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has given its approval to the project. They have also found a number of sponsor but they are in need of more people with money and interest to achieve the project.

Because Turkish countryside is economically and culturally neglected, the Evliya Çelebi Way is a great project that could contribute to rural communities along the route and to Turkey in general. From the project, we can also learn a lot about Evliya’s life and travels, as well as the history of his time. Hopefully the team will be lucky enough finding sponsorship and commemorating Evliya Çelebi in the most meaningful way on his 400th birthday.

Meet the author


Onur Inal was born in Izmir, Turkey in 1979. He studied Political Science and International Relations at Yeditepe University. Onur has an M.A from Koç University's Anatolian Civilizations and Cultural Heritage Management program. He is currently a Ph.D. student in the History Department of the University of Arizona.

Onur is one of the founders of Sırtçantalılar, a group of budget travelers in Turkey. In addition to his cultural history book about the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul, Pera'dan Beyoğlu'na, he has written articles about travel, history, and culinary culture for various newspapers and magazines in Turkey.