14 November 2009

Riding Anatolia with Evliya Çelebi


From Ottoman historian Caroline Finkel comes news of a horseback reenactment of the itinerary of a great early modern traveler (via H-Turk):
This is to announce that the first phase of the Evliya Çelebi Ride, in
western Anatolia, is now completed. We were on the road for 40 glorious
days and 40 nights, leaving Evliya in Simav, from where he continued
to Izmir and ultimately to Mekke which he reached in spring 1672, while
we returned to Kütahya.

Home from our journey, we learnt that 2011, the 400th anniversary of
our hero's birth, has been proclaimed the year of Evliya Çelebi by Unesco.
We could not have hoped for more exciting news, not just for our project
but for everyone everywhere. Congratulations to those who achieved this
remarkable coup.
Evliya Çelebi (1611-1682) was a great Ottoman traveler, whose Seyahatname, or Book of Travels, is am important source for the history of the Ottoman lands. His travels took him from Istanbul to Austria, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Egypt, Persia, and Mecca. The trip helped to inaugurate the “Evliya Çelebi Way”, “an international project of historical re-enactment and cultural re-connection that will establish a Cultural Route through Western Anatolia”.

The ride, an international group including literature professors, equestrians, and a retired ambassador, began on the third day of the Şeker Bayramı (sugar holiday), and retraced Evliya’s route from Istanbul as far as Simav, in west-central Anatolia. The ride’s blog has some great pictures. Apparently some villagers called the Gendarmes on seeing this strange group of riders, thinking they were sheep rustlers!

Large sections of Evliya’s route are now off the beaten path, and riding offers a new way of seeing beautiful, undeveloped parts of the Anatolian countryside that are otherwise unaccessible. However, underdevelopment is a problem, even in relatively better-off western Turkey:
“The countryside along the route is much neglected and the people are, we discovered, barely better off than villagers in the east,” Finkel lamented. Similar to the “Lycian Way” and “St. Paul's Trail,” the EÇR book will help to contribute to the local economy through sustainable tourism and could also act as a catalyst for local development projects along the route. (Today's Zaman)
I love the increasing interest in the scholarly, tourism, and NGO communities in promoting cultural routes, landscapes, and intangible heritage more generally - a move away from the traditional fetish for sites and monuments as the only way to experience the past, toward a more holistic view that includes traditions, practice, and experience. (I’m also glad to see that Finkel and her fellow riders are planning to translate more of Çelebi’s work, only small parts of which have ever been made available in English.)

A couple more photos, from the Hoofprinting blog:


  1. thanks, dan, for this. more evliya, everywhere, say we. i did not know you blog, but now i do. you did a nice job with our stuff. btw, i am caroline, not carolyn, which would not ordinarily matter, except for labelling purposes it might be better to get it right. yolunuz acik olsun! caroline f

  2. Thanks for stopping by! My apologies for the onomastic dyslexia (now fixed).