Evliya Çelebi: Ottoman traveller, writer, dreamer

Evliya Çelebi was born in Istanbul on 25 March 1611. He is best known in the Anglophone world through the translations of Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall in the 19th century and, more recently, Robert Dankoff. His ten-volume Seyahatname is perhaps the longest piece of travel writing in world literature; Dankoff says the first time he read it in its entirety, it took three years.

To the historian, the book’s chorographic elements are the most important; but to the casual reader it is the personal recollections that catch the eye, even – perhaps particularly – where they are clearly less than factual. Çelebi writes that in ten days between 12 and 22 October 1663 he accompanied 40,000 Tatars in a raiding party west from Hungary which reached as far as Amsterdam, which they sacked. He writes too of being trapped in a fortress under siege by Cossacks in 1657. Çelebi builds rockets to message nearby troops; the siege is broken by a midnight sortie of several hundred sheep and goats with lighted wicks on their horns. (This one comes with a marginal note confirming its fantasy.)

The Seyahatname opens with a dream and there is something dreamlike – magical, if you like – about its realism. Çelebi died in Cairo in the 1680s, before the Turks lost Buda and Belgrade and the Ottoman imperial dream itself was forced into retreat.

This piece first appeared in the March 2022 issue of History Today.

Like this? You can read more Months Past posts here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: