Menswear designer Hatic Gokce recently kicked off Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in Instanbul with her runway collection, inspired by the country’s rich past and most notably, the great Ottoman Turk adventurer Evliya Çelebi. Known for his 400-year-old travel memoirs, Evliya Çelebi expressively narrated his journeys through the Ottoman Empire and neighboring lands.
“I’m inspired by him,” Gokce told The WorldPost. “The fact that he had that passion for traveling really excited me. I believe in our world, everyone is a bit of a traveler.”
Born as Mehmed Zilli, Çelebi traveled over a period of 40 years, documenting his thoughts and descriptions in a travelogue called Seyâhatnâme. Starting in his native city of Constantinople, the ten-volume series covers Anatolia, Safavid Persia, Ottoman Europe, North Africa, Austria, and Egypt, among more.
He is known to have collected specimens of the language in each region he visited, collecting and cataloging over 30 Turkic dialects. Within these languages, Çelebi compared words, particularly pointing out similarities between German and Persian. The book also contains the first transcriptions of many Caucasian languages, between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, along with Tsakonian, a modern take on Greek. Most notably, the work is dubbed as the only extant specimen to include transcripts of Ubykh, an extinct Northwest Caucasian language, outside the means of linguistic literature.
Further among his travels, Çelebi describes surreal sculptures in Parthenon, oil merchants in Azerbaijan, an encounter with Native Americans in Rotterdam when he visited in 1663, and even Cossack rides from Azk in the Crimean Khanata, a Turco-Mongol vassal state of the Ottoman Empire. Of the slave trade in the Crimea, he strikingly wrote:
“A man who had not seen this market, had not seen anything in this world. A mother is severed from her son and daughter there, a son—from his father and brother, and they are sold amongst lamentations, cries of help, weeping and sorrow.”
Though some of the narratives in the Seyâhatnâme are overly exaggerated to the point of inventive fiction, the writings continue to remain as a reliable guide to the culture and lifestyles of the 17th century Ottoman era. Because of the value of Çelebi’s work, scholars and studies often refer to the generic term of Seyâhatnâme – literally defined as book of travels whose examples can be found in the Islamic world around the Middle Ages – as Evliya Çelebi’s books in particular.
It is reported that Evliya Çelebi died around 1864 in Cairo, where he was editing drafts for the book.