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The Fabric of Life: Ergun Çağatay’s Epic Journey

For 15 years, as the Cold War thawed, the photographer Ergun Çağatay criss-crossed the vast expanse of the Turkic-speaking world. Capturing people at work, at play and at prayer, he unravelled the threads of myth and culture that unite them across wildly varying lands. Caroline Eden tells Çağatay’s remarkable story

  • Pilgrims’ progress: A woman prays with her children at the foot of the Kutluğ-Timur Minaret in Kunya-Urgench, where pilgrims walk round in an anticlockwise direction. The tallest minaret in Central Asia, this steeply tapering monument measures 12 metres in diameter at its base and just two at the top, soaring to a height of 62 metres. A lantern on top served to guide distant caravans at night. The original minaret dates from 1011, but was restored or possibly rebuilt by Kutluğ-Timur (1321–36), whose name it still bears Kunya-Urgench,Turkmenistan

Like all great photographers, Ergun Çağatay had that rare skill of pressing the shutter at precisely the right moment. But for every image taken, years of work had gone before.

Subscribers can read the full article here. For more than a decade, the Izmir-born photographer criss-crossed the Turkic-speaking world. Setting out in the 1990s, after recovering from injuries sustained in a near-fatal bomb attack in Paris ten years earlier, Çağatay covered more than 100,000 miles travelling from Lithuania in the west to Yakutia in eastern Siberia. His aim in traversing this vast landmass was to capture the people and cultures that over centuries have risen from its steppes, snowy wastes and desert sands. Each photograph is as clear-eyed as it is humane, and each illustrates Çağatay’s extraordinary range and artistic power. By the end he had produced more than 40,000 images.

‘The Land of the Anka Bird: A journey through the Turkic heartlands’. Photographs by Ergun Çağatay, with text by Caroline Eden, published by Cornucopia Books, £25, from

Caroline Eden’s other books are ‘Samarkand’ (Kyle Books, 2016), ‘Black Sea’ (Quadrille, 2018) and ‘Red Sands’ (Quadrille, 2020). Twitter and Instagram: @edentravels

To read the full article, purchase Issue 62

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Issue 62, 2021 Travellers’ Tales
£12.00 / $15.59 / €14.26
Other Highlights from Cornucopia 62
  • Behind palace doors

    Philip Mansel on a book that tells the story of the Pera-born dragoman Mouradgea d’Ohsson, the ultimate cosmopolite who lifted the lid on the Topkapı. This special 24-page feature, Cornucopia includes 28 of the images from Mouradgea’s magnum opus, Tableau général de l’Empire othoman

  • Adventures of the Three Donketeers

    Anatolia on foot 40 years ago, by Christopher Trillo, with photographs by the author and Stephen Scoffham

  • In the Realm of the Ice Queen

    Central Asia, a plant-hunter’s paradise, has long held Chris Gardner under its spell. For two decades the Antalya-based botanical writer and photographer has traversed countless miles of steppe and mountain in search of the hardier cousins of many of his favourite Turkish plants

  • King of the Gobi

    John Hare on how the two-humped wild camel was saved from extinction

  • The art of letter writing

    Tim Stanley on a celebration of Şeyh Hamdullah and the 500-year-old calligraphy tradition that almost vanished

  • ... And a magnificent Süleyman

    A newly discovered 16th-century painting of Süleyman the Magnificent, sold by Sotheby’s London this spring (and subseqently donated to the Istanbul Municipality by an anonymous businessman), is the most ‘immediate’ portrait of him until the last years of his life. This is Süleyman in his pomp. By Julian Raby

  • Life after Life

    An affectionate tribute to Suna Kıraç by Özalp Birol

  • Sweet endings

    Fruit poached to perfection, the fragrant ‘hoşaf’, or compote, is a simple, soothing finale to any meal

  • Living the Ottoman Dream

    Berrin Torolsan is enchanted by the House of Hindliyan. Photographs by Tim Beddow

Buy the issue
Issue 62, 2021 Travellers’ Tales
£12.00 / $15.59 / 515.92 TL
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