‘Travellers and Treasures’ at the Nomads Tent

Symposium in Edinburgh, May 6

By Julie W | May 17, 2017

This year’s well-attended symposium opened with Ottoman historian Caroline Finkel’s introduction to the extraordinary 17th century Ottoman adventurer, Evliya Çelebi. That Evliya is relatively unknown compared with say Ibn Battuta or Marco Polo is something Dr Finkel hopes to rectify with talks such as this one and her ongoing work on The Evliya Çelebi Way – Turkey’s first long-distance route for horse riders, following in Evliya’s hoof prints. Of the ten large volumes of Evliya’s Seyehatname (Book of Travels) very little has been translated into English until recently, and earlier translations tended to bowdlerise his often irreverent and highly amusing writings.

Next up was Warwick Ball, Eastern archaeologist and historian with his talk ‘When Turkey Ruled the Waves’. Following the theme of his book Sultans of Rome in which he questions our perception of the Ottomans as an Eastern power, this talk described Ottoman naval exploits beyond the Mediterranean with possible connections even as far as Edinburgh!

Moving from the Travellers of the symposium title to the Treasures, Roberta Marin assistant curator at the Khalili Collection and lecturer on Islamic Art & Architecture brought us into the fascinating world of the carpet trade from Istanbul to Venice during the Ottoman era. In spite of trade restrictions Ottoman carpets continued to be a sought-after luxury gracing domestic settings as well appearing in notable works of art in Venice and beyond.

After lunch the theme continued with Stefano Ionescu’s almost single-handed study of the so-called Transylvanian Rug. These are small format 15–17th century Anatolian prayer rugs preserved and hung in Romanian Lutheran churches. Ionesco posits that the iconoclasm of both Islam and Lutheranism established a local tradition of donating of these richly coloured carpets to the now otherwise austere looking churches. He firmly refutes assertions that they were made locally. Restrictions imposed on  trading prayer rugs to ‘infidels’ meant the directional single-niche rugs later evolved into double-niche designs. Altogether a fascinating study. 

And finally to round things off – back to the Travellers. The author Jason Goodwin took us on a delightful romp through the many writings of Western travellers to the Ottoman world – from Thomas Dallam to Lady Mary, Busbecq to De Amici replete with amusing anecdotes. He ended with the question of whether Bellini’s famous portrait of Mehmet II in any way exaggerated the sultan’s nose. Proof he did not appears in Cecil Beaton’s glorious portrait of the Princess Dürrüşehvar, daughter of the last Caliph. Cornucopia 31

Ottoman Horizons continues at the Nomads Tent until the end of May with carpets, books and artefacts from Turkey. Caroline Finkel also presented a talk on The Evliya Çelebi Way at Nomads Tent, Travellers in Ottoman Lands: The Botanical Legacy, was held at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 May, and finally Invitation to the Seraglio – Emre Aracı conducted the Edinburgh University String Orchestra’s 25th anniversary concert at the Canongate Kirk on Sunday 14 May. 

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