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Some of the books David Barchard mentions in this article, from our launch issue in 1992, have been reprinted. Others can be sourced second-hand.
So, you want to know more about Turkey but are unsure which books to turn to? Here is one list of key-reading, aimed at people who have just arrived in the country.
Recent years have seen an avalanche of guide books on Turkey, ranging from Tom Brosnahan’s Turkey: A Travel Survival Kit (Lonely Planet Publication), aimed at the rucksack and jeans market, to the Blue Guide (Also by Tom Brosnahan Turkey: Bright Sun, Strong Tea
Many of the guide books are heavily slanted towards the west and southern coasts of Turkey and towards architectural and historical topics.
Strolling through Istanbul by Hilary Sumner-Boyd and John Freely and Imperial Istanbul: Iznik-Bursa-Edirne by Jane Taylor (Tauris Parke) focus almost exclusively on monuments. Strolling through Istanbul has become the Blue Guide. It should be read alongside The Life of the Party by Maureen Freely, the daughter of one of the authors, (Penguin Books). Her portrait of expatriate decadence in Istanbul in the Sixties is wickedly unfair and over-drawn, but she still manages to give the feel of life in the city before the McDonalds’ era very well. [Also see Istanbul Gathering by Roddy O’Connor on the same period].
I am precluded from commenting on the Insight Guide to Turkey since I had a hand in it, but the Istanbul Insight Guide, edited by Thomas Goltz, has its finger firmly on the pulse of the contemporary city. It will guide you through bars, discos, Armenian churches, Turkish baths, second-hand bookshops, theatre, butchers’ shops and ethnic remnants.
There are relatively few good regional guides. Landscapes of Turkey around Antalya by Brian and Eileen Anderson (Sunflower Countryside Guides) is an exception, intended mainly for ramblers. It has now just been joined by a second volume on Bodrum and Marmaris.
If you want somethin super- specialised on Byzantine Cappadocia and its rock monasteries, try Lyn Rodley’s Cave Monasteries of Byzantine Cappadocia (Cambridge University Press) or Oxford University Press’s The Caves of God by Spero Kostof.
Redhouse, an Istanbul-based American publisher, has a two volume book on short excursions around Istanbul of up to 150 miles, Mini-Tours from Istanbul by Betsy Harrell. It is full of good suggestions, original information and colourful detail.
Guide books for central Turkey are less easy to come by. The Ankara Museum used to publish an English-language guide called Ankara 50 which gave details of places to visit in the Ankara province. Unfortunately it was taken off the shelf suddenly in the early Eighties. It is perhaps time for a second edition.
Ekrem Akurgal’s Ancient Ruins of Turkey (published in Turkey by Haset Kitabevi) is a comprehensive archaeological guide by the doyen of Turkish classical archaeologists and a man who has done much to expand our understanding of the ancient world.
If you are travelling along the western or southern coasts and want to know where the ancient cities were and what their people were like, the four volumes by George Bean,(published by John Murray) beginning with Aegean Turkey and ending with Turkey’s Southern Shore should be your constant companions. (Barnaby Rogerson writes on George Bean and Terence Mitford in Cornucopia 23
Anyone venturing along the same coast line should take Turkish Waters Pilot by Rod Heikell, published by Imray Norie and Wilson. It covers everything from the depth of the sea in particular places to fuel and provision facilities, repairs and shelter, to the history of abandoned citiesthat can only be reached from the sea. A must for all yachtsmen.
Want a Turkish dictionary? You can go for the Oxford dictionary, but far better to plump for Redhouse again. Preferably the full dictionary, but failing that the pocket dictionary or the slimline Cagdas Inglizce-Tiirkce. Even if you are never going to learn Turkish properly, you will enjoy reading this dictionary, rich in idioms, proverbs and folk expressions. Reading Redhouse is a good way to learn about Turkish society, though bear in mind that when the compilers of the dictionary were at work, Turkey was still a village society and the language reflected this. Today, with the balance shifting in favour of the big cities and urban lifestyles, the language is altering correspondingly.
If you want to know which words to use in daily speech, bear in mind that Oz Tiirkce (the purified language using words derived from Turkish roots) and loan words from English and French are gaining ground, while Persian and Arabic expressions are in retreat.
The extraordinary diversity of Turkish poetry is available to English readers in the Penguin book of Turkish Verse, edited by Nermin Menemencioglu. Alas Penguin has let it go out of print, but copies can still occasionally be found in second-hand shops.
Anyone seriously interested in Turkey will eventually turn to the 19th-century travellers. It is a sad comment on our age that the travel books written a hundred years ago are, almost without exception, better than those of today.
Since most are out of print, there seems little point in recommending them, though On Horseback Through Asia Minor, by Captain Fred Burnaby Cornucopia 24 has been published in paperback by Alan Sutton Publishing. First published in 1898, 13 years after the author’s untimely death in the Zulu Wars, and more than 20 years after the journey he made from Istanbul to Van which it describes, it is still as fresh and vivid as the day it was written.
The travels of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, wife of the English ambassador in Istanbul in 1717 and 1718 are available in a handsomely illustrated volume of her letters, edited by Christopher Pick and published by Century Books.
For Ottoman history there is no better way to begin than byreading Halil Inalclk’s The Ottoman Empire, published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson. A companion volume, Byzantium: The Empire of New Rome, by Cyril Mango is the best introduction to Byzantine civilisation.
Romilly Jenkins’s Byzantium: the Imperial Centuries (Vintage Books) is a splendid narrative history of the empire from the seventh century to the eleventh which has not been surpassed.
Finally, for those who just want pictures, there are lots of good photographic books of Turkey. The undisputed coffee-table champion is Turkey: A Timeless Bridge, by Peter Holmes (Stork Press).The photographs are so good that you can plan your itinerary from them – or sell the idea of a holiday in Turkey to a doubtful spouse. Flicking through Holmes’s superb pictures is almost as good as a holiday in Anatolia.
A million windows gaze on to the fast moving waters of the Bosphorus. The beautiful and strategic straits divide a city and link two continents. But down by the water’s edge they are a world apart, a watery playground for seadogs, fishermen and commuters. By Rose Baring. Photographs by Francesco Venturi
The European merchants of nineteenth-century Izmir built their gardens in Bornova, below the hills where they loved to shoot and fish. Rosemary Baldwin revisits the home of the Girauds and discovers a haunting reminder of a genteel era. Photographs by Bünyad Dinç
One thousand tons of loose glass cling suspended in the world’s largest unsupported brick dome, an architectural miracle and the last great monument of Roman architecture. By Anthony Bryer
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