The Evliya Çelebi Way Project: history, travel, culture

Submitting Institution

University of Exeter

Unit of Assessment

English Language and Literature

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Philosophy and Religious Studies: Religion and Religious Studies

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Summary of the impact

Research at the University of Exeter has raised public awareness of early modern Ottoman history and promoted sustainable equestrian tourism by establishing a UNESCO Cultural Route, the Evliya Çelebi Way. In 2009 Professor Gerald MacLean re-enacted the 1671 horseback journey undertaken by the celebrated Ottoman travel-writer Evliya Çelebi, attracting media coverage and building links with local communities. Maclean has since collaborated in developing the Way to promote cultural heritage and stimulate tourism in Turkey. The main impacts of this research have been to:

  • preserve, conserve, and present cultural heritage
  • contribute to processes of commemoration and memorialisation
  • develop stimuli to tourism and contribute to the quality of the tourist experience

Underpinning research

The research of Gerald MacLean, appointed Professor of English at the University of Exeter in 2007, has established how commercial, scientific and diplomatic travel writers in early modern Britain replaced medieval hostility to the Ottoman Empire with fascination (3.1). His research has broken new ground to reveal how British and European culture before 1800 was shaped by encounters with Islamic cultures in ways that complicate contemporary debates over the `clash of civilizations' between east and west. A 2004 monograph traced the encounters of English travellers with the Islamic Ottoman world and was followed by Looking East (2007), in which he developed original models for understanding English fascination with Ottoman culture and statecraft and, as William Dalrymple observed on the dustjacket, `change[d] the way we think about early British interaction with the Muslim world' (3.2). The influence of Looking East is indicated by its translation into Turkish in 2009. MacLean's work in the field has continued with a general account of Britain and the Islamic World, co-written with Nabil Matar (3.3). This work, which will also appear in Turkish, has been praised as an `uplifting, intriguing and inquiring survey' of English relations with the Islamic world which `undermines ... shibboleths' of the period before European imperialism (The Independent, 17 June 2011). In the same year MacLean edited an interdisciplinary selection of papers from a major conference that he organized in 2009, supported by the British Academy, at the Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, and which attracted over sixty speakers from nine countries and numerous disciplines (3.7; 3.4).

Through his research on early modern internationalisation, MacLean informs present-day reconsiderations of relations between Britain and Islam. As a key player in the re-enactment history project run by Jonathan Lamb at Vanderbilt University, MacLean theorized the usefulness of re-enactment as a research practice (3.5). Subsequently his research has turned to the practice of re-enactment in the case of the travels of Evliya Çelebi (1611-c.1685), whose ten-volume `Book of Travels' celebrates the Ottoman ideals of multi-cultural civility (3.6). With Ercihan Dilari (Akhal-Teke Ranch, Avanos), Dr Caroline Finkel (independent scholar, Istanbul), and Professor Donna Landry (University of Kent), MacLean founded the Evliya Çelebi Way Project. In 2009, the team undertook an equestrian re-enactment of the first stage of Evliya's 1671 journey from Istanbul to Mecca. By revisiting, on horseback, sections of Evliya's route, the team set out to discover what remains of the landscape, hospitality, equestrian culture and Ottoman civility celebrated by Evliya. MacLean served as research director, helping collate Evliya's reports with modern maps and organising visas and letters of permission from the Turkish government. For forty days and nights they rode along Evliya's route. MacLean worked with Dilari on logistics, horse care, and negotiations with local authorities. The team liaised with local communities to ensure the continuation of the Way, talked to village school children about Evliya, gave interviews to local and national media, and recorded interviews with local equestrian communities who still practise rahvan and cirit, traditional Ottoman forms of equestrian sport. The research objective of the project was to test what re-enactment of the Evliya Çelebi Way could reveal about both the Ottoman past and the influence of that past in present-day Turkey.

References to the research

Evidence of the quality of the research: monographs with major publishers, peer-reviewed grant awards from external funding bodies, and peer-reviewed publications in major journals.

1. MacLean, `Performing at the Ottoman Porte in 1599: The Case of Henry Lello,' in Early Modern Encounters with the Islamic East: Performing Cultures, ed. Sabine Schülting, Sabine Lucia Müller, and Ralf Hertel (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012): 26-41.


2. MacLean, Looking East: English Writing and the Ottoman Empire before 1800 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). Turkish translation, Doğu'ya Bakış (Ankara: METU Press, 2009).

3. MacLean and Nabil Matar,Britain and the Islamic World, 1558-1713 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). Turkish translation under contract with Işbank, Istanbul.


4. MacLean (ed.), Britain and the Muslim World: Historical Perspectives (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2011).

5. Maclean, `Strolling in Syria with William Biddulph,' in Criticism 46: 3 (Summer 2004), pp. 415-40, special issue on `Extreme and Sentimental History', ed. Jonathan Lamb.


6. MacLean, `Hospitality in William Shakespeare and Evliya Çelebi,' Shakespeare Jahrbuch, 149 (2013), 117-35.


7 . Maclean, `Britain and Muslim World', British Academy Conference Grant, 2008 (£3.5k).

Details of the impact

Preserving, conserving, and presenting cultural heritage; contributing to processes of commemoration and memorialisation

Extensive attention to the 2009 Ride in the Turkish national press and TV, including interviews with MacLean, `was crucial' to the case made by Turkey's UNESCO committee for declaring Evliya `Man of the Year' for 2011 (5.1). The ride was `a major influence in making him and his work better known here in Turkey and overseas', `prompting UNESCO to support two major international conferences, in Ankara and Paris', and leading to numerous conferences and festivals throughout Turkey (5.1; 5.2; 5.3). International coverage includes Time magazine's report of how `the spirit of Turkey's greatest adventurer rides once again ... travelling on horseback ... truly conjures up Evliya's ghost' (23 January 2012), and The Guardian's recommendation of travelling the Evliya Çelebi Way to explore `some of the country's most spectacular landscapes' and `villages off the beaten track' (23 March 2012) (5.4).

Since 2007, MacLean has presented his research on early Anglo-Ottoman relations to public audiences, including 4 annual lectures at the V&A (2008-10), radio interviews in the UK (2007),Turkey (2007, 2008), India (2012), and an invitational lecture at the Turkish embassy in London (2009). MacLean has delivered public lectures on the Evliya Çelebi Way project including `How the Ottomans helped shape Europe' (City Circle, London, 10 May 2010) and `From Yalova to Mecca with Evliya Çelebi,' sponsored by the Istanbul Municipality (Istanbul, 26 March 2011) (5.5). He has written about the re-enactment for public interest magazines (BBC History Magazine, 2008; Cornucopia, 2010), the Evliya Çelebi Way project blog, and the Turkish national press (5.3).

MacLean, Landry and Finkel were appointed consultants to the London-based NGO, Maslaha, on the British Council and Young Foundation sponsored exhibition, `Evliya Çelebi: The Book of Travels.' The exhibition opened in Bethnal Green in May 2010 for three days, attracting over 500 visitors a day, including classes from local schools. It has since opened in Turkey (Kütahya, March 2011), in Athens at the world-famous Benaki Museum (April-July, 2011), and Thessaloniki (January 2012). The online exhibition has been visited by 17,867 people in 105 countries including the UK, the US, Canada, Greece, Bulgaria, Australia, Malaysia, Sweden, Germany, France, Turkey, and Oman (5.6).

Developing stimuli to tourism and contributing to the quality of the tourist experience

Public interest generated by the 2009 Ride played a leading role in the creation and recognition of the Evliya Çelebi Way by the Turkish Ministry of Culture as Turkey's first equestrian Cultural Route, following approval by the TURSAB Eco-tourism group for promoting sustainable tourism in rural areas to benefit local economies (15 January 2011) (5.7). The 2009 Evliya Çelebi Ride was sponsored by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, The Turkish Jockey Club, the Joukowsky Foundation, and local Turkish businesses Avis-Koç, Kütahya Porcelain, and Zetinoğlu Yem. The number of tourists visiting Evliya's ancestral province of Kütahya doubled from 81,855 in 2008 to 170,597 in 2010 (5.8).

The owner of a horse-riding centre in Turkey began commercial equestrian tours along the Evliya Çelebi Way in 2010, and reports that, through international equestrian agencies—e.g. Equitour (US) and In The Saddle (UK)— the income from his business has grown from 17,000 euros in 2009 to 55,000 in 2012 and 91,000 in 2013 by 31 July alone (5.9). The Evliya Çelebi Way has already attracted over 60 riders from the US, England, Canada, New Zealand, Germany, and South Africa. Commercial benefits to local communities cannot yet be measured, but the municipalities of Bursa and Kütahya are supporting development of the Evliya Çelebi Way and further cultural routes based on Evliya's journeys (5.7).

A guidebook to the Evliya Çelebi Way, authored by Finkel, Landry and the publisher, Kate Clow, provides detailed itineraries for walkers, cyclists, and equestrians, alongside historical descriptions of sites noticed by Evliya. The Evliya Çelebi Way: Turkey's First Long-Distance Walking and Riding Route (Istanbul: Upcountry [Turkey], 2011) was favourably reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement (1 March 2013). The Turkish translation (2011) was sponsored by the Mayor of Bursa and has sold 1900 copies. The Evliya Çelebi Way team inspired travel publishers Eland to commission An Ottoman Traveller: Selections from the Book of Travels of Evliya Çelebi (2010), the first substantial collection of English translations of Evliya. The initial hardback and paperback editions of 2,000 each sold out, and a second paperback issue of 2,000 has been reprinted (5.10).

Sources to corroborate the impact

  1. Document: statement from Executive Board Member, Turkish National Commission of UNESCO; see `anniversaries' on the UNESCO website
  2. Evliya Çelebi Way blog:
  3. 40+ online media reports of the 2009 Ride, including interviews with MacLean, are logged at MacLean's webpage:
  4. (accessed 11/11/2013).
  5. `From Yalova to Mecca with Evliya Çelebi' (Istanbul, 26 March 2011)
  6. Document: statement from co-ordinator for the London based NGO Maslaha Website
  7. Turkish government formally adopts EÇW as sustainable cultural route; see page 6:
  8. Regional Statistics for Kütahya 2008 and 2010 can be found at the Turkish Statistical Institute website:
  9. Document: financial statement from owner, horse riding centre in Avanos, Turkey.
  10. Document: statements from publisher, Eland Publications.