The great Turkish traveler Evliya Çelebi (1611-1684?) spent more than half of his life on the road. The tremendous work he left behind; the ten-volume Târîh-i Seyyâh Evliyâ Efendi (The History of Traveler Evliya Efendi), or with the well-known name Evliya Çelebi Seyahatnamesi (Travelogue of Evliya Çelebi), is one of the treasures of not only the Turkish language but the world travel literature as well.
We owe almost all of what we know about Evliya Çelebi’s life to Seyahatname, which can also be read as a kind of autobiography. According to Seyahatname, Evliye Çelebi was born in Unkapanı, Istanbul and had a classical education in the Enderun (palace school). His first inspirations on traveling were the traveler’s tales that he listened from his father Derviş Mehmet Zıllî Efendi who worked in various positions at Ottoman court and his father’s friends.
Evliya Çelebi tells of a dream he saw when he was 19 years old, on August 19, 1630, as the reason for his travels that would last throughout his life. In his dream, Evliya Çelebi sees Prophet Muhammad with a crowded community at Ahî Çelebi Mosque. While he is kissing the prophet’s hand, he gets excited and instead of asking "Şefaat ya Resulallah" (Intercession o the Messenger of God) he says "Seyahat ya Resulallah" (Travel o the Messenger of God). Muhammad cracks a smile and heralds intercession, travel, and visit Evliya. Thus, Evliya Çelebi starts to travel Istanbul quarter by quarter, the city in which he was born and raised.
The first travel Evliya embarked upon outside Istanbul was to Bursa in 1640. Then, during his travels under the auspices of several pashas who were his relatives (Melek Ahmet Pasha, a close relative, has even risen to grand-viziership) he sees countless cities and places including Tbilisi, Baghdad, Tabriz, Palestine, Belgrade, Bosnia and Sudan along with most of the cities of Anatolia.
Evliya Çelebi wrote his ten-volume masterpiece Seyahatname in Egypt where he spent the last 10 years of his life. According to one claim, he died in Egypt and according to another, he died in Istanbul after returning from Egypt.
Evliya Çelebi reserves the first volume of his Seyahatname to Istanbul, a city he sees as the center of the world. In fact, the Istanbul he lived in was the most populous city of the 17th century, with its 700,000 inhabitants. Thanks to Evliya Çelebi, who depicts Istanbul with curiosity, care, and imagination–like every great writer short of facts, we can learn about the quarters and scholars, mosques and legends, customs and jokes of 17th-century Istanbul, and grasp its spirit.