Evliya Çelebi

Evliya Çelebi (1611–c.1684) was a celebrated Ottoman traveler and writer who published accounts and observations of the places he visited.  Son of a court jeweler, he was educated in Istanbul.  Also known as Derviş Mehmed Zılli, his early writings are notes taken while touring Istanbul and describe the buildings, markets, customs and culture.  He started his first foreign journey in 1640.  His travel notes span over 40 years and are collected into a ten-volume work called the Seyahatname (Book of Travels). Although many of his descriptions are quite exaggerated, the notes are widely accepted as a useful guide to the cultural aspects and lifestyle of the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century.  Among the regions he visited and described are, the Caucasus, the Middle East, Bulgaria, Wallachia, Moldavia, Transylvania, Hungary, Vienna, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Dalmatia, Albania, Greece, Russia, Mecca, Egypt and the Sudan.

Evliya Çelebi visited Albania on three different occasions. His trip of 1670 provides the most detailed account.  Arriving from Corfu he journeyed through Delvina, Gjirokastër, Tepelena, Skrapar, Përmet, Berat, Kanina, Vlora, Bashtova, Durrës, Kavaja, Peqin, Elbasan, Struga, Ohrid and Pogradec before continuing on to Macedonia.

The extract below is Çelebi’s description of Gjirokastra in his Book of Travels, 1670

“The open town is situated on eight hills and valleys all around the fortress with multi-storey stonework houses all with slate roofs and surrounded by gardens and vineyards.  Each of these well-built houses has a tower.  The walls of the courtyards are constructed of a kind of white granite, hewn by master stonecutters as though they were Ankara bricks from a single mould.  Both rich and poor have such walls.  Such square cut stone is to be found nowhere else on earth except in the cities of Tire and Manisa in Anatolia. …  The manner in which the outer walls of all the houses are constructed has no parallel in all the world.  They are all twenty ells high of red sandstone blocks, just stone on stone with no mud, lime or plaster.  The walls and the houses are all centuries old, dating from the time of the infidels.  The town has a very good climate, and for this reason, its inhabitants have healthy bodies…  The people of Gjirokastër mourn their dead relatives for forty of fifty, indeed up to eighty years…  For this reason I dubbed Gjirokastër the “city of wailing”.  It is a great wonder how the professional mourners manage to weep and wail with such feeling.   It is for this reason, I divined, that the men of Gjirokastër all have a mourning and somber look.”