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Page last updated at 11:39 GMT, Monday, 14 June 2010 12:39 UK
Book of Travels: How the Ottomans shaped London

Raheel Mohammed of Maslaha, one of the organisations behind a unique online exhibition, introduces the Ottoman Empire and their influence on London and beyond.

The Book of Travels
The online exhibition follows Ottoman solider and writer Evliya Celebi

By Raheel Mohammed
The Young Foundation & Maslaha

Lady Mary Montagu, a leading society figure of early 18th century London, an advocate of women's rights and fearless traveller, wrote of St Paul's Cathedral, after visiting Istanbul:

"Perhaps I am in the wrong, but some Turkish mosques please me better…St Paul's Church would make a pitiful figure near it."

Ironically, Christopher Wren the architect of St Paul's Cathedral, one of London's towering landmarks would be looking back to Istanbul's domes for his inspiration.

The Ottoman influence

These are just some of the relationships that a unique online exhibition explores, uncovering how the Ottomans shaped London and the rest of Europe through music, medicine, architecture and art.

The Book of Travels
This map is a 17th century representation of Istanbul

Launching on 14 June the exhibition is produced by Maslaha in partnership with the British Council, as well as artwork from the Khalili Family Trust, the largest private Islamic art collection in the world, the Royal Academy of Music, Suki Chan, an award winning film-maker who recently appeared in the BBC's School of Saatchi, and leading Ottoman historians.

The exhibition will follow a 17th century Ottoman, Evliya Celebi, who saw himself as a world traveller, a story-teller, a man of letters, a Muslim, a soldier, a musician and a global citizen.

Through his eyes we explore the constant conversations between the Ottoman Empire and Europe.

Introducing Evliya Celebi

Born in Istanbul in 1611, Evliya Celebi was the son of the Palace goldsmith and as a teenager, showed huge potential as an Islamic scholar and storyteller.

Aged 21 he had a dream that led him to travel for the rest of his life throughout the Ottoman Empire, which stretched from Anatolia and across North Africa into Europe, writing his Book of Travels called the Seyahatname.

A largely unknown figure, UNESCO has now recognised Evliya as 'Man of the Year' in 2011.

This was a time when the Ottoman Empire socially, culturally and financially touched the lives of English people directly
Raheel Mohammed

The Ottomans in London

This was a time when the Ottoman Empire socially, culturally and financially touched the lives of English people directly, literally shaping their tastes and the future development of the country.

A document of the time lists major imports to England:

"The commodities they bringe from those partes are all sortes of Spices, Rawe Silke, Appoticarie drugs, India blewe, and Cotton Woll, as also yarne and cloaths made thereof, Galles, Currants, Sweet Oyle, Sope, Quiltes, Carpete and divers other commodities."

One contemporary commentator reckoned that between 1590 and 1630 the number of people working in the city and suburbs of London alone who were employed in the "winding and twisting only of forraign raw silk" rose from 300 to "over fourteen thousand souls".

Coffee and politics

Coffee was another pivotal import transforming the London landscape physically and intellectually.

Coffee houses in England were seen by many as dangerous places of debate where radical ideas could be exchanged and debated while writers such as Samuel Pepys and Alexander Pope regularly visited coffee houses wearing the latest Turkish fashion.

Ottoman influence not only held sway over everyday life in Europe by introducing such goods as coffee, but also shaped world politics.

Describing what Evliya means for today's audience, Caroline Finkel, academic and author of Osman's Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1923, said:

"His life and work provide the perfect vehicle for reminding us that no society can be sealed off from the cultural influences of another, and that Muslims have lived in harmony with their neighbours in what is now called Europe for centuries. And the past is always with us."

The virtual tour

The Book of Travels
A physical space was set up so that the online exhibition could be created

The virtual tour allows you to stand in the room, turn around, wander into each corner, and go right up to each panel, accompanied by music from the Royal Academy of Music to show how European music was influenced by the Ottomans.

As you journey through the Book of Travels you will hear a narrator talking you through the footsteps of our 17th century travellers.

The deep zoom allows you to dive right into each panel into any of the pictures and examine each individual house on a map, a single lock of Leonardo da Vinci's hair or every word on an Ottoman manuscript.


The exhibition has been produced by Maslaha, a dynamic organisation which connects technology with the community to create inventive and effective resources to tackle issues around health and education.

Maslaha uses a range of media to break down barriers and increase understanding of Islam and its contribution to society.

Maslaha started as a Young Foundation project and continues its strong tradition of social innovation. The Young Foundation brings together insights, innovation and entrepreneurship to meet social needs with a 55 year track record of success with ventures such as the Open University.

The exhibition is part of the British Council's Our Shared Europe Project which seeks to acknowledge the contribution of Islamic communities and cultures - both in the past but also in the present - to the shaping of contemporary European civilisation and society.


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