Ottoman Explorations of the Nile

Ottoman Explorations of the Nile


Evliya Çelebi’s ‘Matchless Pearl These Reports of the Nile’ map and his accounts of the Nile and the Horn of Africa in The Book of Travels

by Robert Dankoff, Nuran Tezcan, and Michael D. Sheridan

Format: Royal Hardback
Published: February 2018
Illustrations: Coloured Folded Map
Pages: 442
ISBN: 9781909942165

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‘A major achievement…’

— Meia Malravens in the final issue of al-Usur al-Wusta

‘For all that the Ottomans barely rank in the annals of exploration, one name stands out. In this splendid volume, Evliya Çelebi’s richly-annotated Nile map is published in full for the first time, alongside his extensive account of his pioneering journeys in the region in 1672. Expertly translated so as to preserve Evliya’s humorous style and penchant for drama, this is a substantial contribution to our appreciation of an unsung adventurer.’

— Caroline Finkel, author of The Evliya Çelebi Way

‘An engaging work of scholarship, this volume brings alive the Ottoman exploration of the Nile, a fascinating if neglected achievement, as reflected in two remarkable works: Evliya Çelebi’s typically entertaining travel account and a meticulous map, surviving in a single copy at the Vatican Library and, as the book convincingly argues, the work of Evliya himself. Under Professor Dankoff Evliya Çelebi studies have truly come of age, and this beautiful book should delight every reader.’

— Yorgos Dedes, Senior Lecturer in Turkish SOAS, University of London

‘In their notes and analyses, Dankoff, Tezcan, and Sheridan have left no stone unturned, no reference unchecked, and no question unaddressed. With sagacity and finess, the editors of this volume open for us a window into an Ottoman fascination with cultural and geographical explorations in the seventeenth century.’

— Ilker Evrim Binbas, Lecturer in Early Modern Islamic History, University of Bonn


The most ambitious effort, before the time of Napoleon, to explore and map out the Nile was undertaken by the Ottomans, as attested by two monumental documents: an elaborate map, with 450 rubrics; and a lengthy travel account. Both were achieved at about the same time – c. 1685 – and both apparently by the same man. Evliya Çelebi’s account of his Nile journeys, in Volume 10 of The Book of Travels (Seyahatname), has been known to the scholarly world since 1938. The map, in the Vatican Library, has been known to the scholarly world since 1949. A first edition of it was published in 2011. The authors of that edition, Robert Dankoff and Nuran Tezcan, demonstrated in detail that the map should be attributed to Evliya Çelebi. The edition of the map included here (which, considered as a text, is extraordinarily challenging philologically) incorporates many new readings, bringing it a step closer to a definitive edition. This volume also contains Evliya’s six journeys, his travels in Egypt and Sudan and along the Red Sea coast, as well as problems regarding dates and authenticity of the journeys. The relation of the map and The Book of Travels is analysed, including similarities and correspondences in content, language, and style, along with discrepancies between the two documents and how to account for them.


Click here to read a review of Ottoman Explorations of the Nile in the Asian Review of Books.

‘A useful resource for those interested in the ‘earliest’ of travellers […] provides an important addition to the observations, experiences, and perspective provided by other 17th century travellers. Put simply, a manuscript of incredible significance is now available at your finger-tips for easy perusal.The authors provide a beautiful pull-out printed copy (in full colour) of the Vatican map at the back (the equal length of ten pages of the book). A ‘splendid volume,’ as a previous reviewer of the work put it, and well-worth owning.’ Tessa T. Baber, Astene Bulletin, Autumn 2018


Robert Dankoff has taught at Brandeis University, the University of Arizona, and the University of Chicago, where he is Professor Emeritus of Turkish and Islamic Studies. His major publications include The Intimate Life of an Ottoman Statesman: Melek Ahmed Pasha (1588-1662), as portrayed in Evliya Çelebi’s Book of Travels (Seyahat-name)(1991); An Ottoman Mentality: The World of Evliya Çelebi (2004, 2006); An Ottoman Traveller: Selections from the Book of Travels of Evliya Çelebi (2010, with Sooyong Kim).

Nuran Tezcan was assistant professor at Eastern Mediterranean University in North Cyprus from 200 to 2003, and from 2003 to 2016 she was associate professor at the Department of Turkish Literature of Bilkent University in Ankara. Her most recent publications include: Evliyâ Çelebi’nin Nil Haritası: Dürr-i bî-misîl în Ahbâr-ı Nîl (2011, with Robert Dankoff ); Divan Edebiyatına Yeniden Bakıs (2016).

Michael D. Sheridan recently completed his Ph.D. at Bilkent University, Ankara, with a dissertation using the corpus of Ottoman invective verse of the early 17th century to investigate emerging sociocultural tensions within the elite classes. His research focuses on Ottoman cultural and literary history as well as on the comparative cultural history of the early modern period in Europe, the Near East, and South Asia.

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Robert Dankoff, Nuran Tezcan, and Michael D. Sheridan