Winter 2016 Newsletter

Our winter 2016 edition of Nomads News offers the articles on ‘Ottoman Horizons’; Caroline Finkel Introduces Evliya Çelebi and his Book of Travels; Hannah Reade’s trip to Mexico; and Rufus Reade on Mughals…

Click here to download a PDF of our Winter 2016 newsletter


Ottoman pic

Ottoman Horizons

May 2017

The cultural riches acquired, developed, and created by the Ottomans are to this day among the wonders of our world. In May 2017, we will collaborate with the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh to present a mini festival of events over 10 days celebrating Ottoman Horizons.

These will include:

6th May: Our symposium in aid of Mercy Corps; An Ottoman Traveller’s World. Key speaker, writer and historian Caroline Finkel, introduces the 17th century travel writer Evliya Çelebi, who travelled the length and breadth of the empire for 40 years, prompted by a dream he had as a young man.

Little known outside Turkey until recently, this intrepid explorer penned a meticulous and richly descriptive record of what he saw in what is now considered one of the greatest travelogues of the 17th century. Other views of the Ottoman world and its culture, reaches and influences, including an unexpected connection to a certain close on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, will be revealed by specialists from far and wide.

An opportunity to view spectacular tulips (see ‘tulipomania’ for the significance of this) in Roscullen Garden, one of Edinburgh’s idyllic hidden treasures that houses a remarkable variety of tulips. Tulips were first introduced to Europe in the 16th century from the Ottoman Empire.

Rumi’s poetry; a recitation by Ashley and Flora Ramsden with music and buffet supper.

A Museum visit that follows the story of a rare ‘Lotto’ Ottoman rug in Edinburgh.

Musical evenings, food and an exhibition of Turkish arts and crafts.


13th & 14th May: the RBGE’s conference, Travellers in Ottoman Lands; the Botanical Legacy.

We will publish a full program around March when you will be able to book your place. To be kept up to date with all our events throughout the year please sign up to our email mailing list by contacting



Introducing Evliya Çelebi and his Book of Travels: An Ottoman Adventurer and his World by Caroline Finkel

How few Ottoman travel writers there are, compared to the hundreds of westerners who went east and recorded their experiences. All sorts of people travelled far and wide across the Ottoman empire and beyond its frontiers— soldiers, pilgrims, merchants, government officials, to name a few—but only a handful left any report of their wanderings. This throws into high relief the achievements of Evliya Çelebi, who journeyed across the sultan’s domains and neighbouring territories for over 40 years and wrote what is probably the longest travel account in world literature.

Evliya Çelebi was born in 1611 into Ottoman court circles; his father was the palace goldsmith and his mother was from Abhazia. He was educated at the palace school, which prepared him for a career in the military or bureaucracy. But, as he tells us, he yearned to travel, and attached himself to senior Ottoman officials sent on missions far from Istanbul. Evliya justified his unusual career path by recounting a predictive dream: in this dream he appeared before the Prophet Mohammed and by a slip of the tongue requested of him seyahat, travel, rather than secaat, intercession; the Prophet gave him his blessing. Evliya kept close to home until he was almost 30 years old, exploring Istanbul and its environs.

These early forays inspired him to write a comprehensive, 10-volume, survey of the Ottoman empire that would entertain as much as document. He dubbed himself ‘World Traveller and Boon Companion to Mankind’ and wore a ring inscribed ‘The World Traveller Evliya’. He left graffiti along his way, some of which we know today.

Evliya’s account of the events of Ottoman history until his time, and his careful descriptions of greater Istanbul and its monuments, kick off his Book of Travels. His meanderings took him across Anatolia, and to the Caucasus, Iran and Iraq, Syria, the Balkans, Hungary, and the northern Black Sea region. He fought in battles and skirmishes, and was a member of a diplomatic mission to Vienna. He had long wanted to complete the Haj, and took a meandering route through western Anatolia where he had not previously been. He never returned to Istanbul after his pilgrimage, travelling up the Nile into Sudan, and settling in Egypt where he appears to have ended his days.

Evliya’s stay-at-home readers must have been riveted by his Book of Travels. He describes in detail the many cities and towns he visited, and gives fascinating information on material culture, such as food, botany, music, pottery, carpets and textiles. He recounts his adventures with verve—shipwrecked in the Black Sea, or his narrow escape from drowning on the ice floes of the Straits of Kerch. He weaves in exuberant tales, and passes on legends and anecdotes he heard on the road.

The line between truth and fantasy is sometimes blurred in Evliya’s writing, making for a work of great historical and literary importance whose author deserves to be celebrated as one of the greatest writers and quirkiest individuals of any era. (Robert Dankoff and Sooyong Kim (eds), An Ottoman Traveller offers a hearty feast of extracts from the Book of Travels, which has not been translated into English in full.)


Mexico 1
A toy turkey and Cristina with herembroidered letters, a small selection ofwhich were bought for The Nomads Tent.

Mexico: vivid, fresh, raw; Words from Hannah Reade’s trip in August 2016.

Mexico city – art deco inspired cast iron gates curling up between brick walls, huge palm trees over a large paved square, sky scrapers with adverts for the latest films, a person on every street corner with a small wagon selling fresh food – hot and cold, spicy and sweet. The feeling that everything is available any time and anything could happen.

San Cristobal De Las Casas – a mountain town, busy, tourists and locals. A warm evening, the street food is so irresistible – hot steamed corn and chicken wrapped in a corn sheath served out of a shopping trolley; hot fresh pineapple juice made by a woman standing under a tree by the cathedral, and later on when still a bit peckish a barbecued corn on the cob with chilli and lime. A local and prospering indigenous group rule the roost of the markets. The women wear thick, heavy, black woollen skirts all year round.

Mexico 2

These have a thermal effect which means that they don’t get too hot or too cold. The market is full of traders, some are embroidering shawls while they wait for custom, others tell a long tale about their mother who made their goods and you suspect that they may have got them cheaply in Guatemala and brought them over the border.

The fabric and colour combinations are often pretty wild – a dark grey woollen shawl with fine pink silk embroidery and neon orange edging. No colour combinations are barred. It’s an abundant place which inspires invention for survival and celebration.


Traveling rugs

Travelling road shows

For over 30 years we have loaded our vans with tribal and village rugs, kilims, furniture, ceramics, gifts, textiles, and jewellery and set off from our Edinburgh warehouse to set up spectacular, authentic pop-up bazaars in private homes and venues around the UK. 2016 was no different
as we travelled down south to Rockfield House in Somerset for the first of our autumn road shows.

We then headed back up north to Kincardine Castle in Aboyne, and finally to Westfield House in Elgin. All three shows were a great success and, thanks to the efforts of our wonderful road show hosts, money was also raised for several deserving charities including Climate Stewards, Chase Africa and Children 1st.

These exhibitions present an enjoyable day out and an opportunity to acquire beautiful, practical, and elegant objects in a welcoming and relaxed home environment. Some of our organisers have been running shows for many years! We are always keen to hear from potential organisers who would be interested in hosting a show of their own. Please call or email us for further details.

Switching to Email

As part of The Nomads Tent’s commitment to minimise our carbon footprint, we would like to ask customers who would prefer to be contacted by email to send us their email addresses. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Our contact details are at the top of the front page.


Taj Mahal

Mughals by Rufus Reade

At a time when England was ruled by a small dynasty called the Tudors (and later the Stuarts), the Ottomans were expanding under such luminaries as Suleyman the Magnificent (though I prefer the Turkish version which is Suleyman the Lawgiver), and the Persians were about to create that fabulous city of Isfahan, much of India and modern day Pakistan were under the control of a family who have left us stunning buildings, many unrivalled in the four centuries since. Even their family name has passed into the English language to suggest ‘power’.

We might think of the Mughals as the builders of the Taj Mahal, but of course that great building was one of a series of experiments in form and space, usually set within a garden, and often by a riverside. Their builders used sandstone in the earlier versions, before graduating to inlaying that stone with marble, and only later with the tomb of Itmad Ud-Daulah and with the Taj Mahal relying on the glowing material from the Makrana marble quarries to clothe the whole structure.

So where does the story begin? Everyone has their own favourite starting place; you might want to start with Öljeitü mausoleum (erected 1302-1312 AD) in western Iran, which is vast and very, very impressive. It features one of the largest brick built domes in the world. You might want to look at Humayun’s tomb in Delhi (1569-70) which was once sited on the river bank, and is still enclosed by a large and peaceful garden, whose design is based on the ‘charbagh’.

Here the garden is divided by water channels into four (char). Humayun’s tomb is certainly the tomb of a great man but arguably it is not a pompous creation! There is something almost meditative about the space. Many people really adore the tomb (pictured here) of Itmad Ud-Daulah (died 1622) in Agra. It is a jewel-box covered in lovely decoration, set within the charbagh, and on the bank of the River Yamuna.

Along the Yamuna you come to the Taj Mahal (begun 1632) which dominates the river bank and forms the focus at the end of the charbagh. The decision not to locate the great tomb in the middle of the garden would have been quite revolutionary. As you walk the full length of the garden you see the tomb’s reflections in all the water channels, and pools. Rudyard Kipling saw the Taj Mahal as a young journalist and wrote: ‘the thing seemed full of sorrow – the sorrow of the man who built it for the woman he loved, and the sorrow of the workmen who died in the building – used up like cattle’. A few lines further on he says ‘Let those who scoff at overmuch enthusiasm look at the Taj and thenceforward be dumb’.

It’s time for this writer to lay down his pen. Rufus Reade runs his own tour company: this year he is taking groups to Crete, to Russian Karelia and to paint with Eleanor White in Romania. Get in touch with him at if you’d like more details.

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