The Great Anatolian Ride: a journey on horseback through northwest Turkey
The Great Anatolian Ride is a horseback itinerary through northwest Turkey that follows, as closely as possible, the early stages of the final journey of the adventurous seventeenth-century Ottoman Turkish traveller Evliya Çelebi. After a lifetime spent wandering the world - from Vienna to Sudan, from the steppes of Muscovy to the deserts of north Africa - Evliya set out from Istanbul in 1671 to make the pilgrimage to Mecca that is required of all Muslims. He never returned to the city of his birth, but spent his last years in Egypt, composing and recomposing the 10-volume travelogue - the Book of Travels - that is the account of his farflung travels.
Evliya Çelebi was born in Istanbul in 1611, and 2011 has been proclaimed the year of Evliya Çelebi by UNESCO in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of this event, and in recognition of his extraordinary achievements.
In Fall 2009 a group of riders set out to trace part of Evliya's 1671 route from Istanbul to the western Turkey town of Simav. They covered some 800 miles in 6 weeks, pausing as they went to compare their experiences with Evliya's, and to talk to local horsefolk about the days before tractors, when most villagers and farmers relied on horses in their work and travel. This expedition will result in a guidebook to Evliya's route and a documentary film, both to appear in 2011.
The Great Anatolian Ride sets out from the village of Soğuksu, south of the Marmara Sea - riding through the urban sprawl of Istanbul is no longer to be recommended, and we must pick up Evliya's route in gentler surroundings. From Soğuksu we head south through dramatic landscapes and across varied terrains, zig-zagging east and west from our main direction of travel as he himself did. The Ride will end short of Simav, in the historic city of Kütahya, which as well as its many monuments from medieval and later times, is Evliya's ancestral home.
The countryside of northwest Turkey is wide open - unlike the countryside of most of Europe or North America. There are few fences or walls to restrict your movement, and you are enthusiastically welcomed as you go by, rather than being unceremoniously chased away. This is part of the immense attraction of riding in this region. We will pass through many towns and villages on our journey, visiting sites that Evliya records in his Book of Travels. We will have a chance to meet the people who make their living from the land, far from the bustle of the ever-growing cities of Turkey, as well as see the unique stone and wooden architecture of the region. We make our journey in the weeks around harvest time, and will find most villagers in their fields and orchards preparing for the busy period ahead - they are sure to share with us the fruits and other produce that form the basis of the rural economy.
The Great Anatolian Ride is a completely new route for riders (and walkers) that has been established as a result of the exploratory journey made in 2009. We hope that you will enjoy travelling it as much as we did!
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