Istanbul: Past and Present from Allama Shibli’s Travelogue
“Safarnama-e-Roum-wa-Shaam-wa-Masr” of Allama Shibli is even today considered one of Urdu language’s classics. The journey to the Ottoman Empire covering parts of what is now Turkey, and parts of Syria and Egypt, was begun in 1892, by the legendary scholar, Allama Shibli Numani. This episode deals with a brief history of Istanbul and its present condition as witnessed by Allama Shibli during his sojourn of the historical city.
This is a continuation of Shibli’s description of the city of Constantinople and the sights and people he witnessed during his visit there in the 1890s. In this episode he speaks of the difference in the European part of the city and the Asian part. He is initially intrigued as to why the part called Galata is so clean and well-maintained whereas the part of the city occupied by Muslims is dirty and some streets are not even navigable. On enquiry he is informed that the Galata area is occupied by rich European traders who voluntarily pay high municipal taxes which ensures better facilities and cleaner streets. Shibli speaks of the bookshops in the city. He mentions that some shops are large and well-furnished where prices are fixed and, in contract, there are smaller shops lining the road selling books where prices need to be haggled. He also talks about Ottoman homes and the fact that these are very different from houses in India. Since these houses, big and small, are built of wood, they are vulnerable to catch fire, which is not uncommon in the city, he notes. On the weather in Constantinople, Shibli is very impressed and wonders why the rich folk in India frequent Simla and Nainital rather than come to Constantinople. He talks about the vast variety of fruit and their unsurpassable taste that are available in Constantinople. Shibli mentions about the dresses that he found the Turks wearing and comments that these are all European in style with some minor modifications. All religious groups wear the same dress which makes them indistinguishable from each other. Even the dress worn by the religious class has been influenced by European fashions, he notes. Among the things that distinguish this class from the rest is a white cloth they wind around the fez—called laffa in Arabic. Shibli’s account of the palaces in Constantinople and their beauty is juxtaposed with mention of the Sublime Porte and the offices of the police commissioner and the education department. He considers the latter buildings to be rather ordinary in appearance, but the orderly manner in which they are organized makes them a delightful sight, he adds. A separate section is devoted to describing Shibli’s opinion of the main mosques and women in Ottoman Turkey. SHOW LESS