The East has always been intriguingto the West. As the mysterious and mystical aspect of the East has been a topic of exploration for many fantasies, with the beginning of the 18th century many western archeologists, philologists, architects, tradesmen, missionaries and many other people from various fields of work travelled to the East. During the times when the East was powerful, the West’s interest was being shaped with fear and admiration. However, with the decline of the East, these feelings gave way to curiosity and a need for exploration. Many authors, painters and artists came to Istanbul during the 19th century when the relations between the Ottomans and the West were steadily developing. At the same time, Istanbul had become the starting point for many voyagers taking a journey to the East. The voyagers had initially met the mystical and mysterious East at the port of Istanbul. Hans Christian Andersen, the world-renowned fairy tale writer from Denmark, travels to the Ottoman Empire and shortly describes his first impressions of the city that he ponders from the ship as thus: “Istanbul, the Ottoman capital, is abundant in terms of trees. The city mostly has plane and cypress trees. The reason for this is because the Ottomans plant a plane tree once a child is born, and a cypress tree once there is a death in the family.” Let us talk about an interesting exhibition now that we have given a brief background. The exhibition “Journey to the Centre of the East”, which is being held at the Suna and Inan Kıraç Foundation Istanbul Research Institute, illustrates the Istanbulcentred story of the travellers’ journeys to the Eastern lands that begun during the 18th century. The exhibition co-curated by Ekrem Işın and Catherine Pinguet focuses on the cultural change of mass tourism and travels between the years of 1850 and 1950. As a part of the display, nearly 160 pieces, including photographs, postcards, posters, advertisements, booklets, restaurant menus and various objects, form the showcased collection of Pierre de Gigord – one of the world’s leading collectors of Ottoman-era photographs and ephemera. Gigord’s collection, which consists of visual objects reflecting the cultural and urban life of Ottoman Istanbul in particular, offers scenes from the final years of the Ottoman Empire as well as the initial years of the Turkish Republic. The exhibition book has been published in both Turkish and English. There are articles on the train journeys of Jean- Michel Belorgey, Sophie Bach, Timour Muhidine and Thierry Zarcone as well as the book choices of voyagers, and articles in relation to the identity of tourists and the European travellers’ interest in sects. The exhibition, which will be open until 17 October, can be visited at the Istanbul Research Institute, Monday through Saturday, between 10.00 – 19.00.
The exhibition “Journey to the Centre of the East” illustrates the Istanbul-centred story of the travellers’ journeys to the Eastern geographies that begun during the 18th century.