[…] The turks are so frugal and think so little of the pleasures of eating that if they have bread and salt and some garlic or an onion, and a kind of sour milk […], which they call yoghoort, they ask for nothing more. They dilute this milk with very cold water and crumble bread into it and take it when they are very hot and thirsty. We often experienced great benefit from this drink in the extreme heat.

[…] For the Turks, when they are travelling, do not require hot food or meat. Their relishes are sour milk, cheese, prunes, pears, peaches, quinces, figs, raisins, and cornel-cherries, all of which are boiled in clean water and set out on large earthenware trays. Each man buys what takes his fancy, and eats the fruit as a relish with his bread, and when he has finished swallows the remaining juice by way of drink. Thus their food and drink costs them very little – so little that I dare say that a man of our country spends more on food in one day than a Turk in twelve. Even their formal banquets generally consist only of cakes and buns and sweets of other kinds, with numerous courses of rice, to which are added mutton and chicken.

[…] If there is a little honey or sugar in the water which they drink, they would not envy Jupiter his nectar.

[…] The turks were quite as much astonished at our manner of dress as we were at theirs. They wear long robes which reach almost to their ankles, and are not only more imposing but seem to add to their stature; our dress, on the other hand, is so short and tight that it discloses the form of the body, which would be better hidden, and is thus anything but becoming, and besides, for some reason or other, it takes away from a man’s height and gives him a stunned appearance.

[…] We often had to arise early, sometimes even before it was light … the result was that our Turkish guides were sometimes deceived by the brightness of the moon and waked us with a loud clamour soon after midnight; for the Turks have no hours to mark the time, just as they have no milestones to mark the distances. […] When they had tested us [and our clocks], once or twice and found they were not deceived they relied on us henceforward and expressed their admiration on the trustworthiness of our clocks.

[…] Those who hold the highest posts under the Sultan are very often the sons of shepherds and herdsmen, and, so far from being ashamed of their birth, they make it a subject of boasting, and the lesser they owe to their forefathers and to the accident of birth, the greater is the pride they feel.

The Turkish letters of Ogier Ghislain de Busbecq, around 1560, translated by Edward Seymour Forster, 1927

Ogier Ghislain de Busbecq (1522–1592) headed a Habsburg delegation that had been charged with negotiating an armistice with the Ottoman Empire. The humanist, diplomat and botanic stayed at Sultan Suleyman I’s court in Constantinople (Istanbul) from 1554 to 1562. He described his impressions about culture and everyday life in Turkish society in his “Turkish Letters”. His writings testify to an impartial, genuine and open-minded attitude. Ogier puchased 240 Ottoman and Arabic manuscripts, for which count among the special gems stored in the Austrian National Library. Having been given tulips, hyacinth bulbs and lilacs by the Sultan, he was the first one to bring them to Europe.



[…] Because the climate is delightful, the skin of the people of Vienna is as white as camphor and their limbs are so extraordinarily smooth, just as one’s earlobes.

[…] God made the breasts of the women in these territories unlike Turkish women’s teats, as they are not large hanging pendulous sandbags but small and hard as peaches. Despite this, they breastfeed their children.

[…] The girls do not cover their heads; however, they put on elaborative headdresses in order to prevent their black braids from becoming untidy; meshes of rings, reaching from their ears to their forehead, adorn their musk fragranced curls and, depending on their fortune, they might embellish them with pearls or German glass beads. These virgin girls will not expose their bosom as women will. They will not wear blazers but simple dresses made of clothes embroidered with gold.

[…] And because of the delightful water and air conditions in this country, all women are of beautiful stature and figure, with faces comparable to fairies, which makes them a pleasure to the eye. And everywhere, you shall see girls as fair and lovely as the sun’s gleam of burnished gold. They will enchant you as they move or gesture or speak.

[…] There was something rather peculiar to my eyes in this country: Every time the Emperor would meet a woman on the road, he would stop his horse and let the woman cross the road. And if he was walking by foot, he would also stop politely. Then, the woman would greet the Emperor and he would take off his hat and pay tribute to her. Only after the woman had passed, the Emperor would proceed on his path. A really strange custom. It is the women, who are in charge not only in this country, but in this entire realm of infidels. They are being respected and honoured in commemoration of Blessed Virgin Mary.

Evliyâ Çelebi, Book of Travels: Vienna 1665, translated from the German edition by Richard F. Kreutel, 1957


Evliyâ Çelebi (1611–after 1683). The writer and world traveller Evliyâ Çelebi came to visit Vienna as a member of Ottoman ambassador Kara Mehmed Pascha’s delegation in 1665. He recorded his impressions and experiences in his famous “Book of Travels”. In addition to its diplomatic duties, the delegation was charged with scouting Vienna’s fortified defensive structures. Evliyâ Çelebi was not only a scout but also a close observer of Vienna’s everyday culture. He described what he saw and how he perceived it in his “Book of Travels” in simple Turkish language, which even ordinary people would understand. Prioritising an enthralling narrative over exactness, he used exaggerations as a stylistic device.