On the Road to Mecca
The Ottoman Hajj caravan was known as the sürre, meaning "the imperial purse". Great ceremonies took place before the sultan in Topkapi Palace in the Ottoman capital Istanbul on the day of its departure. Pilgrims from Istanbul travelled across Turkey to Damascus, the official starting point of the Ottoman Hajj, where they were joined by pilgrims from across the empire and further east from Central Asia. The route from Damascus took 34 days. Along the way a network of forts protected pilgrims’ water supplies.
View of Istanbul (c. 1670, Ottoman Empire)
This detailed map of Istanbul shows the city, the Golden Horn, the lower Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, the Princes’ Islands and the Anatolian shore. Pilgrims leaving Beşiktas below Topkapi Palace (on the left) would go by boat to Üsküdar, shown here with its landing station projecting into the Bosphorus. Close by (not marked) is the Fountain of Departure where pilgrims would bid farewell to their loved ones. Evliya Çelebi describes Üsküdar as ‘in the territory of the Holy Land’. From here began the long road to Damascus. The map is a version of one drawn by the celebrated Ottoman cartographer Piri Reis (died around 1555). It is part of a series in a volume called Kitab-i bahriye (Book of Navigation).
The map is a version of one drawn by the celebrated Ottoman cartographer Piri Reis (died around 1555). It is part of a series in a volume called Kitab-i bahriye (Book of Navigation).
The procession of the sürre caravan, Tableau Général de l‘Empire Ottoman. (1787, Paris)
The departure of the sürre caravan took place with great ceremony in Topkapi Palace before the Ottoman sultan. Here we see the caravan preparing to cross the Bosphorus from Beşiktas to Üsküdar on the Asian side. It is headed by the usher who organised the procession. He is followed by key functionaries, including the Captain of the sürre (far right), who was responsible for organising the Hajj itself. A camel carries the mahmal. A reserve camel follows. These camels were purely ceremonial and did not travel with the rest to Mecca. There are musicians, entertainers and mules bearing gifts. The Tableau Général was written by Ignace Mouradgea d’Ohsson, an Armenian banker living in Istanbul. Lavishly illustrated, it describes the history and customs of the Ottomans.
More about the Ottoman journey
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An Ottoman Hajj banner (1683, North Africa)
On Hajj groups of pilgrims would often carry banners. This red silk banner was carried from North Africa by members of the Qadiriyya order founded by the 12th century mystic ‘Abd al-Qader al-Gailani. It is decorated with typical designs and floral patterns from Ottoman art and in style it is similar to an Ottoman war banner. The Qur’anic text on the two-bladed sword is from the chapter of Victory (Qur’an 48 - al-Fath: 1-3).
The inscriptions in the central square, in the North African style of script known as maghribi, confirm its use on Hajj. It includes the words: "Were it not for him [the Prophet] there would be no pilgrimage and no place of pebbles; were it not for him there would be no circumambulation; neither man nor jinn would have come to Safa to drink from Zamzam".
The Road to Mecca (1672): engraving by Gaspar Bouttats after Jan Peeters
This imaginary scene depicts a Hajj camel caravan proceeding from Istanbul and about to approach the holy cities. Peeters was one of a number of Flemish artists interested in depicting Middle Eastern locations drawn from fantasy or inspired by prints, in what was a growing taste for the exotic. The principal locations are marked in Dutch.
A. The burial place of Muhammad
B. The place of ritual cleansing
C. Mosque where one performs the prayer of thankfulness
D. Caravan coming from Constantinople.
This engraving is from a collection of fourteen etchings, Views from Arabia, Judea, Chaldea, Syria, Jerusalem, Antiochia, Aleppo, Mecca etc.
Costumes Turcs (1790, Paris)
Taken from Costumes Turcs, this group of watercolour paintings represents Turkish men and women in the costume worn when going to the Mosque at Mecca, in addition to images of mules bearing gifts such as a Qur’an and coin. Some of these drawings appear as engravings in d’Hosson’s Tableau Général de l’Empire Ottoman 1787.