Turkey: Pre-trip reading and viewing suggestions

Textile Reading

Flowers of Silk and Gold: Four Centuries of Ottoman Embroidery by Sumru Belger Krody.  The author examines the practice of the intricate art of embroidery which united the various ethnic and religious groups of the empire under a single aesthetic and gave rise to the flowers of silk and gold that still enchant our imagination.

Iznik: The Artistry of Ottoman Ceramics (2005) by Walter B Denny   Iznik Ceramics are one of the best-known and most internationally renowned Islamic art forms. Covering both Iznik pièces de forme and the famous Iznik tiles that decorate Ottoman imperial monuments, the book integrates the entire spectrum of Iznik production, both tiles and wares, and the broader artistic tradition in which it originated. The book showcases the array of motifs used on Iznik wares, looks at the relationship between non-Moslem communities and the Ottoman empire, and closes with an examination of the rich stylistic heritage that Iznik ceramics have given to Western art. 

Koekboya: Natural Dyes and Textiles : a Colour Journey from Turkey to India and beyond by Harald Böhmer, Charllotte Kwon,  Recep Karadağ, Nevin Enez.  A comprehensive resource on natural dyes.

Ottoman Embroidery by Marianne Ellis, Jennifer Wearden.  One of the Victoria and Albert Museum textile series, showcasing stunning pieces from the museum’s extensive collection. Dating from the mid-16th to the early 20th century, such common household items as napkins, towels, kerchiefs, and trousers have become exotic with age. This 500-year-old style of embroidery is still practiced today by a few skilled artisans.

Studies in the history of textiles in Turkey by Halil Inalcik.  This epic work chronicles the development of the Turkish textile industry all the way from its world dominance in the 16th century, to its decline with the beginning of the European Industrial Revolution, before it re-emerged once again onto the world stage in the 1960s. Adorned with intricate paintings and maps, this book is a product of 50 years of academic work, and presents a scholarly picture of Anatolia’s ancient textile tradition through to the modern day. 

The Art of Turkish Weaving: Designs Through the Ages by Nevber GürsuOriginally published: 1988

The Fabric of Life: Textiles from the Middle East and Central Asia by Fahmida Suleman.   Explores the significance and beauty of textiles from across the Middle East, Turkey, and Central Asia. This vast region has been the focus of population movements, exploration, and trade for thousands of years and is home to a wealth of textile traditions

Turkish embroidery by Pauline Johnstone. Fine embroidery, whether made at home or professionally, played a major part in life in Ottoman Turkey over several centuries. The great variety of pieces in everyday use is illustrated by examples from the Victoria & Albert Museum’s large collection. An introductory essay describes how the embroideries were used


General Reading

A Strangeness in my Mind by Orhan Pamuk (Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006). Illustrates four decades of 20th Century Istanbul through the eyes of an Anatolian street hawker. Also by Orhan Pamuk: Black Book (fiction), My Name is Red (fiction), Istanbul: Memories and the City (non-fiction), The Museum of Innocence (fiction).

Birds without wings by Louis de Bernieres.  The author of Captain Correli’s Mandolin covers the Turkish-Greek population exchange.

In Turkey I am beautiful by Brendan Shanahan.  ‘A portrait of a country and a people on the edge, posing eternal questions about friendship, identity and how many carpets one man can possibly need.’  I personally found it to be an easy, beautifully descriptive and fascinating read –  insightful and often amusing.  

Last train to Istanbul by Asye Kulin.  A novel  portraying the attempts of Turkish diplomats to save Jewish families from the Nazis.  Farewell is set during the era of Allied occupation after WW1.

Portrait of a Turkish Family by Irfan Orga. Autobiographical and set during the late Ottoman/early Republican era and describes the collapse of his well-to-do Istanbullu family.    And by the same author, The Caravan Moves On offers a glimpse into rural life in the 1950s as Orga travels with nomads in the Taurus mountains.

The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Safak. The magical realist’s tale of Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan. Elif Safak is a Turkish-American writer and academic who writes about the issues confronting modern Turkey as well as its historical richness.  Other titles include:  The Bastard of Istanbul, The Forty Rules of Love and The Three Daughters of Eve.

The Jannisary Tree by Jason Goodwin.  First in the Yashim series about a eunuch detective in 19th century Istanbul.

Turkey:  A short history by Norman Stone.  A succinct and pacey wrap-up of the crucial events and personalities of Turkey’s long history.

Turkish Awakening by Alev Scott.  Turkish-British writer’s personal discovery of modern Turkey.

Turkey: What everyone needs to know by Andrew Finkel.  Istanbul-based journalist explores the ins and outs of Turkish culture, society and politics

Twice a Stranger by Bruce Clark.  An investigation of the Greek-Turkish population exchanges of the 1920’s.  Analysing background events and interviewing those who were transported, Clark shines new light on the two country’s fraught relationship.



Innocence of Memories (2015): Documentary about author, Orhan Pamuk (see publications above).  In 2012, Pamuk opened a museum based on his novel, ‘The Museum of Innocence’ displaying the ephemera of everyday life.

Muhtesem Yuzyil (literally Magnificent Century): a sumptuous TV series (historical fiction) based on the life and court of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent (the longest-reigning Sultan of the Ottoman empire) and his wife Hurrem Sultan.  

Mustang (2015): Turkish-French film about orphaned sisters in a remote village.

Once upon a Time in Anatolia (2011): Night-time search for a corpse on the steppe.

The Cut (2014): Drama by Turkish-German director Fatih Akin, set during the Armenian tragedy of 1915.

The Water Diviner:  Directed and acted by Russell Crowe:  Set and shot in Turkey.  

Winter Sleep (2014): Poignant character study in snowy Anatolia


Note: The above list is by no means exhaustive.  If you’d like to recommend a book or movie that you’ve enjoyed or found informative and inspiring, please email us at retreatrecreate@gmail.com