When, in the 1650s, the Ottoman traveler Evliya Çelebi set out to describe Sofia, the capital of the largest and most important of the Ottoman Empire’s European provinces, he devoted five pages – roughly half of the text – to the city’s relationship with the natural environment. In Evliya’s Sofia, built fabric and nature were engaged in a dynamic interplay, most clearly expressed in the city’s historic center which was dominated by a thermal spring and the numerous facilities and customs related to the use of the spring’s healing waters. Problematizing the narrative of ruin and decay that underpins the national discourse on the Ottoman period in Sofia’s history, this talk will explore the intersection of natural and man-made space, the area where environmental and social forces met to negotiate the physical contours of urban life and the cultural meanings of place.
Stefan Peychev is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at the University of Illinois. He is a historian of the Ottoman Empire, its successor states and the wider world, with research and teaching interests in environmental history, urban history, social history, travel, scientific exploration, and cultural encounter. He will graduate in May 2019.