We’ve decided to stop off for a couple of days in the culturally significant city of Konya, Turkey’s 7th-largest with a population of 2 million. Inhabited since 3,000 BC, Konya is best known for being the final resting place of the Sufi mystic Rumi (Mevlana), whose tomb is now an important pilgrimmage site. With a reputation for being one of the more religiously conservative places in Turkey, it is as a result substantially more difficult to find a decent drink, which, after enduring the six hour bus ride from Goreme, was high up on our agenda of things to do when we arrive!
With plenty of lovely parks, mosques and old tombs scattered throughout the city, Konya is an attractive place to visit. Kültür Park is one place well worth strolling through with its picturesque gardens and the Hacıveyiszade Mosque sitting in as a useful backdrop to the water fountains in front of it.
Alaadin Hill Park is another place worth seeking out where you enjoy the serenity whilst contemplating the history associated with this part of the city. At the top of the hill is Alaadin Mosque which is the city’s oldest, largest and most important mosque. Built in the early 12th century AD, the mosque contains recycled marble columns from previous Roman and Byzantine buildings and has octagonal Seljuk tombs containing numerous Sultans in the front courtyard.
At the foot of the hill is the Stone Works Museum of Fine Minaret which is also called İnce Minare Taş Eserler Müzesi. This beautiful museum has some amazing pieces of Islamic architecture well worth admiring.
From Alaadin Hill Park it’s only a short walk to two of the highlights of Konya. Sitting in front of the exit of the Mevalana Museum is the Selimiye Mosque which was built during the Ottoman era in the 16th century AD. Despite the temporary fences that surrounded it due to a recently held rally that day, it was still a beaufiful sight.
Which takes us to the undoubted highlight of any trip to Konya, a visit to the Mevlana Museum. Also known as the Green Mausoleum or Green Dome, the Museum houses the mausoleum of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi who was a Persian Sufi mystic known as Mevlana, as well as being the original lodge of the Mevlevi Whirling Dervishes.
Born in either Afghanistan or Tajikistan over 800 years ago Rumi’s ecstatic poems have transcended time and borders with millions of copies of his works being sold in recent years making him the most popular poet in the United States and possibly the world. Rumi was originally a traditional Muslim preacher and scholar, like his father and grandfather before him, but his life changed when he met the wandering mystic known as Shams of Tabrizhad. His instense relationship with Shams transformed Rumi into a Sufi ascetic and following the murder of Shams, Rumi went on to write over 3,000 love songs to Shams, the prophet Muhammad and Allah. It was during these years, up until his death, that Rumi began incorporating poetry, music and dance into religious practice, whirling whilst he was meditating and composing poetry.
Upon Rumi’s death, his followers and son founded the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, which became famous for the Sufi ceremonial dance known as the Sama. The cultural importance of the Sama is such that in 2008, UNESCO inscribed the Mevlevi Sama Ceremony on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The ceremony is supposed to take place after a fast of several hours, when the whirlers begin to rotate on their left feet in short twists, using the right foot to drive their bodies around the left foot (the whirling) whilst keeping their eyes open but unfocused so that images become blurred and flowing. While whirling, arms are left open with the right directed to the sky, ready to receive God's beneficence whilst the left hand, upon which the eyes are fastened, is turned toward the earth. The aim of this physically active form of meditation is to reach the source of all perfection through abandoning one's personal desires by listening to the music and focusing on God.
Contrary to some popular belief, Sufism is not a sect but rather an an aspect or dimension of Islam. Comprising about 5% of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims, its practices involving sama and the use of music in religious practise is, however, considered heretical by the stricter Salafi/Wahabbi sects.
As a result of secularization policies, all mevlevihane in Turkey were closed in 1925. Performances were allowed, strictly in public only from the 1950’s and it wasn’t until the 1990’s that restrictions were significantly eased. Whilst the majority of practises are now being performed for tourists, the Mevlana Cultural Center 700 metres down the road from the Mausoleum, continues to be one of the few places that have remained true to the original Sama. Free performances are held every Saturday at 7pm.
After visiting the fascinating Museum, I was free to wander through the streets of Konya back to our accommodation where Veronica was holed up with yet another sprained ankle/dodgy achilles. It wasn’t lost on me that even if she chose to be a long term adherrent of Sufism, her whirling career would always be one beset with set backs.
While not seeing nearly enough of Konya that we had wished to, time stands still for no one and it was time to move on to a completely different part of Turkey and one where we’d be embraing the sun, sea and sand of the country Mediterranean coast.