The whirls of Konya

One of the first places I wanted to go to in Turkey after Istanbul was without any doubt Konya. My family had been bugging me about it ever since they learned I was moving to Turkey and personally, I was as excited as them to be able to go there. Konya is the birthplace of the sema, the Whirling Dervishes, which is a Sufi ceremony performed for the purpose to be one with God, the reason why I wanted to visit in the first place. It even features on the UNESCO’s third Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. It’s no wonder really that as soon as the opportunity presented itself, I packed my bags and on my way I was.

The sema ceremony in Konya
The sema ceremony in Konya

With the recent improvements in the Turkish transport system, it is now possible take a high-speed train from Ankara to Konya, costing around 20 TL and taking a bit less than two hours.

Our first stop was, of course, for food. We were starving by the time we reached Konya. We wanted some typical Konyan food, so one of our friends who was being our guide for the day to us to eat some etli ekmek, a metre long thin Turkish pizza-like bread with meat as topping accompanied with spicy şalgam suyu, juice made from black carrot, which was quite a good combination to be honest although I don’t think I’m having any of it any time soon.

A foot long pizza? Yes please!
A foot long pizza? Yes please!

After having stuffed ourselves enough, we rented some bikes to go around the city – exercise was definitely needed at that point. If you want to rent bikes, make sure you are registered in advance. All you need is a credit card. You can read more about it here. If you’re unsure about biking, which I have to say, is quite safe in Konya, you can use the tram and the bus – tickets can be usually bought at the tram or bus stops.

We headed to one of the most famous icons in Konya, the Alaeddin Cammo. The mosque had been built on a citadel also bearing the name Alaeddin, that of the sultan reigning at the time. Originally a Christian basilica, it was converted into a mosque when it was conquered, as was the custom at the time. Incorporating Byzantine and Roman architecture as well as Seljuk architecture, its walls represent the very rich history of the city. From the top, you also get an impressive view of the city, and on a good day, many people can be found chilling in the gardens.

Original structure of the mosque
Original structure of the mosque
The mosque built in the 10th centure is still standing, with some help.
The mosque built in the 10th centure is still standing, with some help.
Entrance to the Alaeddin Cami
Entrance to the Alaeddin Cami

My favourite place in Konya however was the Aziziye Cami. Restorated in the 19th century after having been destroyed in a fire, it incorporates both baroque and traditional Ottoman architecture. It was funny to hear our friend/guide describe it as being of Gothic style. Apparently it’s not the most popular place with the locals here in Konya but I loved it.  Just a note by, most of the places you’d be visiting in Turkey are going to be holy places so shorts are not allowed and women may be asked to cover their head and shoulders as well as wear a skirt, available at the entrance. Shoes may also have to be taken off.

Refined carving on the walls everywhere
Refined carving on the walls everywhere
As impressive inside as outside
As impressive inside as outside
Entrance to the gothic-style mosque
Entrance to the gothic-style mosque

The Mevlana Museum, the must-go-to place in Konya and the reason most tourists come to Konya was our next stop. Being such a busy place, we chose to walk rather than try and cycle our way through the crowds. It is the mausoleum of Calaeddin Rumi, the “Mevlana” who is the founding father of the sema, now an iconic symbol of Turkey. It is considered quite a holy place for Muslims and usually many will be seen near his tomb, praying for his help. As you go away from the mausoleum, you come across a calligraphy room with different displays on. There also are other rooms portraying the life of Mevlana at the time.

Entrance to the Mausoleum
Entrance to the Mausoleum
The Quran, in calligraphic style
The Quran, in calligraphic style
The wishing fountain, spare a kuruş for your dream
The wishing fountain, spare a kuruş for your dream

We were spending the night at the family of the colleague of my friend’s boss (this is how it’s done in Turkey), which was making me quite nervous since my Turkish was still embarrassingly dreadful although I was more scared about offending anyone. We got picked up from the museum to go to the house for dinner. This was my first time at a Turkish home and I swear, I was quite overwhelmed at the welcome we received. Turkish hospitality is definitely something out of this world. The wife of our host kept putting dish after dish on the table and wasn’t satisfied until we had tasted everything – homemade Turkish food is definitely the best.

After dinner, we got ready to go watched the sema ceremony at the Mevlana Culture Centre. There is a performance every Saturday evening at 8 pm, which is why weekends are the busiest in Konya as most people plan their trip accordingly so they can attend the performance. While there is no need to book in advance, I’d highly recommend going early to get good seats. We were quite lucky as our host worked at the centre so we got to see behind the scenes as well and to meet the semazen, sema perfomers.

Spying on the semazen
Spying on the semazen – apologies for the blurry picture.

The ceremony must have lasted over an hour and was definitely different from the experience that you’d get watching it at one of the hip cafes of Istanbul. It started with the recitation of verses from the Quran, after which the semazen guided us through the whole performance.

Breakfast the next day was quite a different fancy affair from the assortment of fresh cheese and olives to the vegetable and egg dishes, all washed down with tea. After breakfast, we made a stop at the local market especially to see the black carrots everyone had been mentioning. I had quite a conversation with the fishmonger which made me realise that my Turkish wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. I just needed proper motivation.

Yup, they exist.
Yup, they exist.

We then headed to the War of the Independence Memorial, which as well as being a memorial of all the soliders who fought in the war provided a recount of the daily life of Turks during the war through miniature models.

IMG_4327
Impressive carvings on the wooden pillars.
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And the details on the openings…
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Elegant is the word.

We also went to the mosque and tomb of Şemsi Tebrizi, the teacher and companion of Mevlana, located just a few minutes away from Alaeddin Cami. Whilst there is no evidence really that it is indeed him who lies there, the devout still come to pay their respects and pray.

We were driven to one of the traditional bakeries, which even now make bread in stone ovens and got ourselves some to bring back to Ankara. It was quite fun to speak to the ladies there who explained the whole process of bread-making.

Fresh bread out of te
Fresh bread out of te

We were also taken to one of the old districts of Konya where there still are Ottoman houses and again had some lovely etli ekmek for lunch.

Ottoman neighbourhood, a typical sight in any Turkish city under Ottoman influence
Ottoman neighbourhood, a typical sight in any Turkish city under Ottoman influence
More etli ekmek!
More etli ekmek
Making etli ekmek. A long table is key.
Making etli ekmek. A long table is key.

We met up with our friend/guide again and chilled in the gardens of the Alaeddin Cami until it was time to take the train back to Ankara. Due to limited time, we couldn’t have time to visit the museums and other places of interests in Konya. We’ll leave that for next time.

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6 thoughts on “The whirls of Konya”

  1. I would so love to see the Whirling Dervishes. When I was in Turkey, they wanted to organise a trip to see them. But as luck would have it, the entire group came down with food poisoning – except for me (!) – and the trip was cancelled !!

    1. How?! I think this is one of the must-sees in Turkey. Many restaurants have performances in Istanbul but I’d definitely recommend assisting the whole ceremony in Konya. It’s such a different experience.

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