Capital of the Selçuk Empire for only a scarce hundred or so years, Konya, when not described as largely resembling Detroit, exhibits one of the country's richest architectural collections of mosques, baths, caravansaries, and medreses (seminaries). Home of one of Islam's greatest mystical movements, the Mevlana, or Sufi sect of "Whirling Dervishes," continues to find spiritual enlightenment through the sema, or ritual whirling dance.
Konya is also Turkey's most infamously religious province, so it's a rare hotel or restaurant that serves alcohol, and the mosque entryways turn into traffic jams at prayer time. But like Turkey itself, Konya is a city of contradictions. Although the reputed spiritual center of Turkey and one of the most conservative towns in Anatolia, Konya has the highest rate of consumption of alcohol of anywhere in the country. Rebellion takes many forms, and in a city with 50,000 students, it's in the lipstick and rouge and in skirts with slits as far up as the knee -- probably Konya's version of a pierced nose.
Most travelers come here to make a pilgrimage to the tomb of Mevlana, founder of the venerable Sufi sect of Islam that preaches love, charity, humility, equality, and tolerance, among other elemental principles. Members of the sect seek union with God through a meditative ceremony called the sema, a ritual whirling symbolizing the liberation from earthly bonds and a connection with the heavens. Ironically, all Sufi sects were banned by Atatürk in the 1920s in his far-reaching opposition to religious extremism. But Mevlana's ideals are hard to keep down, and in recent years Sufism has gained a popular following not only among Turks, but also internationally.
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