The history of Konya dates to at least the 8th century B.C.; some of the most important archaeological findings belonging to the earliest stationary civilizations known to man were discovered at nearby Çatalhöyük, while Hittite artifacts have been discovered in the regions east of Konya.
Known as Iconium during the Roman and Byzantine eras, the city was the location of one of the earliest church councils. After the Selçuk victory over the Byzantine army at Malazgirt (also called Manzikert) in 1071, the Selçuks migrated west, establishing a capital on Alaeddin Hill, and setting their sights on an empire that would rival Rome -- called the Sultanate of Rhum. Some of the foundations of this early Selçuk Empire are still standing on Alaeddin Hill, including the Selçuk Palace built for Sultan Kiliç Arslan II between 1156 and 1192, now for the most part a crumbled stone wall sheltered beneath a concrete tripod arch -- the unfortunate symbol of the city. The Alaeddin Mosque, also built during the reign of Alaeddin Keykubat, dates to 1221; note the minbar (pulpit) and the türbe, containing the remains of eight of the ruling Selçuk sultans. The Alaeddin Hill is also an attraction in itself, home to five lovely tea gardens.
At the opposite end of Alaeddin Caddesi and about a 10-minute walk is the Mevlana Müzesi (Mevlana Mah.; tel. 0332/351-1215; daily 9am-6pm, admission 2TL), the original tekke, or lodge, of the Mevlevi Dervishes. The complex was built by Beyazit II and Selim I successively at the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th centuries. The tekke includes a semahane, where the ritual sema, or whirling ceremony, takes place, a sadirvan for ritual ablutions, a library, living and teaching quarters, and the mausoleum housing the tomb of Celaleddin-i Rumi, founder of the sect and later awarded the honorable title of Mevlana. The mausoleum room is highly ornamented with Islamic script and enameled bas-relief, and contains the tombs of several of the more important figures of the dervish order. The main tomb enclosed behind a silver gate crafted in 1597 is that of Mevlana. The tomb of his father, Bahaeddin Veled, is upright and adjacent to his son's, a position that signifies respect.
The adjoining room, or the semihane, is now a museum of Mevlana memorabilia displaying musical instruments and robes belonging to Mevlana, along with Selçuk and Ottoman objects like gold-engraved Korans from the 13th century. Among the fabulous ancient prayer rugs is the most valuable silk carpet in the world.
As in all Muslim holy places, you must remove your shoes to visit the Mevlana Müzesi, but here the floor is bare parquet, so wear socks. Because overnight groups schedule their visits for first thing in the morning, you may want to stagger your visit to Konya by arriving here a little later. (The end of the day is a good time, as most tour buses have already left.)
On an overnight stay, there are several other sites in Konya worth a look. The Karatay Medrese, built during the reign of Sultan Keykavus II in 1251 by his Grand Vizier, Celaleddin Karatay, houses the Ceramic Museum (Alaattin Meydani; tel. 0332/351-1914; admission 3TL; daily 9am-noon and 1:30-5:30pm). The museum displays a small but noteworthy collection of faience with representations from the most important centers of early ceramic arts in Anatolia. Most impressive are the 13th-century Selçuk tiles, also employed to embellish the interior space. Notice the exterior portal (street side), typical of the restrained ornamentation of Selçuk architecture. The nearby Ince Minare is another fine example of the ornamental use of Selçuk tiles. Admission is 3TL; the minaret is open daily 9am to noon and 1:30 to 5:30pm. Next to the Mevlana Museum in the park is the stately Selimiye Mosque, a classic Ottoman building constructed between 1558 and 1587 when the future sultan Selim II was governor of Konya.
The "Whirling" Dervishes
The Mevlevi order of the dervishes arose in Turkey with the spreading of Islam and is based on the philosophies of Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi, who was born in Balkh, the first capital of the ancient Turkish territory of Khorasan (Afghanistan) in 1207. An invitation extended by Sultan Keykübad I to his father, a respected spiritual leader, brought Celaleddin to Konya at the age of 21, the -i Rumi being added upon his migration into the heart of the Selçuk Rum Empire.
The mystical order is based on the principles of universal love and the oneness of creation, which states, "to love man is to love God." While the concepts of the sect were set forth by Celaleddin-i Rumi (the Mevlana -- Arabic for "lord" -- was added to his name as a title of respect), the rites and rituals associated with the order were consolidated by his son, Sultan Veled ("sultan" here used to designate spiritual leadership). The Mevlevi philosophy eventually gained the respect of the Ottoman sultans, and Selim II, Mahmud II, and Mehmed V were among its members.
The Mevlevi ritual takes the form of the sema, a ritual "whirling" dance whose purpose is to create a sphere of divine reality. The Mevlevi believe that purity of heart, peace with self and the universe, and the search for perfection through ritual dance bring them closer to God. Although this and other brotherhoods were officially outlawed by Atatürk's sweeping reforms, the order continues to exist. The Konya order opens the ritual sema to a rare public viewing every December 17 in Konya, a celebratory gathering marking the death of Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi. The ceremony caps off a 2-week festival (shortened to 10 days in 2009) marked by a rich variety of cultural activities such as Sufi and other mystic music concerts, poetry readings, art exhibitions, and lessons in the sema. (For information, go to www.konyakultur.gov.tr.)
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