Dive into the rich history of Sufism and Anatolia, in a city dedicated to the memory of a great poet and theologian.
By Marzena Romanowska
The history of Konya, an Anatolian settlement known in the ancient times as Iconium, goes back more than a millennium. Visiting today, one might wonder if anything happened here before Mevlana, the Sufi poet, theologian, and mystic more commonly known around the world as Rumi. One of the largest cities in Turkey, and a key location for Islamic mysticism, Konya is all about highlighting that spiritual connection. So it’s no surprise that on the anniversary of the scholar’s death, December 17, pilgrims and curious onlookers flock to Konya to be a part of the Night of Union ceremony. However, the destination is just as attractive (and quieter) during the rest of the year.
There is no better place to begin sightseeing in Konya than Mevlana Museum. It is centrally located, easy to find, and sets the right tone for the rest of your tour. The complex itself consists of two parts: the museum, established in spaces formerly occupied by a dervish lodge, and Mevlana’s türbe (a tomb or mausoleum, similar to a shrine), along with sarcophagi of the area’s most notable Islamic scholars and Mevlana’s ancestors. The striking colors of the türbe’s turkuaz faience dome is Konya’s focal point that can be seen from many locations around town.
In addition to the displays of mevlevi artifacts, several rooms in the museum were restored to reflect their former state and purpose. Visitors can see how dervishes used to live during the Middle Ages, and listen to the sounds of traditional instruments. All exhibition spaces are connected to a spacious yard where kids run around and weary travelers rest. The ambience inside the mausoleum is very different. The praying area is separated from the part open to all visitors, but even there one can see visitors contemplating Mevlana’s teachings and meditating.
Pretty much everything else that you need to see within Konya is located within walking distance from the museum. Cutting through the historical center of the city, Mevlana Caddesi connects the museum square with Alaaddin Tepesi (Aladdin’s Hill), which serves as the city’s biggest park and panoramic viewpoint. Also, for a taste of local culture and craftsmanship, one does not need to search very far. Formerly known as the Women Bazaar, Melike Hatun Çarşısı, located mere minutes from Mevlana Museum, is where locals do their grocery shopping. Gourmets will find fine examples of the so-called “green cheese” (Konya küflü tulum), a regional delicacy boasting a very distinctive taste and emerald color that tops all kinds of local dishes. If an extra kilogram in your luggage is a no-go, make sure to try it on a pide at Şendağlı Etliekmek, Mevlana Civarı No. 69/C. For delivery to your hotel, call (0332) 353 03 92.
Located on the outskirts of Konya, the Tropical Butterfly Garden is another must-see if you have transportation at your disposal. Claiming to be the biggest venue of its kind in Europe, the place has recreated a tropical climate to ensure an optimal environment for its butterflies, including exotic plants and birds. There is also an outstanding collection of insects displayed in its exhibition section. Although neither directly connected to the city’s spiritual tradition, nor to flora and fauna of Turkey, the place provides an unforgettable experience for adults and children alike. İsmail Kaya Caddesi No. 244, Bünyamin Sokak; T: (0332) 211 11 20.
Searching for the perfect souvenir in Konya usually takes visitors in two directions, though both are rooted in central Anatolian crafts. The first is closely related to Sufi tradition, where music performed using the traditional ney flute plays an important role in daily life and religious practices. Although the instrument is easy to find, only a few workshops in Konya cultivate its production by hand. To learn more about the history and purchase an original piece, contact craftsman Mr Yusuf Dönmez at +90 535 246 23 62 or visit his atelier in Cüretkar Sokak No. 9, Selçuklu, Konya.
The other direction takes you on a more contemporary route and revolves around felt production. Although currently disappearing, this traditional art form arrived from Central Asia in the eleventh century and slowly transformed into more a practical craft. Today, felt bags, wallets, scarves, and other accessories are made by hand and sold at Ikonium Atelier, Bostan Çelebi Sokak No.12.
Getting to and from Konya
Daily flights from and to Istanbul operate several times a day from Istanbul, making international connections to various cities in the Middle East as easy as possible. There are also two daily connections via high-speed train departing from Pendik station on the Anatolian side. The journey takes approximately 4.5 hours.
Getting around town
Konya is a mid-size city with tram and bus lines connecting all tourist attractions. City bikes are a great alternative for a short-distance commute, with the first 30 minutes of use free of charge, and pick up/drop off stations located in all strategic points. If you’re getting around by car, keep in mind that in tourist areas parking fees apply—although compared to Istanbul, they are relatively low.
Islamic religious sites are open for regular services during the day, therefore certain visiting restrictions may apply. During prayer times, the biggest mosques tend to be very crowded. Mevlana Museum is accessible free of charge, as are the mosques and türbe.
Where to stay
Preferred by local and international business travelers, Novotel Konya is one of the best equipped accommodation options in the area. The hotel is located approximately a 15 minute drive from the city center, and offers high standard of accommodation. Attracting mainly pilgrims, numerous boutique hotels are located within walking distance from Mevlana Museum and are particularly popular during the December 17 celebrations of Mevlana (Şeb-i Arus), so booking in advance is crucial. There aren’t many places to stay outside of Konya, so if your travels include Anatolian villages you will still want to come back to the city for the night.