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71 - "I saw many people, no clothes on..."

TURKEY | Thursday, 6 December 2012 | Views [1031]

Turkey - Konya - detail of the entrance to the Slender Minaret Medrese

Turkey - Konya - detail of the entrance to the Slender Minaret Medrese

"Nice dress, I saw no people inside".  This is a saying from Mevlana Jelaleddin, who crystallized the beliefs of Sufism centuries ago.  And of course, it is even more relevant these days with the polarised consumer societies that we live in.  Konya is the centre of Sufism as it was the place where the Mevlana taught and as a consequence, a school was started there and Mevlana and other Sufi "saints" are also buried there.  Today, there is also a very interesting museum in the same complex which has a detailed exhibition on the life and practices of Sufis.  The land of the complex was originally granted by the Seljuk king and the tomb of Mevlana is under a beautiful turquoise conical dome. 

Sufis are of course most well known for their whirling dervishes.  Sufis believe in the oneness of all beings, that we all come from the same source.  The whirling is part of a multi-step religious ceremony that is believed to enhance the "oneness" concept, and not a dance or special skill performed for public exhibition.  The ceremony I saw had a small group of music performers using traditional woodwind and string instruments and a separate team of seven dervishes.  They sat in a centre square space and the tourists sat on benches around them. 

The ceremony started with a melodic chant by one of the music performers, with the dervishes sitting quietly on their knees with their eyes closed.  Then the dervishes rose and started to slowly circle around the square space.  As they circled, they also started whirling slowly and gradually more quickly, lifting their arms into the standard pose of one hand pointing to the sky and the other pointing to the ground.  The ceremony consisted of each whirling Sufi having whirled around each side of the space.   When I watched the ceremony a few days ago, they told us firmly that photographs weren't allowed at any time during the ceremony.  

Sufis who intend to dedicate their life to the faith enter the school as a novice and must complete a prescribed program, part of which includes training on whirling.  The novices apparently train on a wooden board until they can master turning on the balls of the feet.  The music performed during the whirling ceremony is not unlike Gregorian chants and has a very calming effect. Sufis seem to be gentle people and lack the zealousness of the more mainstream Sunni or Shia Muslims. 

In addition to the Mevlana complex, Konya has a number of other historical sights.  Ones of particular beauty or historical interest are the Karatay Medrese, the Seminary of the Slender Minaret, the Sircali Medrese and the Archaelogical Museum.  All of them are old Islamic schools.  The Karatay Medrese has particularly beautiful Iznik blue tiles on its inside dome and supports whereas the Sircali Medrese, although damaged by now, still retains sections of interesting dark and light blue Seljuk patterned brick work.  The Seminary of the Slender Minaret is known for its tall and thin minaret which has now been reduce to one-third of its original height because of earthquakes.  It has a beautifully carved entrance which manages to convey both robustness and delicacy at the same time.  The Archaelogical Museum has several intricately carved old Roman sacrophagi and remains of Catalhoyuk, a Neolithic city close to Konya.  Findings at the city revealed that people buried their familes underneath their simple dwellings.

Konya just has so much to offer and I am sorry I only had less than a full day there.  Basically I covered everything in around 4 hours which was just one mad rush.  Konya is not sophisticated or grand like Istanbul (and it seems more conservative than Istanbul but less so than Kayseri - most women cover their heads and wear below-knee length coats in Kayseri), but it does have a treasure trove of sights that is worth a full day's visit and a night's stay.   I stayed at the Dedeman Hotel, a Turkish chain of hotels.  Smart business hotel with very large well-furnished rooms and professional service.  Best part of it is that it is opposite a big shopping mall, so I got my first glimpse of a Turkish hypermarket and "everyday shopping".

PS.  Konya's culinary specialty is "pide", a type of pizza.  I first tried it in Kayseri where it was not well-executed (over thick crust).  Proper Konya pide should have very thin and slightly chewy crust.  They are in an oval "eye-like" shape, normally with the sides folded in (perhaps to stop the cheese and other toppings from falling out).  Pide should be baked inside a wood-fired oven. Toppings can include minced lamb, cheese, spinach etc.



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