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With its turquoise-domed mosques, wise Mevlevi dervishes and old ruins, Konya is an Anatolian city that whispers softly of love and holy faith.
Konya, which grew up around Alaeddin Tepesi, a hill which has been a center of settlement since antiquity, draws hundreds of thousands of tourists each year not only as the home of Çatalhöyük, one of the first settlements in the history of mankind, but also for its many türbes, medreses, fountains and mosques representing the finest examples of Seljuk and Ottoman architecture and, most of all, for its Mevlânâ Museum. Influenced by Mevlânâ’s teachings, which can be summed us in his words, “Come, whoever you are, come...”, large numbers of foreigners also live in the city, having decided to spend the rest of their lives here. The date 17 December is very important for Konya, which is regarded as the center of Mevlevî teaching, the essence of which is love of God and man. For Mevlânâ, the date of whose death on 17 December 1273 in Konya is known as the ‘Şeb-i Arus’ or ‘Wedding Night’, is remembered here every year in a series of week-long activities. This year for the first time, the commemoration ceremonies, which include whirling performances, talks, panel discussions and concerts of mystical music, will be spread over two weeks from 1 to 17 December.
THE FANTASTIC EAST
To acquaint ourselves with Konya’s historical heritage, our first stop is the Karatay Medrese. Aka the Karatay Museum of Tiles, this medrese from 1251 on Alaeddin Hill is one of the masterpieces of medieval Turkish art for its architecture which reflects the harmony of cut stone and glazed bricks, and for its tiled dome and rich ornamentation. The road from the Karatay Medrese to the Mevlânâ Dervish Lodge passes by the Government House to emerge onto the avenue where Konya’s oldest market is located. And having a photograph taken in front of the splendid
16-segment dome of the Kubbe-i Hadra, known as ‘the greenest dome’ for its turquoise tiles, is a veritable tourist ritual. As one wanders in the courtyard of the museum, which was the rose garden of the Seljuk palace in medieval times, the heavenly scented roses make Mevlânâ’s world of love palpable to visitors. And the Mevlânâ Dervish Lodge, in which talking is frowned upon, is perhaps the most moving museum you will have seen up to now with its air of utter tranquility. Exhibited here in the mausoleum, besides the graves of the dervishes, are historic Kurans, manuscripts, inscriptions, authentic instruments used in the whirling ceremonies, dervish costumes and the personal effects of Mevlânâ.
Known as the Mevlânâ quarter, the historic quarter behind the museum recalls the image of the fantastic East, which draws one into its dream world with its mausoleums, minarets and fountains on the one hand and its stone mansions, antique dealers, antiquarian booksellers, herbalists, carpet dealers and authentic restaurants and coffeehouses on the other. Most of the restored stone mansions in this quarter have been taken over for courses in calligraphy, tiles, paper marbling and manuscript illumination. Nor does it comes as any surprise that such courses are widespread in Konya, which has been a capital of the Islamic arts of decoration for centuries.
THE MODERN FACE OF THE STEPPE
Afra, the largest shopping mall and entertainment venue in the city center, is the symbol of modern Konya. Bicycle and motorcycle are the most common modes of transportation in the city center after the tram. Zafer Caddesi, famous for the Slender Minareted Medrese, which gleams like an old-time jewel in the center of the city, is the city’s youthful, Western face. The Narghileh Coffeehouse in the Ottoman Market, which serves guests in an historic balconied mansion with rooms opening onto a spacious courtyard, latticed windows and antique furnishings, is a number-one address with tourists. And parallel to Zafer Caddesi, Form Boulevard is crammed not only with shops selling chic, brand-name products but also with cafés and, especially, patisseries. The fairgrounds, reminiscent of an island of green in the city center, is a giant promenade with a pond, exhibition galleries, a culture center, an amusement park, cafés, and gift shops. The fairground exit opens onto Alaeddin Tepesi. Climbed by stone steps, this hill is the highest point in the city, which sits in the middle of a flat plain. North of the hill, the Alaeddin Mosque is one of the oldest places of worship in Anatolian Seljuk architecture. The figure of the double-headed eagle which turns up almost everywhere you go in the city is actually the military coat of arms of the Seljuk State, which had its capital at Konya in the Middle Ages. And one of the most elegant Seljuk structures in the city is the medrese that gives its name to Sırçalı Caddesi. Konya, which earned its reputation as a center of art and scholarship in the 12th century, is of course not merely a city of mosques and religious colleges. The Church of Saint Paul in the city center attracts both the Muslims and the Christians in the region for its magnificent gothic style.
The traditional Konya houses in the quarter of Akçeşme, a five-minute walk from Selimiye Mosque, are like a secret concealed behind thick courtyard walls along narrow, winding streets reminiscent of a labyrinth. The thick mud-brick walls with stone arches of these houses with their single-panel wooden doors are plastered with earth. The most conspicuous details of the houses are the wrought iron lattices at their windows. Besides discovering its historical and cultural richness and natural beauty, one can also turn a visit to Konya into a gourmet adventure: traditional Konya dishes like okra soup, lamb tandoor, savory Mevlânâ pastry, ‘tirit’, the pizza-like ‘bread with meat’, oven-baked kebab, ‘arapaşı’ soup, meat-stuffed vine leaves and ‘hoşmerim’ can all be enjoyed to the accompaniment of Sufi music, which isn’t at all hard to find in the city center.
The Archaeological and Ethnographical Museums on Larende Caddesi are tailor-made for those eager to discover the city’s chronology. There are also multiple alternatives for enriching your Konya trip with excursions into the environs. Believe me, you are going to leave Konya with a lot of secrets. As that prominent figure of Turkish literature Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar says: “Like the steppe, Konya has a mysterious beauty peculiar unto itself.”