5 Best Things To Do In Konya
by Cherish Broker
If you’re looking for a unique travel experience in the heart of Turkey, Konya is the perfect destination you’ve probably never heard of. One of the oldest continually inhabited cities in Turkey, Konya is the birthplace of the Whirling Dervishes, has a bustling student community, and happens to be one of my favorite cities in a country full of incredible places to see.
Konya is historically more conservative than someplace like Istanbul and, if you’re looking to party, you’ll be hard pressed to find alcohol in this city. I found in Turkey that most of my expenses were covering meals and nights out, so Konya ended up being great for my budget. Plus, all of the attractions I visited around town were also free! If you’re traveling on a tight budget, Konya has a lot to offer for a very low price.
See the Whirling Dervishes
Perhaps Konya’s most popular attraction is the Whirling Dervishes. These men are Sufi practitioners of the Mevlevi order and their most famous spiritual practice is performed during a Sema ceremony. It takes place in a special hall, called a Semahane, which has a circular stage at the center of rows of seats. The Sema begins with the incredibly beautiful singing of scriptures in Arabic before the dervishes appear. Each dervish wears a flowing white skirt and matching jacket, with a tall camel-felt cap on his head. They stand motionless, their arms tightly wrapped around themselves. Then, as the practice begins, they unfurl one by one, and are set into motion until the whole group is spinning in circles, their arms raised with one palm pointed up towards heaven and the other down towards the Earth.
I’ve never seen anything like it and it’s hard to describe what it felt like to watch; the dervishes reminded me of flowers blooming and then falling. Walking out of the sema ceremony as the sun set and the muezzin began to sing out into the night, I was blissed out. I can’t recommend it highly enough as a completely unique and unmissable cultural experience. In the summertime you can catch a sema performance at 5:30 pm on Thursdays in the courtyard of the Mevlana Museum, at 7:30 pm on Saturdays at the Mevlana Cultural Center, and at 3:30 pm on Sundays at the Konya Culture House. As an added bonus, the performances are all free of cost!
Visit Rumi’s Tomb and the Mevlana Museum
The famous Sufi poet, Jalal ad-Din Rumi, is entombed in Konya. His mausoleum is encased in a shining green tower which stands out against the city’s central skyline. Because this is a holy place, and one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in Turkey, you have to dress appropriately. No shorts or tank tops and women have to wear scarves over their heads. Before entering you slip a pair of plastic booties over your shoes to protect the floors and then enter the Hall of Dervishes. There are 66 tombs in the hall, belonging to various important members of the Mevlevi Order. Each coffin is covered in embroidered fabric and a cap sits at its head, denoting, by size and complexity, what their role in the order was. Rumi’s tomb is set a little apart from the others, although his son, Sultan Veled, has his tomb close by. The wall behind it is colorfully tiled with Arabic inscriptions and bright patterns.
The Hall of Dervishes opens into a semahane which, when the complex was still an active dervish lodge, would have been where Whirling Dervish Sema ceremonies would have taken place. Now it’s been converted into the Mevlana Museum. The old semahane now contains artifacts and relics related to Islam and to the history of Sufism and Rumi himself. Along the outer building, you can learn about how a dervish lodge was run and see snapshots of what life was like and what the responsibilities were for the different members of these religious communities. The whole complex is carefully maintained and has beautiful architecture. The museum and Rumi’s mausoleum are free of charge as well and when you’ve finished you can pop over to the magnificent Selimiye Mosque next door!
Get a massage at the local hamam
It’s no secret I love baths, whether it’s the sulfur baths of Tbilisi or the mud bath in Ortahisar, I go out of my way to find the local bathing spots. In Turkey, that’s a hamam. They’re typically split by gender, so men and women bathe separately. You wrap yourself up in a towel and then head into the steamy marble room where you pour bowls of hot water over yourself and lounge on the heated marble, listening to the women around you chatting in Turkish. I have visited hamams all over Turkey and Konya holds the title in my heart for “Best Hamam Experience.” For around $12 I was bathed, exfoliated, massaged, and the woman even washed my hair. I left the hamam pink-cheeked and relaxed, had some tea with the staff, and wandered off. 10/10 would return.
Enjoy some nargile at the Teras Cafe
The Teras Cafe, overlooks the city center and the Mevlana Museum. Its eclectic, dervish-themed decor is fun and unique with an atmosphere made complete by chill music and stylish lighting. My partner and I spent hours lounging there as we planned the next leg of our trip, relaxing with coffees, smoking nargile (hookah), and playing chess. We actually extended our trip by a couple of days because we were enjoying this cafe and its staff so much. It’s a perfect place to unwind after a day of sightseeing.
Check out the Archeological Museum
In a country full of archeological museums, the Konya museum is on the small side, but it’s free and I can never turn down a trip to the museum. Their collection features examples of ancient pottery, amphora, and statuary, but the real gem was an expertly carved marble sarcophagus, one of the best I’ve ever seen, which shows each of the feats of Hercules.