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KONYA

Last resting place of the Mevlana                     Population: 1,250,000

kony1Old names: Rum, İconium

Festival: Mevlana celebrations take place in week leading up to 17 December (Şeb-i Arus, the Wedding Day)

Yes, Konya is conservative in the sense that alcohol is thin on the ground, but, no, that doesn’t mean you should leave it off your itinerary since it’s one of the best places in Turkey to take the pulse of the consituency that has returned the AKP government to power three times in a row.

This is a town with a venerable history but whose glory days came in the Middle Ages when, as the capital of the Selçuk kingdom of Rum, it was the single most important town in what is now Turkey outside of what was then Constantinople (İstanbul). The two most important monuments to survive from this period are the famous tomb of Mevlana and the Alaadin Cami where some of the Selçuk rulers are buried within sight of what was their palace.

Selçuk junkies will also want to visit the İnce Minare, Sahib-i Ata and Sırcalı Medresesi museums, all housed in magnificent buildings dating back to Selçuk times. Of the palace on the slopes of Alaatin Tepesi (hill) only scant remains survive although a dig currently underway should reveal more.

Konya is known for its sweets, especially pişmaniye, a candy-floss-like offering that makes a good gift for Turkish friends.

This being a town with such strong religious leanings you won’t be surprised to stumble upon shops whose entire stock consists of dates, the fruit with which the Prophet Mohammed used to break his fasts. Hacıbey Hurmacı near the Vilayet goes one better, offering chewy Kahramanmaraş-style ice cream studded with dates, the perfect cooler after a sticky day’s sightseeing.

Don’t leave town without trying: etliekmek, a local, and larger variation of the flat bread and meat sauce staple lahmacun without the garlic, and fırın kebab, delicious, melt-in-your-mouth pieces of lamb served on a bed of soft pide bread with the juices soaking into it

kony2Shrine of Mevlana
Of all Turkey’s iconic buildings, the stunning turquoise-domed tekke (lodge) housing the shrine to Celaleddin Rumi - better known to the world as Mevlana - must surely be one of the most striking. Who has not seen pictures of the place where Mevlana was buried beside his father and son? Built mainly in the late 15th/early 16th century, the famous lodge is now called the Mevlana Museum, a legacy of Atatürk’s banning of the dervish orders in 1925.

However, it’s still a very active place of worship, and pilgrims still gather in their thousands to pray in front of the gorgeous beturbanned tomb of Mevlana, which sits in the space beneath the turquoise dome.

For the less religiously-inclined there are also other things to see here, including an Ottoman semahane where the whirling dervishes would have performed their practices and that now houses a small museum displaying clothing and other items associated with the great man. A second room has now been converted into a prayer area.

Recent years have seen great steps being made to improve the way the shrine is presented to visitors with the addition of a glorious rose garden (full of tulips in spring) that encourages visitors to spread themselves out, thus reducing some of the bottlenecks.  

200 DSC04927A project to open up more of the surrounding courtyard has also been completed and visitors can now not only admire the tableaux and artworks inside the dervish cells surrounding it but also visit the kitchens that played a central role in dervish rituals.

In line with the best ideas on modern museum presentation, the grounds also have a stylish new café and gift shop which stocks a guidebook written in decent English. Finally, a visit to the site is greatly enhanced by an excellent audioguide that can be picked up at the ticket desk.

Around town

A visit to the shrine may be the main reason for coming to Konya, but there are plenty of other interesting historical sights to see around town, and you could easily spend a couple of days here. Most of the sights are to be found either along Mevlana/Alaettin Caddesi, which runs from the shrine to Alaettin Tepesi (Aladdin’s Hill), or around the hill itself.

Best time to visit: Many tulips (lale) are grown around Çumra, south of Konya, and then despatched to İstanbul for the Tulip Festival every April. At that time Konya too succumbs to tulip fever, with the slopes of Alaadin Tepesi thickly carpeted in flowers just as the horse chestnut and Judas trees also come into blossom. As soon as the tulips are over the roses flower, making May almost as good a time for a visit. Of course if you want to see the traditional celebrations for Mevlana's wedding night (in other words, his death) you will need to visit in December when there are no flowers at all to be seen. 

Particularly worth a visit are the two small museums near the hill. The  İnce Minare Medresesi (closed Mondays) on the west side of the hill is conspicuous for its truncated minaret which was struck by lightning in 1901 and the florid Selçuk carvings around its doorway. Inside, it contains some interesting stonework from the old Selçuk castle that make it plain that the ban on images of living things was not originally enforced in this part of the world.

The Tile Museum (closed Mondays) in the nearby Karatay Medresesi showcases tiles saved from the ruined Selçuk palace of Kubadabad on the shores of Lake Beyşehir. It was closed for restoration in May 2015.

200 DSC05373Alaettin Tepesi makes a great place to stop for a glass of tea and a look at the map.

Here, too, you will find the superb early 13th-century Alaettin Cami built with a long, thin prayer hall rather like the mosques of Damascus where its architect had grown up.  It’s named after Alaettin Keykubad I who was Sultan of Rum from 1219 to 1231, and who is buried inside the mosque along with Alparslan (1029-1072), the mighty Selçuk leader who defeated the Byzantines at Manzikert in 1071. Much of the mosque complex was closed for restoration in May 2015.

Not far away stand the scant remains of a palace built for Sultan Kılıç Arslan (1092-1107) that i200 DSC05385s currently being excavated by archaeologists.

It takes a little wandering around the back streets to find the Sırçalı Medresesi (Crystal Seminary), with spectacular blue tiles adorning one wall of the courtyard; it’s worth the risk of getting lost just to see them.

The Archaeology Museum (closed Mondays), is even further to walk and stands inside the grounds of the Sahib-i Ata Külliyesi (mosque complex), which has a minaret built into its gateway. This is the place to come if you’re planning a trip to nearby Çatalhöyük since it houses some of the finds from this extraordinary Neolithic settlement (the best are in Ankara’s Museum of Anatolian Civilizations). The collection of sarcophagi includes a magnificent model depicting the Labours of Hercules with the hero gradually aging as he works his way round its sides.

200 DSC05002Just round the corner is the new and lovely Sahib-i Ata Hanigah Museum (closed Mondays) housed in an exquisite space tiled in glorious cobalt and containing a selection of carpets taken from local mosques including the Alaadin Cami as well as a number of gorgeous wooden preaching chairs brought here from the superb Eşrefoğlu Cami at Beyşehir in the Turkish Lake District.

Few old houses survive to help you imagine what an older Konya would have looked like. Belatedly the Ottoman houses of Mengüç and Sokullu Mehmet Paşa streets between the bazaar and the local bus station have been restored to pleasing effect.200 DSC05212

Given the reverence in which Mevlana was held it’s hardly surprising that Konya is one of the few towns in central Anatolia to boast fine mosques built in Ottoman times. The most obvious of these is the Sultan Selim Cami right beside the shrine, an imposing structure, completed in 1574, that stands comparison with some of the finest mosques in İstanbul.

Also dating from this relatively early Ottoman period is the Şerafeddin Cami, midway down Mevlana Caddesi that was completely rebuilt in 1636.

Slightly harder to locate is the Aziziye Cami in the bustling shopping area south of the shrine. This was built for Sultan Abdülaziz in 1867 and exemplifies the frilly baroque style then all the rage in the capital.

kony3In 1925 Atatürk banned the dervish orders as part of his fast-track modernisation of the country. That Konya remained a significant town is evidenced by the fine early Republican buildings clustered around the Vilayet on Mevlana Caddesi, one of them, the post office, a pleasing minor example of First National Architecture, one of whose great glories is the Büyük Postane (Main Post Office) in İstanbul’s Sirkeci district.

The entire bazaar area has recently been renovated. For the time being it looks a bit Toytownish but will no doubt soon bed down nicely. In the middle of the bazaar is the impressively porticoed Kapı Cami, built in 1658.

Those less interested in the past might like to look for the striking new Bilim Merkezi (Science Centre) although it's remote location is a considerable drawback. Bus No 44 from Mevlana Caddesi takes an hour to get there through endless dreary suburbs. 

Heading for the railway station you might like to take a quick look at the huge statue of Atatürk, known simply as the Anıt (Monument) by everyone. It was the second statue of him to be erected in Turkey after the one at Sarayburnu and the architect was the same man, Heinrich Krippel.

To catch a glimpse of Turkey at play you should jump into any dolmuş heading along Meram Yeni Yol (New Road) and get out at the Meram Köprüsü (Bridge) which a stone-built bridge possibly dating back to Selçuk times forms the focal point for a collection of tea houses and family entertainment facilities much loved by the locals. 

Sleeping
Konya has lots of hotels catering for most budgets so except during the Mevlana Festival in December you should be able to find somewhere to stay. Most of it is fairly uninteresting although the Hich, Dervish and Augustus hotels have finally brought the idea of boutique offerings here.

Augustus Hotel. Tel: 0332-320 6835

Dedeman Konya

Konya's take on a local hotel chain is out on the road heading for Sille. It's the place to come if you want four-star comforts and don't mind not being in the heart of the action.

Tel: 0332-221 6600

Derviş Otel

Hich Hotel Konya

Hilton Garden Inn. Tel: 0332-221 6000

Hotel Anı & Şems

Hotel Balıkçılar

Hotel Ney

Hotel Rumi

Hotel Ulusan

Long-time backpacker's favourite in a great location just off Mevlana Caddesi behind the post office. Rooms are small but spotless and Ali Ulusan could hardly be a more enthusiastic host.

Tel: 0332-351 5004

Rixos Konya. Tel: 0332-221 500

kony4Sultan Selim CamiTravel info

Konya (KYA) airport lies to the south-east of the city and there are daily flights to Konya from İstanbul.

Konya’s Space Age-looking otogar is connected to the city centre by a tram just a short walk away outside. In 2015 it was being extended down Mevlana Caddesi to pass closer to the best hotels. Even with the tram you should assume it will take at least 45 minutes to get from the town centre to the otogar. 

Fairly regular bus services link the city with AntalyaNevşehir in Cappadocia, and Isparta in the Lake District.

Buses to nearby towns including Karapınar and Karaman leave from the Karatay Otogar which is within walking distance of the Mevlana shrine. Those to Beyşehir leave from the main otogar. 

The train station is in the centre of Konya although not near the historic sites. There are daily services to İstanbul as well as high-speed link to Ankara via Polatlı and to İstanbul via Eskişehir.

Many local bus services leave from midway along Mevlana Caddesi or from Alaadin, the area at the end of the road near the Alaadin Tepesi. You need to buy a ticket or renewable ElKart before boarding. 

Konya's dolmuşes are very user-friendly since you can still pay in cash on board. Many, including the one to the otogar, leave from the junction of Aziziye and Piroğlu Caddesis

Day trip destinations

Beyşehir

Çatalhöyük

Karaman

Karapınar

Kilistra

Obruk

Seydişehir

Sille

Sultanhanı

Zazadın Hanı

Read more: http://www.todayszaman.com/newsDetail_getNewsById.action?load=detay&newsId=257075&link=257075

Read more about the Konya of the Mevlana's days: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-230034-konya-in-the-footsteps-of-rumi.html

kony6Dates (hurma) are a popular purchase in Konya

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