Tag Archives: Mosques

City of the Whirling Dervishes

After several weeks in Alanya, it was once again time to head out again for our study tour, a weeklong trip as a group where we’ll be traveling through central Anatolia to Ankara. Since the last week was packed with midterms and papers, the study tour couldn’t have come at a better time. By the end of the week, I couldn’t wait to hit the road again.

We left Alanya early on Saturday morning, driving inland to our first destination: Konya.

Konya is a city of around 1 million people, located about a five hours drive inland from Antalya. Konya was historically the capital of the Seljuks, who ruled Anatolia before the Ottomans. Most famously, it is the home of the tomb of Jalaleddin Rumi, the famous 13th-century Sufi poet and mystic.

Rumi was born in 1207 in present-day Afghanistan. As a child, his family moved extensively throughout the Middle East before finally settling in Konya at the invitation of the Sultan of the Seljuks. In Konya, he attracted a great following as an accomplished professor in religious sciences at the largest theological school in the city. After his death, his followers formed the Mevlevi Sufi order to follow his teachings.

Today, Rumi’s poetry has been translated into countless languages, preaching its message of compassion and love. One of his most famous poems is his Seven Advice:

In generosity and helping others
be like the river.

In compassion and grace
be like the sun.

In concealing others’ faults
be like the night.

In anger and fury
be like the dead.

In modesty and humilty
be like the soil.

In tolerance
be like the ocean.

Either you appear as you are or
be as you appear.

With these words in our minds, we first visited Rumi’s tomb and museum. (The Turks know him as Mevlana.) The courtyard was unbelievably crowded with all kinds of tourists and pilgrims squeezing into the rooms.

Our next stop was the Karatay Museum, an old 13th-century madrasa that today houses a collection of tiles from the Seljuk period.

Afterwards, it was time for a çay and kahve break on the citadel! The citadel is this giant artificial hill in Konya, reportedly built from a tax that required everyone in the city to bring a bag of dirt to the center of the city. Today, the largest roundabout in the world encircles the hill.

We peeked inside the Alaeddin Mosque, which sits at the top of the hill. The mosque is built in the Seljuk-style, with a large square building built out of red stone.

Then we were in for a special treat. We visited a Dervish House, where one of the dervishes walked us through their ceremony and explained the basic tenets of Mevlana’s philosophy. We got to make our own attempts at becoming Whirling Dervishes ourselves!

Luckily, I got tons of video footage of them spinning around and bumping around as they attempted their own version of the meditative dance.

And after dinner, we got to see it done by professionals at the free show on Saturdays at the Konya Cultural Center.

It was so mesmerizing! I have no idea how they don’t get dizzy.

We then settled into our hotel for the night, exhausted from the day of travel.

“What you seek is seeking you.” – Rumi

The Little Pashas


As we’ve visited various mosques throughout the past week, we’ve spotted young boys dressed up in elaborate costumes like that of little pashas. The reason? The young boys are dressed up for the celebration of their sünnet, or circumcision ritual.

They have no idea…

In line with Islamic tradition, Turkish boys are circumcised between the ages of 7 and 10. Before the ritual, the boy is dressed in the satin uniform of a sergeant major, and his parents throw as lavish a celebration as they can afford. Relatives and friends proffer money to the young boy, and he gets to eat as many sweets as he wants on his special day. The young boy is also taken around to the most important mosques in the city.


When we were in Iznik, we saw about 10 cars drive by in the little street, honking their horns loudly in honor of a boy’s sünnet.

PC: Lindsay

PC: Lindsay

It’s currently the time of the year where they usually perform the sünnet, so we’ve seen these young boys almost everywhere we go. All hail the little pashas!

After a week in Istanbul, it was sadly time to pack up our suitcases once again for the next part of our trip. Somehow, we managed to pack up the little bus with all our luggage, even though they had accidentally sent us a smaller bus than we were supposed to have. (And for once in my life, I actually packed light compared to rest of the group!)


We then set off on our way to Iznik, a little town several hours out of Istanbul that is famous for its elaborately painted ceramic pottery. Once out of the city limits, the countryside surrounded Istanbul reminded me of California…


About halfway through the drive, I was incredibly excited to see our bus pull onto an auto ferry to cross the Madrasas Sea. I jumped out and ran up to the deck to take as many pictures as I could during our short journey. (On another note, I’m turning into my mom in this way—I’m definitely one of the most obnoxious photographers on this trip with my little blue camera.)

Eventually we reached Iznik, and it was quite evident that we weren’t in Istanbul anymore. Narrow streets crisscross the small buildings that make up the town; mothers and children enthusiastically greet each other as neighbors on the sidewalk.

First we visited the Iznik Ayasofya. While today it functions as a mosque, originally the site was used as a place of worship during the era of the Romans. In the 4th century, a church was built on the remains of the former temple, where Christians worshipped until it was converted into a mosque in 1331. Most notably, it was the location of the 7th Ecumenical Council at Nicea.

We then walked over to the local pottery workshop, where we were able to tour the small building where they create most of the works.

The shops for the ceramic workshop were located in an old madrasa, or school, that was the first one built by the Ottomans. Each of the shops were located in the little cells where the students used to study.

Random note: If you look closely at many pieces of Ottoman-era art, you’ll often notice that tulips are a popular design. Tulips are a common motif in Ottoman art, particularly because they resemble the Arabic word for Allah.

We piled back into the car to drive to Bursa, a large city of about 2 million people that is famous for its silk production. Immediately, it was noticeable that we were in a much more conservative area—our group had the only people we saw who were wearing shorts.

We visited the Ulucami Mosque, a gigantic building that was built early on by the Ottomans in 1399. Since it was a relatively early mosque, its architecture carries elements from the Seljuks as well as Ottomans.

The walls of the mosque were covered with beautiful Arabic calligraphy. There’s also a lovely fountain in the middle—the legend goes that when they were trying to build the mosque, an old Christian woman owned that plot of land. At first, she wouldn’t give up her land, but finally agreed to sell it as long as there wouldn’t be any praying on that plot—hence, the fountain in the center today.

After we exited the mosque, we stumbled upon a public performance of a group playing Ottoman-era music and dressed in the costumes of Ottoman Janissaries. In Ottoman times, the purpose of the music in war was to scare your enemies as well as inspire confidence in your troops. The Janissaries, in their elaborate uniforms, would march at the front playing such songs to let enemies know that the Ottomans were coming.


Lastly, we toured the old Koza Han, where they once housed merchants on the road but now sell all types of silk items for purchase. Hans or caravanserais were roadside inns where travelers could rest and recover from the day’s journey. Often, they were built around central courtyards, around a raised small mosque. Caravanserais supported the flow of commerce, information, and people across the network of trade routes throughout the Ottoman Empire and beyond.

In the evening, we settled into our hotel for the night. Tomorrow, we’re checking out again as we travel to Eskisehir!

Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople


For centuries, Istanbul has been a thriving cosmopolitan city. Its location spanning East and West allowed it to attract all sorts of people from different nationalities, backgrounds, and faiths. Famously, the Ottoman Empire welcomed the Jewish people after their expulsion from Spain in 1492. Larger numbers of Christians, mainly of Armenian and Greek backgrounds, also made their home in the diverse city. With this in mind, we began today with a question posed by one of our professors:

Today, what is diversity on the ground in Istanbul?

This can be a delicate subject in Turkey. In 1923, around 15% of the population of Istanbul was non-Muslims. Today, it’s more around 1%. While the population of Istanbul was also much smaller in 1923, there was also a huge shift in population after that time period.

And so, with diversity as our lens, we began our morning with a walking tour of the Fener and Balat Neighborhoods of Istanbul, where many of the Jews and Christians traditionally lived.

First, we visited the Church of St. George (Kathedrikós Naós tou Agíou Geōrgíou in Greek or Aya Yorgi in Turkish), which is the principal Greek Orthodox cathedral. Since roughly 1600, it has also been the seat of the senior patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church.

While the outside was fairly plain, the inside of the church was lavishly decorated—covered in gold and beautiful icons.

We then had time to walk through the neighborhoods.

Slowly, we made our way up the hill to the Chora Church, a beautiful old Byzantine church.


The interior of the museum is completely covered with elaborate mosaics and frescoes. Interestingly, the church contains many depictions of the Virgin Mary, such as the annunciation of Saint Anne, Mary’s early life, and other stories that focus on her as an individual.


Afterwards, we took the bus to the Eyüp Sultan Mosque. We got there right after Friday noon prayer was getting out, so it was incredibly busy.

The mosque was built in 1458 as the first mosque built by the Ottoman Turks after the conquest of Constantinople. The mosque is right next to the place where Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, the standard bearer of Muhammad, is supposedly buried in 670. As such, today the mosque also serves as a very important pilgrimage site for Muslims, particularly those from North Africa.

We shuffled with the crowd to peek inside the mosque as well as see the shrine. It was the first mosque we’ve visited that wasn’t a huge tourist destination, and it was interesting to actually experience the mosque with the worshippers.

Tonight is our last night in Istanbul, so we’re planning to go out and explore as much as much as we can before we leave tomorrow morning. Then, it’s on to Iznik and Bursa!