Tag Archives: Sufism

On the Silk Road

We hit the road again this morning to travel to Cappadocia, the picturesque region of Central Anatolia. As we settled into the ride, I once again found myself curled up with Anna Karenina, amusing myself with the randomness of my iPod’s shuffle.

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So flat!

Our journey followed the very same path that thousands of merchants once traveled along the Silk Road. Along the way, we stopped at the Sultanhan Karavansaray, which is the largest and grandest caravanserai of the Seljuks. Alaattin Keykubat built the caravanserai originally in 1229, where it once served as a lodging and trading post for merchants who traveled from all across the world to seek profit on the Silk Road. The caravanserai itself consists of two sections: a large open courtyard for summer and a huge indoor cavern for winter.

We then visited Hacıbektaş, a small town in the Nevşehir Province in Cappadocia. Notably, the town has a large Alevi population, members of a religious group that combines Anatolian folk Shi’ism with Sufi elements. In Turkey, they have faced a history of long oppression under the Sunni majority.

The town gets its name from Haci Bektasi Veli, a prominent Turkish-Muslim Sufi thinker who lived from 1248-1337. Similar in many ways to Rumi, his system of thought is based on tolerance, peace, love, and equality. His tomb is located near the center of town in his former monastery, which now serves as a museum and a site of pilgrimage for Alevi and Bektashi from throughout Turkey.

We also got to see a traditional dance of the Alevis.

The chair and table where Ataturk sat for tea when he came to visit the town, now on display in the town's cultural center

The chair and table where Ataturk sat for tea when he came to visit the town, now on display in the town’s cultural center.

The theater of the performance

The theater of the performance

As the sun was setting, we stopped in the pottery town of Avanos. The town sits near the banks of the Kızılırmak, the longest river in Turkey, whose red clay has been the raw material of pottery for centuries. We visited a local pottery shop, whose workshops had been steadily producing pottery pieces by the same family since 1843.

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Looks almost straight out of the American Southwest.

By the time we drove into Ürgüp, it was dark. Only the bus’s headlights gave glimpses of the eerie rock monuments that define the landscape of Cappadocia. The rest would have to wait until the next day… by hot air balloon.

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