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Dervishes A-Whirling in Turkey's Capital of Conservatism

August 15-16

From quiet Egirdir, we took a bus 240km east to Konya, a trip of about four hours. During the bus ride, we caught many glimpses of traditional, rural Turkish life, especially at the bus stops in the small country towns along the way. The further east you travel in rural Turkey, the more traditional and less westernized things become. Suddenly, women in headscarves and long skirts and blouses become the majority of women on the street. Unscarved, modern-dressed women can still be seen, but they're definitely a minority. The men are all dressed quite properly, too, with nice wool pants, button-up shirts and often vests and traditional wool hats. We wish we would have hopped out of the bus and snapped some photos to capture these rural images, but as usual, we didn't want to offend anybody or look like dumb tourists, so we didn't.

As our bus drove east, we were traveling into the heart of the Turkish breadbasket, a vast stretch of the Anatolian Steppe where wheat and other grains are grown on massive farms. The scenery here is less spectacular than in many other parts of the country. It actually resembles the North American Midwest in many ways, with its vast plains of dry grass and wheat fields and little else but the occasional scrub bush or rock outcropping.

Men in Park

Men on bench in Mevlana Park

Fountain in Mevlana Park

Fountain in Mevlana Park (Mevlana Museum behind)

We were both very surprised by the sprawling mass of Konya as we descended out of the hills above the city. It certainly looks bigger than its population of 610,000 would suggest. A few tall, modern buildings near the city center are surrounded by a vast sea of smaller modern structures, speckled with the occasional old 12th century Seljuk building. Everywhere we looked, the tall, pointed minarets of mosques large and small pierced the skyline from horizon to horizon, our first hint that we were entering one of Turkey's most conservative big cities. This became even more apparent as we arrived in the city itself -- again traditionally-clad, well-covered women (a few even covered head-to-toe in fundamentalist full black robes) were the rule, with few exceptions. Welcome to the land of God-fearing, conservative muslims. Having read up on Konya in advance, we both dressed appropriately to avoid upsetting any of the locals. I wore my one pair of nice pants with a polo shirt and shoes (no sandals that day!), and Jen wore a full skirt and a shirt which covered her shoulders. We still expected to get a lot of stares (not many foreigners in Konya), but our plan apparently worked -- everybody treated us with traditional Turkish friendliness, and nobody cast any evil eyes upon us during our stay here.

Whirling Dervishes

Whirling Dervishes in action! (or at least, Whirling Mannequins in action)

Konya has a remarkable history. In fact, the oldest known human community every found, from about 6800 BC, has been excavated just south of the city. Konya was also the capital of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum. But Konya today is most famous because of its Mevlana Museum. The museum is located in the former lodge of the Whirling Dervishes, the famous religious order founded by Celaleddin Rumi ("Mevlana") in the 13th century. Mevlana was one of Islam's greatest poets and philosophers. The Whirling Dervishes are so named because of their traditional dance. Dressed in long white robes (representing their death shrouds), a tall red hat (representing their tombstones), and a black coat (representing their tombs), the Dervishes dance to chanting and drumming in a constant, whirling motion. By whirling in this symbolic way, the Dervishes eventually reach a mystical union with God. Unfortunately, this old dance is only performed once a year, so we weren't able to watch a performance. We did, however, see some pictures of the Whirling Dervishes in action at the Mevlana Museum, along with some pretty lifeline mannequin Dervishes frozen in the "dance."

From Konya, we moved on to one of Turkey's most outstanding destinations, the lunar landscape of Cappadocia...

Back to Turkey pg 7 On to Turkey pg 9! 

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