“There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled. There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled. You feel it, don’t you?”
If you’ve ever been touched by the words of Rumi, you owe it to yourself to visit his home. Though not his birthplace, Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi spent the last 50 years of his life in Konya and left an indelible imprint on the tapestry of Turkey. The more popular city of Istanbul will show you a modern, bustling city characteristic of the country’s future. But, a trip to Konya will take you to a rich past where the Seljuk Empire was once seated. It will leave the party-goers and outdoor enthusiasts unsated, but will satisfy the lovers of history, architecture, and spirituality. If you can join the international caravan paying homage to the mystic poet, here’s how to maximize a day in the illustrious city.
Start your day cuddled closely to the center of your pilgrimage by choosing a hotel within walking distance of the city’s cultural center. Hich Hotel is a favorite amongst travelers, but Garra Hotel is a more budget-friendly option if you don’t mind walking a bit. Visit the Mevlana Museum just as it opens to avoid the flood of visitors pouring in daily. See artifacts from the early Ottoman Empire, peer into the rooms of Konya’s past, and stroll in the gardens surrounding Rumi’s mausoleum and former community lodge. Refresh yourself with fresh squeezed orange juice at the café and head towards the Selimiye Camii mosque for a peek or as a backdrop for great pictures.
If artifacts, architecture, and sarcophagi are your interests, head towards Alaadin Tepesi to visit the Ince Minari Museum and Karatay Mederesi Museum. If time allows, head northward to the Konya Archaeological Museum which is highly recommended.
If nature and interaction with the present are more your cup of tea, take a taxi to Selçuklu to enjoy the modern side of Konya and witness the breadth of Turkey’s seventh largest city. Konya’s newest attraction, Konya Tropikal Kelebek Bahçesi, is the country’s first and Europe’s largest Butterfly Sanctuary. At a steamy, fixed temperature of 25oC/77oF, you can pretend you’re at Malaysia’s Penang Butterfly Farm which served as the design template and consulting team for Konya’s version.
If you’re traveling as a family, have an innate interest science, or just want some good brain fuel, continue to Konya Bilim Merkezi. This modern science center, located near the Konya Airport, has activities and displays to stimulate and titillate young and old alike. Be sure to check out the planetarium presentation and mini-mosque models in the front garden.
Hunger should be fast approaching, so retrace your steps to the Mevlana Museum and notice the two-story traditional home turned restaurant overlooking it. Mevlevi Sofrasi boasts a menu of dishes unique to Konya, authentically prepared and hospitably served. Vegetarians should take note that the city’s most popular dishes are centered around meat, so if you want to eat more than salad and bread, request mercimek çorbası or lentil soup. This staple Turkish offering should be easy to find, as well as a variety of appetizing desserts.
If you happen to be in Konya on a Saturday, you’ll notice herds of tourists walking to the Mevlana Cultural Center for an evening lecture at 7pm, followed by a traditional sema ceremony that most refer to as the whirling dervishes. Whether for entertainment or enlightenment, many are drawn to attending the sema to better understand the iconic image associated with Turkey, generally, and Rumi, specifically. This free event attracts many visitors, so it’s advised to go early if you want a good view.
When planning your visit to Konya, consider that it is one of Turkey’s most conservative cities, so modest, loose clothing is advised. Mosques that are open to the public will often ask guests to remove their shoes before entering or offer guests disposable, plastic shoe coverings to wear during tours. Headscarves for women would be respectful but may not be required for entry.