I first knew Konya in the grip of a freezing winter, so my memories of the city are always associated with icy pavements and blue icicles hanging from the eaves. I recall the green painted carved wooden spoons sold by elderly men whose beards smelt of musk oil, and my forgotten promise to buy them on my way back. But above all the city conjures up images of mausoleums adorned with blue or green tiles, and dervishes spinning in a trance to the captivating sound of the ney.
The Mevlevî dervishes had celebrated the night of Mevlânâ’s death in December, and now it was spring in the city. Colourful flowers brightened the parks and encircled the pools in the squares. A light breeze carried news of seeds germinating in the fertile soil of Konya Plain. The vineyards and orchards of Meram may have lost their former glories, but spring still seems to have some extra beauty there.
Most cities in Turkey have their famous vantage points, such as Sarayburnu (Seraglio Point) in Istanbul, Cankaya in Ankara and Yesil in Bursa, and although Konya is a flat city, it has its modest equivalent in Alaaddin Hill, which rises like a graceful throne above the rooftops. Crowning its summit is Alaaddin Mosque, built by the Seljuks when Konya was their capital. The ebony pulpit bears the date 1155, but the complex was not completed until 1221 during the reign of Alaaddin Keykubad I. This multi-columned mosque with a flat roof, domed area to the south decorated with tile mosaic and flat-ceilinged eyvan, has a beautiful pulpit and prayer niche.
Alaaddin Hill is not a natural feature, but a settlement mound where finds have been discovered dating back to the Middle Bronze Age. The earliest known settlement here was founded by the Hittites, who were succeeded by the Phrygians, Lydians, Persians, Kingdom of Cappadocia, and Romans before the Turkish Seljuks arrived. The rough circle 1.5-2 kilometers in radius having the hill as its central point is the historic nucleus of Konya, which the Romans called Iconium, deriving from the Greek word eikon meaning sacred image. The modern city, which began to expand in the 1960s, is laid out around broad streets and boulevards radiating out from this old quarter.
A wide boulevard runs eastwards from Alaaddin Hill as far as Mevlânâ Museum with its green-tiled conical roof, providing a clear view of the monument from a considerable distance. This is the mausoleum of Mevlânâ Celaleddin-i Rumî, constructed in 1274 by his son Sultan Veled. Mevlânâ’s mystic philosophy and poetry influenced people of all faiths and made Konya widely known throughout the world. Every year, over a million people visit his tomb, the symbol of Konya, and which today also serves as a museum and institute. The catafalque inside the mausoleum is an outstanding example of Seljuk period wood carving. Nearby is Selimiye Mosque, one of the finest monuments of Ottoman architecture and thought to be the work of the great 16th-century architect Sinan.
Another major monument is Karatay Medrese, once a leading educational institution, built in 1252 by the Seljuk Vizier Celaleddin Karatay. With its striking architecture, dome and ornate tiling, this building is a masterpiece reflecting the splendor of the Seljuk period.
Since 1955, the madrasa has housed the Museum of Tiles and Ceramics. Inceminareli Medrese, now home to the Museum of Stone and Wood Carving, was built in 1279 by Vizier Sahip Ata Fahrettin Ali for teaching the Hadith (traditions) of the Prophet. Between these two madrasa buildings lies the ten-hectare fairground, with its ponds, tea gardens, restaurants and exhibition halls, reminding visitors that modern Konya is a thriving industrial and commercial city as well as a historic and spiritual center.
Although Seljuk buildings are to be found almost everywhere in Anatolia, nowhere are there so many fine monuments from this period as in Konya and its environs. Sircali Medrese, decorated throughout with ceramic tiles, and Sahip Ata Mosque with its complex of tomb, han and hamam are among the most magnificent early Seljuk buildings in Turkey, both dating from the reign of Giyaseddin Keyhusrev.
Sitting on a bench in the Park opposite the Mausoleum of Semsi Tebrîzi -a friend from Konya told me more about this mystic who was the greatest inspiration in Mevlânâ’s life. Semsi Tebrîzi, who came from the Iranian city of Tabriz, influenced Mevlânâ to such a degree with his wise insights and exuberant love of God that his followers became jealous and secretly had Tebrîzi killed. My friend then declared that having had our fill of spiritual food it was time to eat, and invited me to a restaurant for the famous local specialty, etli ekmek, consisting of thin pide bread with a meat filling. A poem by Ceyhun Atuf Kansu recited by my friend left me with another image of Konya, imbued with its atmosphere of mysticism:
O friend, speak to me of Konya, tell me!
From wooden balconies where sultans reclined,
Many eyes looked out over the spreading plain,
Konya was a green ship of the afternoon,
Coming and going between life and death.