Galata Mevlevihanesi & Sema (Whirling Dervishes)

If you thought the Hare Krishnas or the Harlem congregations were the only religious orders to celebrate their faith through music and movement, think again. Those sultans of spiritual spin known as the ‘whirling dervishes’ have been twirling their way to a higher plane ever since the 13th century and show no sign of slowing down soon. The Mevlevi tarika (order), founded in Konya during the 13th century, flourished throughout the Ottoman Empire. Like several other orders, the Mevlevis stressed the unity of humankind before God regardless of creed. Taking their name from the great Sufi mystic and poet, Celaleddin Rumi (1207–73), called Mevlana (Our Leader) by his disciples, Mevlevis seek to achieve mystical communion with God through a sema (ceremony) involving chants, prayers, music and a whirling dance.

Dervish orders were banned in the early days of the Turkish republic because of their ultraconservative religious politics. Although the ban has been lifted, only a handful of functioning tekkes (dervish lodges) remain in ?stanbul, including this one. Konya remains the heart of the Mevlevi order. For more information check

This Mevlevihanesi (whirling-dervish hall) was erected by a high officer in the court of Sultan Beyaz?t II in 1491. It was part of a complex including dervish cells, sheik’s room, library, drinking fountain and kitchen. Its first ?eyh (sheik) was Mohammed ?emai Chelebi, a grandson of the great Mevlana. The building burned down in 1776, but was repaired that same year by Sultan Mustafa III. The building, which is currently closed for restoration, is fronted by a graveyard full of stones with graceful Ottoman inscriptions, including the tomb of Galip Dede, the 17th-century Sufi poet whom the street is named after. The shapes atop the stones reflect the headgear of the deceased, each hat denoting a different religious rank.

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