The best place to witness the Whirling Dervishes is of course in Konya, where the Mevlevi order (tarikat) was founded in the 13th century. But also in Istanbul, you have plenty of opportunities to see the Dervishes whirl. And because of the many choices, visitors often ask me: “What is the best place to watch a Whirling Dervishes performance, and what is it really all about?”
What Are the Whirling Dervishes?
The Whirling Dervishes took their name from Jelaleddin Rumi (1207-1273), the mystical poet and great Sufi master, called Mevlana (our leader) by his disciples. Sufis seek a close relationship with God, and for Mevlana, it was through chants, prayers, music, and a whirling dance.
This ceremony (sema) can be witnessed by visitors just like you. Remember that although it may look a bit like a performance, it is still a religious ceremony. Refrain from talking, leaving your seat, or taking pictures with a flash while the dervishes are spinning.
Where to Best Catch a Whirling Dervishes Performance?
The Galata Mevlevi Museum, or tekke, is undoubtedly the most famous Mevlevi Whirling Dervish hall. It is located on Galipdede Caddesi, not far from Tünel at the end of Istiklal Caddesi. The ceremony takes place every Sunday at 17:00. You can only buy tickets on location starting Saturday around noon. With a maximum capacity of 150 people, the performance is often sold out. Tickets cost 150 TL per person, children go in free unless they need a chair of their own.
Even if you can’t watch the ceremony there, the museum is still worth a visit if you want to know more about Sufism.
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Popular Whirling Dervishes Performances
There are three main venues where you can watch the whirling dervish ceremony. There is the performance which takes place at the event hall of the Sirkeci train station, but I find the acoustics a bit subpar. Another ceremony is organized by Les Arts Turcsat, but while the performance is authentic, their current venue resembles a school cafeteria which ruins the experience.
My preference for a more righteous and genuine experience goes to the Hodjapasha Dance Theater. It is a very popular venue located in a converted 15th-century Turkish bath, within walking distance from the Sirkeci train station.
During the low season, they perform every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 19:00. Starting in March, there will be daily ceremonies. Here’s what you can expect from a Whirling Dervish ceremony at Hodjapasha.
Keep in mind though, that semas are popular among tourists, so buy your tickets well in advance.
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