KONYA, the medieval Selçuk capital, is a place of pilgrimage for the whole Muslim world, and a city that holds pride of place in the hearts of all pious Turks. This was the adopted home of Celaleddin Rumi, better known as the Mevlâna (Our Master), the Sufic mystic who founded the whirling dervish sect, the Mevlevî; his writings helped reshape Islamic thought and modified the popular Islamic culture of Turkey.
Konya has a reputation as one of the country’s most religious and thus conservative cities (while simultaneously holding the title as the single greatest consumer of raki in the nation). That said, most visitors are surprised by its modern and bustling city centre, with monumental landmarks sandwiched between trendy fashion stores and towering flat blocks.
Turkey’s seventh-largest city is surrounded by some exceptionally fertile countryside; the region is known locally as “the breadbasket of Turkey”. Its many parks – in particular, the central hillock of Alâeddin Parkı – add a splash of green to the ubiquitous light-coloured stone.
Konya’s history is as long and spectacular as that of any Turkish city. The earliest remains discovered date from the seventh millennium BC, and the acropolis was inhabited successively by Hittites, Phrygians, Romans and Greeks. St Paul and St Barnabas both delivered sermons here after they had been expelled from Antioch, and in 235 AD, one of the earliest Church councils was convened in the city – known then, under the Byzantines, as Iconium.
It also took a central role during the era of the western Selçuks, becoming the seat of the Sultanate of Rum. After they had defeated the Byzantine army at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, the Selçuks attempted to set up a court in İznik, just across the Sea of Marmara from İstanbul. They were expelled from there by the combined Byzantine and Crusader armies, but still ruled most of eastern and central Asia Minor until the early fourteenth century.
While the concept of a fixed capital was initially somewhat alien to the Selçuks, Konya became the home of their sultans from the time of Süleyman Ibn Kutulmuz, successor to Alparslan, the victor at Manzikert. Alâeddin Keykubad, the most distinguished of all Selçuk sultans, established a court of artists and scholars in Konya early in the thirteenth century, and his patronage was highly beneficial to the development of the arts and philosophy. Many of the buildings constructed at this time are still standing, and examples of their highly distinctive tile-work, woodcarving, carpet making and masonry are on display in local museums.