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. Keep in mind though 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 50 TL per person, children go in free unless they need a chair of their own.
In case you’re not available on a Sunday, then you can also catch a real ceremony on Thursday evening at a tekke in the Fatih district. The best way is to contact Les Arts Turcs, a cultural center organizing workshops. It’s more expensive, but they explain the meaning of the ceremony, and take you there and back with their vehicle from a location in Sultanahmet. Again, keep in mind this is a real ceremony, with more chanting than whirling.
Popular Whirling Dervishes Performances
The Rumi Mevlevi also perform in two different locations: the Hodjapasha Dance Theater and the event hall of the Sirkeci train station. While both are nice experiences, my preference goes to the Hodjapasha Dance Theater which is located in a converted 15th century Turkish bath, not far from the Sirkeci train station. They have performances every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 19:00. Tickets are 24 USD per person.
For the experience in the Sirkeci train station, performances are usually daily at 19:30. Tickets are 24 USD per person, to be bought on site.
Keep in mind though that semas are popular among tourists, so buy your tickets well in advance.