Things to do in Istanbul – visit the Whirling Dervish Museum (Galata Mevlevihanesi Müzesi)
One of the more noteworthy museums in Istanbul is the Galata Mevlevihanesi. This former Whirling Dervish Lodge, and the surrounding cemetery, situated at the lower end of the pedestrian street Istiklal Caddesi make for an easy stop on your stroll of the neighborhood.
The original lodge was founded in the 15th century as a monastery for members of the Mevlevi Order; followers of Sufi mystic, scholar, and poet, Rumi. These Sufi initiates, or dervishes, practiced a whirling dance of meditation (Sema) for which they are known as Whirling Dervishes (Note: Performance tickets are available at the museum ticket office.) The building, renovated and expanded over the centuries following damage from earthquakes and fires, served for a time as an elementary school before officially opening as a museum in 1975.
“They did not wear their cloaks. They appeared in an open, dark-green jacket with long and narrow sleeves, a long and smocking skirt of the same fabric and color and fell in large folds around their legs. They extended their arms and turned round, always to the same side: their skirts stood in the air like a funnel around them.”
~Hans Christian Andersen, Dance of the Darwishes, (1841)
Enter the complex through the main gate. On your left, you’ll see the 19th century Halet Efendi Mausoleum and on your right, just a little farther down, the 17th century Hasan Agha Fountain (the oldest structure remaining in the monastery complex). Just steps from the fountain you’ll see the ticket kiosk. (Purchase your museum and/or performance tickets here.)
Wander around the grounds, through the dervish cemetery, past the graves of poets, musicians, Mevlevi Lodge masters and their families. Notice the unique tombstones, some just simple pillars, others decoratively carved and topped with stone turbans. Don’t be surprised to see cats roaming among the graves; they have free reign throughout Istanbul.
Opposite the cemetery is a pleasant garden area where you’ll see the Fountain of Adile Sultan, which dates to around 1846.
Make your way into the main building for your tour of the lodge museum.
Hats and Robes
The various rooms, spread out over 3 levels, house a collection of ceremonial items and artifacts used by the dervishes. In the basement level, you’ll see the ceremonial garments, such as cloaks, robes, and turbans, and the tall hats called sikke, which symbolize the tombstone of the ego. One room on this level is decorated with illustrations depicting how the lodge kitchen may have looked and contains a display of various items that might have been used in the kitchen. Other rooms hold the tools used by the Mevlevi artisans – bookbinders, glassblowers, etchers, and poets.
Mihrab and Minbar
At the center of the lodge, you’ll see the Semahane or ritual hall, where the dervishes perform their meditative whirling dance. The circular hall, with an upper gallery, is decorated with gilded columns and an elevated painted ceiling. This room also contains a prayer niche (mihrab) and the imam’s staircase (minbar).
Qanun Box Zither
In the rooms surrounding the Semahane you’ll see displays of musical instruments. There are several drums, a selection of stringed instruments such as lutes, tamburs, and kemenches, zithers, and one eye-catching reed instrument called a zurna, adorned with beads and silver chains.
You’ll also see plates of intricate craftwork depicting images of the sultans and former Mevlevi masters, and panels of calligraphic writing; some are quotes from Rumi’s poems in Persian and Turkish, and others the flourishing Sultan’s tughra (signature).
Whirling Dervish (Sema) Ceremonies = Sundays at 5:00 pm; separate ticket required; inquire at ticket kiosk
Travel Tip: Tickets for entrance to the Galata Mevlevihanesi Müzesi and the Sunday Whirling Dervish ceremonies can be purchased from the museum’s ticket kiosk (at the main gate) on the day of your visit.