There are few sights as mesmerizing as Turkey’s inimitable whirling dervishes—troupes of performers from the Mevlevi order dressed in striking white robes, twirling in a meditative trance. Here’s where to see whirling dervish shows in Istanbul.
What is a Whirling Dervish?
Whirling dervishes are followers of the Mevlevi order and the teachings of Sufi mystic Rumi. The whirling dervish ceremony—also known as a sema ceremony—is a spiritual practice that dates back to the 10th century. The whirling dance serves as a dhikr, a prayer or meditation carried out in devotion and worship of God. The ancient rituals are so integral to Turkey’s spiritual history that they’ve been inscribed on UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage of Humanity list.
Watching a performance of the whirling dervishes can be both a moving and entertaining experience for visitors to Istanbul. It’s possible to see whirling dervishes perform in a number of venues in Istanbul, including some bars and restaurants, but one of the best places to attend an authentic mevlevi sema ceremony is at the Hodjapasha Cultural Center, where the captivating choreography is accompanied by Persian chanting, live music, and 360-degree video special effects.
For a taste of the Sufi whirling dervishes without attending a full show, opt for a scenic dinner cruise along the Bosphorus, with on-board entertainment. Admire the illuminated Istanbul skyline from the water as you glide along the Bosphorus Strait, tuck into delicious mezes and Turkish cuisine, and enjoy live entertainment including traditional Turkish dances and a whirling dance accompanied by traditional Sufi music.