Research Title: Venerating the Saint and Building Community: The Shrine of Rumi and Mevlevi Socio-Religious Spaces in Anatolia (1300–1500)
Mr. Acar is a PhD candidate in Harvard University’s joint program in Middle Eastern Studies and History of Art and Architecture since 2018. He holds a BA in history from Boğaziçi University, and an MA in art history from the University of Texas, Austin. He worked as a research assistant for a museum project in Türkiye and participated in fieldwork in Türkiye and Egypt.
His work focuses on Islamic art and architecture during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. His dissertation project—tentatively titled, “The Shrine of Rumi and Mevlevi Socio-Religious Spaces in Anatolia (1270–1506)”investigates networks of patronage, pilgrimage practices to shrines, and their phenomenological dimensions. He is dedicating his fellowship period at ANAMED to carrying out dissertation research in archives, museum collections, and historical sites. Among his interests are Islamic aesthetic perceptions of marble and spolia materials and the sociocultural agency of Sufi complexes and madrasas in late medieval Anatolia and the early Ottoman world.
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Fellow’s End of Academic Year Research Report:
The Shrine of Jalal al-Din Rumi and Mevlevi Socio-Religious Buildings in Late Medieval Anatolia (1300–1512)
The 2021–2022 ANAMED fellowship provided me with the essential time and resources to carry out research for my doctoral thesis. My dissertation project examines the complex relationships between Sufi groups and political authorities, as well as the role of Sufi saints and practices in the religious culture of Islamic societies. Specifically, I focus on the shrines and texts associated with the Mevlevi order in Anatolia, which followed the teachings of the thirteenth-century Sufi poet and saint, Jalal al-Din Rumi. These shrines include the tomb shrines of Rumi and Shams Tabrizi in Konya (Fig. 1), Rumi’s mother in Karaman, and the Mevlevi zawiyas of Manisa, Antalya, Edirne, and Tire. Thanks to ANAMED, I began researching their architectural and decorative forms, patronage networks, religious rituals, and socio-economic functions. Below, I outline my research period at ANAMED during this past academic year.
Fig. 1. Konya Şemsi Tebrizi Dergâhı, Ali Saim Ülgen Arşivi (SALT Galata)
Being trained as an art and textual historian, I based the research of this project on two types of methods: a critical and interpretive analysis of written sources and a thorough in-person study of the buildings. The most crucial primary sources were waqfiyyas or endowment charters. In much of the Islamicate world, patrons who founded socio-religious buildings would donate part of their alienable properties, such as farming lands and commercial structures, as charity to the buildings to ensure the financial longevity of the institution. Written mostly in Arabic, these sources list their associated officers, endowed properties, and beneficiaries. While some of these documents have been published and translated by an earlier generation of historians, including İbrahim Hakkı Konyalı, Ekrem Hakkı Ayverdi, and Çağatay Uluçay, there are still hundreds of documents that await study. A close reading of these sources can reveal rituals, socio-religious services which founders prescribed as pious, and charitable deeds. For example, I analyzed the endowment of the Mevlevi zawiya in Manisa (1368–1369) published by Çağatay Uluçay, revealing that dervishes and lay people read and listened to Rumi’s magnum opus, Masnavi, and travelers received free food and lodging for three days.
Taking a research trip to Ankara, I carried out research in the Archives of the General Directorate of Pious Foundations and gained access to endowment documents of several Mevlevi zawiyas. I obtained permission to consult the restoration records of these buildings, such as drawings and restitution plans, thanks to the enormous help of Özgen Özcan, who works in the Archives. Among these zawiyas are the Green Imaret in Tire, built by the Ottoman governor Yahşi Bey; the Mevlevi zawiyas of Karahisar and Antalya; and the tomb-shrine of Shams Tabrizi in Konya. I spent this year’s long winter at the ANAMED library deciphering and transcribing these documents. During my time in Ankara, I also visited the Ethnography Museum and saw their rich collection of medieval Islamic objects. Particularly important were the wooden doors, window shutters, and sarcophagi which were brought from dilapidated Anatolian buildings for conservation. Often inscribed with Quranic verses and hadith, they offer the possibility of understanding the meanings of buildings and devotional objects. This trip to Ankara allowed me to meet Filiz Yenişehirlioğlu, the Director of VEKAM, and Serpil Bağcı, Professor of Art History at Hacettepe University, with whom I discussed my thesis and exchanged ideas.
In January 2022, I worked at the Atatürk Library in Istanbul, where there is an endowment account register of the Muradiye Complex in Edirne (Fig. 2), which Murad II (r. 1421–1444/1446–1451) founded and gave to the Mevlevis in 1427. Given that the original endowment document of Murad II’s foundation is lost, the account register gives invaluable information about the foundation’s properties and religious functionaries and servants who received regular stipends. The account book thus helped me to chart the human network associated with the foundation during the reign of Bayezid II (1481–1512). During this time, I met Professor Baha Tanman of Istanbul University and Istanbul Research Institute, who has a well-known expertise in Sufi architecture, and discussed my thesis and other projects on the beylik period.
Fig. 2. Edirne Muradiye İmareti, Ali Saim Ülgen Arşivi (SALT Galata)
An important part of the dissertation research rests on a critical reading of Manaqeb al-‘arifin (The Feats of the Knowers of God), a hagiography of Mevlevi shaykhs written by the Mevlevi dervish Shams al-Din Ahmed-e Aflaki (d. 1360). Starting with the emigration of Baha al-Din Valad from Khurasan to Anatolia and his eventual re-settling in Konya, this hagiography recounts in historical order the lives and deeds of Jalal al-Din Rumi and his successors until the mid-fourteenth century, including Sultan Valad and Çelebi Ulu Aref. While certain historians have used the narrative for historical data and to identify buildings that no longer exist, this hagiography also offers insight into how laypeople engaged with Sufism and Sufi saints. One of my main questions in this regard was how the Mevlevis represented, conceptualized, and ritually used architecture and landscape. The text reveals that madrasas, mosques, and zawiyas served as a backdrop for various forms of sociability and religiosity for shaykhs, Sufis, and ordinary people. For example, the practices of ziyara (visitation) to Mevlevi shrines included the bringing of candles to the tombs of saints and the supplication to saints to intercede on behalf of visitors. The text helped me understand Mevlevi self-representation and their relations with the Mongols and succeeding beyliks in Anatolia.
The second prong of my research method concerned the in-person study of Mevlevi shrines. I conducted my research trip to Konya in May 2022 to visit the shrine complex of Rumi and the shrine of Shams Tabrizi (Fig. 1). The former is now a museum and has a rich collection of objects and manuscripts. I analyzed the medieval structure of Rumi’s tomb, its wall paintings, and painted inscriptions, and took photographs. A group of devotional objects, including a water basin and a Masnavi stand that were given to the Mevlevi shrine by different patrons, helped me to see who patronized the shrine and when. In the coming months, I plan to travel to Manisa, Tire, and Edirne to examine the Mevlevi zawiyas there. Local museum collections in these cities also house wooden and metal portable objects which were used in Sufi devotions and rituals. Thanks to the ANAMED fellowship, I was able to complete the necessary research for this dissertation project and collected new historical materials to study for future projects.
 Çağatay Uluçay, Saruhanoğulları ve Eserlerine Dair Vesikalar (Istanbul: Ay Matbaası, 1940).