Hodjapasha Culture Center is a beautifully restored Ottoman hamam (Turkish bath) in Istanbul's Sirkeci district (map) now used for performances of the Mevlevi (whirling dervish) sema, Turkish folk dances, and belly dance.
It's an intriguing space with good acoustics and lighting, right for the mood of the performances. (Unfortunately, the ancient building cannot accommodate wheelchairs.)
The Whirling Dervish (Mevlevi) performance at the Hodjapasha Art & Culture Center is held each evening at 19:30 (7:30pm). Persons 7 years and older may attend.
This is not, strictly speaking, the full sema (religious service). It has been shortened to one hour, but it is an authentic representation, and you certainly experience the gravity and mystery of the sema.
It starts with a short (about 10 minutes) concert of Ottoman classical music. This is a secular performance, and applause is allowed, but applause is not appropriate after this, for the rest of the evening.
The sema is not a show, but a religious observance.
The musicians leave the stage, and soon return dressed in their Mevlevi dervish robes. After them, slowly, solemnly, the dervishes enter. Prayers are chanted by the hafız. The dervishes whirl four times for 10 to 12 minutes each time.
The final whirl ends with just a single instrument playing, then silence as the dervishes continue to whirl. A final prayer, and the slow retreat of the dervishes ends the sema.
Hodjapasha Culture Center also hosts performances of Turkish folk and belly dance on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday evenings at 21:00 (9pm). I'm not usually enthusiastic about "nightlife" shows, but I thoroughly enjoyed this high-quality performance. Complimentary refreshments are served during intermission. An exhibit in the foyer outlines the 10,000-year history of dance in Turkey.
Performances are often sold out in advance.
I strongly recommend that you reserve your seats well in advance using the form below, then claim and pay for your tickets at the Hodjapasha Culture Center at least an hour before the performance (map).
You may cancel your reservation at any time, or change it (if seats are available).
Hint: Right in this same Hocapaşa neighborhood are more than a dozen small, simple restaurants good for any meal of the day, at moderate prices. Why not pick up your tickets, then have dinner before the performance?
Would highly recommend seeing the whirling dervishes.