An Orthodox Journal of Cross-Cultural Theology, Dialogue and Mission

Investigating the Dervish Orders and the Network of Tekkes in Ottoman Provinces: The Case of Thessaly (Greece)

Dr Gregory Stournaras
DOI: 10.57577/1-22A12
Salt: Crossroads of Religion and Culture: 1 (2022): 206-229
Keywords: Dervish orders, Islamic religion, Ottoman Empire, Thessaly, Greece

The presence of the dervish orders in the Balkans is directly associated with their participation in the Ottoman expeditions and their relation to the janissaries. The provincial governors supported them by many means (tax privileges, land for erecting tekkes). After the capture of Thessaly at the end of the 14th-beginning of the 15th century, Thessaly was a peripheral semi-autonomous region at the borders of the Ottoman Empire. The dervish orders played an important role in the attempt of the new leaders to incorporate both urban (Tirhala/Trikala, Yenişehir/Larissa) and rural regions into the same authority. Taking into consideration the archival evidence and the preserved monuments, this paper focuses on the dynamic role the dervish orders played in the emergence of the Ottoman and Islamic character of the towns and countryside of Thessaly. This was accomplished through the operation of tekkes in the urban centers and across the major road network, which was directly associated also with the involvement of the dervishes in the control and circulation of various products in the local markets. In addition, the spatial distribution of the settlements where dervishes are recorded as settlers indicates their active involvement in the installation and integration of new populations in Thessaly.



The dervish establishments form a distinct category of Islamic architecture serving multiple functions. Several scholars have pointed out that dervishes played a key role in waging war on and colonizing the Balkans, as well as in the spread of Islam in both Anatolia and the Balkans. As Heath Lowry comments, “we may trace the path of Ottoman conquests by following the trail of imârets and zâviyyes they left in their wake,” as well as the route of the dervish orders. This paper deals with the presence of dervish orders in Thessaly in central Greece based on the archival evidence and the preserved monuments. The approach attempts to illuminate the evolution of the rural and urban landscape, with an emphasis on the town of Larisa (Yenişehir) and the contribution of dervishes to the consolidation of Ottoman authority throughout Thessaly.

The dervishes are presented in the Ottoman written sources of the 15th century in Anatolia as warriors [ghazi] in the context of holy war. It is clear that they participated in campaigns and legitimized the Ottoman authority in the turcoman populations through missions and preaching. In addition, the dervishes acted as settlers and developed complicated relationships with the central administration based on mutual recognition and interests.