x0x EDIRNE:FRONTIER CAPITAL
- x0x EDIRNE:FRONTIER CAPITAL
By Abdullah Kilic
The 17th century Turkish poet Nef'i declared, 'Is Edirne a city, or
the rosegarden of heaven?' and in the 20th century Professor Suheyl
Unver, author of many books about cultural history, said that loving
Edirne was a form of worship. Admittedly, the paradise-like gardens of
Edirne which so influenced both have now disappeared, but Edirne is
still a city of great interest, with its old houses, mosques,
kervansarays, imarets (public kitchens), bridges, fountains, churches,
mansions, towers, hans, hamams and bazaar. This city of great
antiquity, known as Adrianople to the Romans, is like an openair
museum. The most celebrated monument of all is Selimiye Mosque built
by the 16th century architect Mimar Sinan. Its graceful minarets
soaring into the sky right in the centre of the city, the graceful
interior and imposing exterior of this mosque are equally enchanting.
Following the Ottoman conquest of Edirne in 1361, the city succeeded
Bursa as capital of the empire.
Even after the conquest of Istanbul nearly a century later, Edirne
retained much of its importance as the second city of the empire, and
the sultans spent many months of the year living in the palace here.
As a result, some of the foremost examples of both early and classical
Ottoman architecture are to be found in the city. The 17th century
writer Evliya Celebi declared his intention of counting all the public
buildings in Edirne, but gave up after estimating the mosques alone to
number 314. With so many mosques, the mind boggles at the probable
number of other buildings! Another Ottoman writer, Badi Efendi, in his
book entitled Edirne, Land of Paradise, recorded that there were 49
medreses, 46 dervish lodges, 103 mausoleums, nine imarets, four
bazaars, 24 hans, 16 hamams, 13 sebils (fountains for the distribution
of drinking water), 124 street fountains and eight bridges.
Edirne's inhabitants will tell you that the city is most famous for
'the architecture of Selimiye, the inscriptions of Eski Mosque, and
the door of Uc Serefeli Mosque'.
Eski (Old) Mosque was built in 1414 by Sultan Celebi Mehmed
(1413-1421). This lovely example of the early Ottoman architecture of
Anatolia is celebrated for the inscriptions inside the prayer hall.
Another 15th century Ottoman mosque, the Muradiye, built by Murad II
(1421-1451), has the most magnificent painted wall decoration of this
period and a beautiful tiled prayer niche. Uc Serefeli Mosque, founded
by the same sultan, is not only famed for its door, but for its dome
and ornately carved minarets with their flutes, diamonds and zigzag
Just outside the city on the banks of the Tunca river is the building
known as Yeni Imaret or the Kulliye of Bayezid II, a mosque complex
dating from 1484. Both the mosque, with its beautiful architecture and
painted decoration on wood in the style known as Edirnekari, and the
hospital belonging to the complex are of great interest. In an age
when mental patients could not expect much sympathy, this hospital
treated psychiatric disorders with music and the sound of water. No
trace remains of the Eski Saray, or ....
Old Palace, where Mehmed II the Conqueror (1451-1481) was born, and
only a few buildings and ruins from the Yeni Saray or New Palace which
he built are to be seen today on the banks of the Tunca. Next to the
palace is the famous Kirpinar Meydani wrestling field, whose history
goes back over six centuries, and where grease wrestling tournaments
are still held in early July every year.
The oldest quarter of Edirne, known as Kaleici because it stood within
the city walls, still has the character of a typical Ottoman city, and
beyond it the new city stretches from the old bus station as far as
the Medical Faculty of Trakya University. In the years just after the
conquest, the non-Muslim inhabitants lived in Kaleici, while the
Muslim neighbourhoods grew up around Selimiye Mosque. Today
traditional Turkish houses can still be seen in the old quarter of the
Lying as it does in close proximity to three rivers - the Meric, Tunca
and Arda - bridges are prominent features of the cityscape.
To reach Karaagac, an outlying suburb of Edirne, you must cross two
historic bridges over the Tunca and Meric rivers. The most striking of
these is the Meric Bridge or Yeni Bridge constructed in place of the
former timber bridge in 1847. These lead to a broad cobbled avenue
lined by tall trees which is said to have once been called Capital
Road. The former Karaagac Train Station is an attractive building
which now has a very different role as home to the Rectorate of Trakya
University and to the Lausanne Museum containing memorabilia relating
to the Lausanne Treaty. Next to the station building is the Lausanne
Monument, perhaps the only monument commemorating the treaty.
Although Edirne at one time boasted 13 kervansarays for the use of
merchants, today only a few are still standing, the most impressive of
these being Rustem Pasa Kervansaray. The commercial heart of Edirne
still beats in the old bazaars known as Bedesten, Arasta and Ali Pasa
Much else could be related about the city, but perhaps we should
conclude by looking briefly at Edirne's distinctive cuisine. Tarhana
soup, made of yogurt, flour and herbs, is as popular here today as it
was at the sultan's table, and there are several renowned varieties of
helva, particularly deva-i misk helva, made of high fat ewe's milk
cheese and famous throughout Turkey. Both the modern cafés and
traditional coffee houses around the university and in the central
shopping districts are lively meeting places for people of all ages.
Edirne's inhabitants are friendly and sociable, and the conversation
hums as glasses of tea and cups of coffee come and go. This is a city
which has been accustomed to visitors from near and far over the
centuries, and although times have changed in many ways, traditional
hospitality is still very much a part of life here.
Abdullah Kilic is a journalist.