If I have one regret about the five day press trip to Thrace/Turkey to which the Trakya Development Agency most kindly invited me, it is the fact that we had only one day to visit Edirne.
Thousands of years of history look you in the face as soon as you approach the city, located between the rivers Tunca and Meric and, until the conquest of Istanbul by Sultan Mehmet II in 1453 after a 53 day siege, capital of the Ottoman Empire.
Domed mosques, slender minarets soaring into the sky, busy bazaars and a bustling city center, medieval wooden houses in the Kaleici section, bridges and, and…. you don’t know where to look first.
I was so captivated by the sights and sounds, not to mention the smell of sizzling koeftes emanating from the countless restaurants that, from the word go , I just knew I would have to return at a later date and take it all in slowly.
But this one day visit provided a fabulous overview of the most important sights and here they are:
Edirne’s most outstanding, although not the oldest, mosque is no doubt the architectural masterpiece of Sinan, the Selimiye Mosque built between 1569 and 1575 under the order of Sultan Selim II.
The four minarets, each on one corner and with three balconies, are the highest in all of Turkey, even higher than those of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Depending on your angle of view, they overlap, so sometimes you can only see two.
Enter and look up! A massive dome forms the ceiling of the mosque, richly decorated in blue and white mosaic and 31,5m in diameter.
It is supported by five vast columns, known as the elephant legs. Then look down and notice the prayer rug, the pattern of which is divided into squares, each destined for one person to pray. You can easily see how the mosque can accommodate 5000 believers at any one time.
Marble carvings and valuable tiles decorate the prayer niche and the walls of this masterpiece of Ottoman architecture which it took the toil of 18.000 workers to complete in 6 years.
Beyazit II Kulliye Complex
On to Edirne’s second most important building: the Beyazit complex, built at the end of the 15th century. The complex comprises a mosque, hospital, kitchen, garden and most importantly, an outstanding medical school of the time.
In room after room you can admire replicas of how medicine was practiced under the Ottomans, how the students lived and, how the advanced method of treating mental patients with music and the sound of flowing water was applied. History really comes alive with these ‘scenes’.
Well kept gardens, walkways and fountains round out the picture of this center of healing.
Orthodox Church and Synagogue
Other religions also have their place in Edirne, as documented by the recently restored synagogue and a small but very elaborate Bulgarian Orthodox Church. The priest lives with his family in rooms left of the entrance and has to open the church for visitors with his key, but he is happy to do so and to explain the history. Just ring the bell.
Nine arched stone bridges cross the two biggest rivers, Tunca and Meric. The longest with 263m is the Meric bridge which spans the Tunca river just above the point where it joins with the Meric river.
All bridges can be crossed by car as well as on foot with lovely views of the water flowing below and countless cafes and restaurants at either end.
I would have liked to take a boat trip along the river but a) wouldn’t have had the time and b) couldn’t really find out when or where river boats depart. Another item on my to do list for my return visit.
Naturally, we needed some time exploring a bazaar of which Edirne has three major ones: Ali Pasha, Bedesten and Arasta apart from several smaller ones and individual shops, some just a hole in the wall. What surprised me was the calm and quiet, nobody jumps out and hassles you, a fact which makes a visit to Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar somewhat stressful.
Here you can admire sweet smelling soaps in the form of fruit, embroidered scarves, pillows and rugs, taste the delicious almond paste and dazzle your eyes with elaborate gold jewelry.
And then there is the Rusten Pasha Caravanserai where a little charity bazaar was under way.
The last highlight of the day was spending the night in the fabulous Tasodalar Hotel right next to the Selimiye Mosque.
I departed the next morning with the firm decision to return and visit more mosques and historical buildings, Edirne’s museums and, of course, to try and make that boat trip.