Edirne, the Ottoman Capital
Edirne lies on the Bulgarian and Greek borders at an intersection with Turkey where it is the first city you come across en route to Istanbul. It is in a way a forgotten city in terms of its importance as it was once the capital of the Ottoman Empire, which stretched across the Balkans and beyond. This is a beautiful city full of historic mosques, ancient bridges and the former palaces of the Sultans.
The easiest way to get to Edirne is via the two hour bus ride from Istanbul, which is also home to the nearest international airport. The cost is around two Euros and there is a free shuttle bus from Edirne bus station into the city centre. There is also a daily train service from Sirkeci station in Istanbul but this service actualy takes longer then the journey by road. Once you are in the city, you can explore on foot.
A Dip Back in Time
Edirne used to be known as Adrianople, which meant the “City of Hadrianus”, after the Roman emperor who founded it. It was once the fourth largest city in Europe, with a population of about 350,000 people and prior to the capture of Constantinople; it was the capital of the Ottoman Empire. This rich and wonderful legacy has left its mark on the city with magnificent Ottoman palaces and mosques to the modern day neo-classical architecture of the downtown shopping area.
Edirne is a showcase to some of the Ottoman Turks finest structural work in the form of its many bridges, which cross the Maritsa and Tundzha rivers. Many of these bridges are extremely narrow with majestic stone arches. Central Bridge known locally as Meriç over the Maritsa River was once the place where the Sultans watched parades of the Empire’s military might from the stone alcove located in the centre of the bridge.
Another place to add to your list of cultural sites is the magnificent Edirne Palace, which was built during the reign of Sultan Murat II and was known then as the "Palace of the Empire." This palace has some spectacular caravansaries, which played host to travelers during the 16th century. It’s not often that a railway station makes it onto a list of “must sees”, however the Edirne’s old train station, built in 1890, displays some wonderful examples of European and Ottoman architecture. Today, it is the Trakya University Chancellor's office.
Shopaholics will love the Saraçlar Caddesi in the city. This pedestrianised shopping centre is lined with lots of good cafés and shops with some fantastic neo classical architectural. Leading off from this retail heaven is the Maarif Caddesi, an architecturally significant residential area with lots of well preserved and ornately decorated 19th century wooden houses. The disused Jewish Synagogue lies at the top end of this street; it was built in 1906 and was the largest synagogue in the Balkans. Jews were part of the Ottoman Empire for centuries and Turkey's neutrality during WW2 spared them from the horrors of the Holocaust.
The first thing you will see when you enter this city is the imposing face of the 16th century Selimiye Mosque. It dominates the city’s skyline with its grandiose dome and tall minarets. The mosque was designed by the Ottoman architect Sinan, who often refered to the Selimiye Mosque as his best work. The mosque is one of the largest in the world; it has a total of 999 windows, which were said to symbolise Allah’s goodness. The Eski Cami or Old Mosque is the smallest and oldest of the three mosques in the city. It is decorated with some beautiful ancient calligraphy on its interior walls. The Üç Şerefeli or Three Minaret Mosque takes its name from its three distinctly decorated towers, which is quite unique as far as mosques go. Behind the mosque you can see the rotund Makedonya Kulesi or Macedonian Tower, which marks the old city limits. It is impossible to climb but you can stand in the stairwell.
Museum buffs may like to visit the Medical Museum, which was awarded the “European Museum of the Year” a few years ago. It used to be an Ottoman mental institution noted for its “alternative” approach; instead of chaining them into their cell-like rooms, they were treated with soothing music and flower gardens amongst other things. Other museums include the Archaeology Museum and the Museum of Islamic Arts; both have some wonderful exhibits and are worth seeing.
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Edirne, the Ottoman Capital
Pictures courtesy of Mihal Orela