Edirne is a city located in the European part of Turkey (a country that is demographically located between Europe and Asia, approximately 15% of the landmass of Turkey is in Europe and 85% of it is in Asia) in a region known as Thrace. It was once the capital of the Ottoman Empire, called Adrianopole, or Hadrianopolis, located in close proximity to the neighbouring countries of Greece and Bulgaria, a mere 5 km from the Bulgarian border. Istanbul, then called Constantinople then eventually became the Ottomanian Capital where the empire flourished. It is about 230 km from the grandest capital city of the world, one that is laced with history and beauty alike, but Edirne is deeply endearing. From the name, the Roman Emperor Hadrian possibly refounded the city, but more recently the city and its precincts have been embroiled in controversies between Greece and Turkey, with border tensions plagueing the region ever since the treaty of Sevres in 1920. Today Edirne is filled with pretty houses, hearty courtyards full of peach trees, pomegranate trees and street facades with a unique architecture of its own, that mostly happens in border towns. We headed to Edirne soon after landing at Istanbul, absolutely mesmerised by the bird’s eye view of this ancient yet modern, religious yet secular, crowded yet clean, affluent yet rooted capital city of the world. Edirne though, is much smaller, in scale and in grandeur but makes up in affability and amiability, it was once a capital but now misses all the trappings of a big city.
Driving into the city, one is first amazed by the landscape and how close it really is to the neighbouring countries, and that is one of the reasons a lot of military can be spotted in Edirne, protecting Turkiye’s borders. Walking to the Grand Bazaar of Edirne we passed the Grand Synagogue and the Maarif Street seeing some of the houses being restored, observing a builder being hands-on with a panel of a house. The first Turkish architect I made my acquaintance with, also probably the grandest architect of the country, a peer of Michealangelo. Mimar Sinan, translating to architect Sinan was the Chief Ottoman architect and Civil Engineer, who was responsible for over 300 major structures and smaller schools. As a child he would imbibe a sense of architecture watching his father, a stone mason work, then later he worked as a military engineer, rising the ranks rapidly to finally be bestowed the honorific title of Sinan or architect. Of the 300 odd structures Sinan built or was responsible for the Selimiye Mosque completed in 1575 is touted as his greatest. The entire complex of the mosque is spread over a dimension of 190mX130m. His legacy continued beyond him through his buildings and through his apprentices including Mehmet Agha (architect of the Blue Mosque) in Istanbul.
Visiting a national monument, an ancient monument, has its own caveats though, heritage monuments are forever shrouded by a scaffolding of sorts, being under restoration, due to the age and the wear and tear! Buildings are meant to age, and keeping them going for years later takes a lot of work. This is what we found when we arrived at the Selimiye mosque, unfortunately covered in the restoration architect’s shroud of ladders and formwork as the UNESCO-listed site goes in for repair work to only be completed in 2025. The ambitious project will rework on the Iznik tiles of the mosque brought in and fixed from Bursa, an unsurpassable piece of the art work, work on the structural strength of the building. completely renewing the art work and the glass work inside the mosque. We got to however witness a portion of the mosque. With the mehrab and the mimbar and though the main dome was closed, a portion of the ancillary dome was kept open to the public. The details of the structure, it’s orientation and the domes that top it, are said to be quite unique which we missed due to the restoration process. The mosque itself finds a firm footing in the city, one who’s minarets we can see from every part of the town. For the architecture lovers, Khan academy has a beautiful rendition of the mosque, belting out technical and relevant details, it can be read here.
The Grand Bazaar of Edirne is a lot like the Grand Bazaars we would eventually see in all of Turkey, but it was here that I got to try a vegetarian version of the Cigofte Roll, made with Durum wheat. With a number of restaurants for tourists who end up going to Edirne, the city has a comfortable droll of a suburb wearing it’s history rather lightly on its head. There is a river that passes by Edirne called the Meric River and walking along the river bed if not on the cobbled stone streets of Edirne makes for a great evening. Edirne even makes a great day trip destination from Istanbul, and other places to visit in this University town are the Health Museum, the Karagaac of the fine Arts University, Eski Cami, the Karagac Train Station, the Serefeli Cami and the Margi Outlet.