Edirne used to be called Adrianople or Hadrianoupolis after the Roman Emperor who founded it. In the 14th century it was captured by the Ottomans and became their capital until they conquered Constantinople. This was, and remains today, a key strategic city with easy access to Istanbul, Bulgaria and Greece. Evidence of its Imperial past is everywhere. From the neo-classical architecture to the great mosques it has an abundance of historical sites and interesting places to visit.
Even after the capture of Constantinople the city of Edirne remained influential with some Sultans actually preferring the city over Contstantinople or Istanbul as it became known. It was one of the largest cities in Europe with around 350,000 citizens at its peak in the mid 1750’s. Today that population is less than half that number but it is still a vibrant city with some good restaurants, cafes and beautiful surrounding countryside. Most of the important sites are within walking distance of the city centre. The Selimiye Mosque ( Selimiye Camii ) is a magnificent building that dominates the city centre. What a lot of people don’t realise is that the Blue Mosque or Sultanahmet is a copy of Selimiye which was built by the famous Ottoman architect Sinan He is known to have declared this to be his greatest work. Selimiye Mosque is listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. There is also a very interesting museum – The Museum of Islamic Arts in the courtyard. Nearby is the Edirne Archaeological and Ethnography Museum with its jewellery, carpets, textiles, artifacts and calligraphy works.
It is highly recommended that you also visit the Old Mosque (Eski Cami) nearby. This is the smallest of the old imperial mosques. It is famous for its calligraphic inscriptions. The Üç Serefeli Mosque (Üç Serefeli Camii), is also close to the Selimiye mosque and within easy walking distance. This mosque is instantly recognizable for its very distinctive minarets that all have very different designs. It was built on instruction of Sultan Murat II between 1437 and 1447. It gets its name from the three balconies on the tallest minaret. The interior dome is beautifully decorated.
Visitors to Edirne might be interested in the only remaining evidence of the city walls – The Makedonya Kulesi or Macedonian Tower located near to the Üç Serefeli Mosque. You can also find evidence of the Jewish community in Edirne. There is a large Jewish Synagogue which is in a very bad state of repair but still gives a hint of its former gandeur. Unfortunately it is dangerous to go inside since it was damaged badly by a storm in 1997. The side streets of the old part of Edirne have a number of old wooden buildings, some derelict and some in better condition. There are also some old Ottoman buildings and small mosques and even a stone Catholic Church. The Muradiye Mosque which is about a 15 minute walk from the Selimiye Mosque is an impressive architectural structure. It was built for Sultan Murat II between 1426 and 1436. It was once home to a Mevlevi Lodge or Whirling Dervish Lodge and is famous for its fine quality Iznik tiles which cover the interior walls.
The Ottomans were very tolerant when it came to other religions. Even today there is The Church of St Constantine and Helena in Edirne which is a Bulgarian Orthodox church built in 1869. It was funded by Bulgarians and if you happen to drop by on a Sunday there is every likelyhood that there will be a service taking place.
A little out of town but nevertheless one of the most fascinating places to visit is the ancient Ottoman Hospital or Darüssifa which is now a medical museum. This museum was awarded Museum of the Year in 2004. It was originally a mental institution and part of the Beyazit Külliyesi ( Beyazit complex ) which treated its patients through meditation and music within a courtyard of beautiful gardens rather than locking them up in cages as they were doing all over Europe. The history of the Hospital is illustrated through a number of wax models of students, patients and doctors with very authentic scenes of what life must have been like in that era. The buildings in this complex are outstanding and leave a lasting impression on the visitor.
There are also two very spectacular Ottoman bridges that you should see. The smaller bidge by Kaleiçi spans the Tundzha river and further along the same road the second and longer bridge spans the Maritsa river. The middle of the bridge features an Ottoman lookout post. This is a popular site to stop and sit in one of the tea gardens by the riverside.
Whilst wandering around Edirne you cannot but help notice the number of sweet shops situated around the city. Be sure to pick up some badem ezmisi or marzipan and Turkish Delight. The Kallavi Kurabiye is also worth a mention ( a kind of bicuit of pistachio and honey with saffron ). Although Edirne gets its fair share of Bulgarians, Greeks and local Turkish tourists it is a city that should be on the destination list of anyone visiting Turkey particularly if they are interested in architecture, Islamic Art & Culture and the Ottomans.