O nce the capital of the Ottoman Empire,Edirne sits strategically a few miles from the Greek and Bulgarian borders. Today, it’s best known for Mimar Sinan’s Selimiye Mosque and the Kirkpinar oil wrestling festival. This is one of my favorite Turkish cities; smaller and more relaxed than Istanbul, with most places of interest clustered around the centre. Although boasting a host of museums and
mosques, after the plethora in Istanbul I’ve selected my favorite ones—plus some unusual spots. START: Hürriyet Meydani.
1- Maarif Caddesi.
A main street running south from Hurriyet Meydani, this has a charming collection of traditional Türkevi, Turkish wooden houses, for which the city is renowned. Head further down to Kirkpinar Evon the right, a restored house-museum exhibiting the history of Edirne’s traditional oil wrestling (see Slippery Sport, below). Opening hours are erratic, hich is a shame, as there are some
lovely exhibits of this important traditional sporting event, held just outside the city center. If closed, at least the gardens give you a taster, with noble statues of past başpehlivans (head wrestlers) and aga(wealthy benefactors) of this ancient sport.
2- Grand Synagogue.
At the bottom of Maarif Caddesi are the remains of the synagogue, which suffered further disrepair when the domed ceiling collapsed. (I heard recently that there are plans to restore it.) During Edirne’s huge fire in 1905, 13 synagogues were destroyed and replaced by this one, but no Jewish community exists today. It’s possible to peek through the gates at what remains of the interior, although if you turn the corner at the bottom of the street, you can see the main gate to visualize
its former glory. @10 min. Southern end of Maarif Caddesi.
3- Meriç Köprüsü (bridge).
From the synagogue, it’s approximately a 15-minute walk down Karaagaç Yolu to the picturesque
bridge over the Maritza River. Completed in 1847, the 263-metre-long stone bridge with 12 pointed arches also has drainage ports in the pedestals to prevent flooding, which destroyed the previous wooden bridge. Pop into the tiny marble lodge around halfway along, with decorative landscape scenes painted on the ceiling. If you don’t want to walk back the same way, pick up a minibus near Protokol Evi after your coffee break—it’s about a 20-minute walk to Makedonya Kulesi.
4- Protokol Evi.
The café by the bridge is in a newly restored house owned by the local council. Take a table at the terrace’s edge for a peaceful and perfect view of the river, perfect for coffee and breakfast, or soup and salads. Kopru Basi, Lozan Caddesi. 0284 2233 282. $.
5- Makedonya Kulesi.
Also known as the Saat Kulesi (Clock Tower), one of Edirne’s landmarks, built in 1894, is on an archaeological site excavated in 2003. You’ll probably be the only one exploring this site, small
enough to walk in comfort. The main external wall dates back to Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman
times, containing the remains of a tenth-century Byzantine church and fresco, plus late-Roman pottery ovens. (Hopefully one of the official guides will be present to point these out.) For me the highlights, albeit grizzly, are the fragments of Ottoman human bones—includingparts of a skull—embedded in the south wall, mainly covered by foliage, which marks the cemetery. The Roman wall used no cement and still has the rivets marking where iron bars were used to connect it. A fantastic discovery. 45 min. Mumcular Sokak. Daily 8.30am–8pm; free.
6- Eski Camii (Old Mosque).
With room for 3,000 worshippers, Edirne’s oldest Ottoman monument completed in 1414 under Mehmet I has striking interior dominated by the huge Arabic inscriptions of ‘Allah’ and ‘Mohammed’ on the walls. (Climb up to the balcony for the best view.) Built in a perfect square, each of the nine domes—in the style of the famous Ulu Camii (Grand Mosque) in the city of Bursa—is 13m in diame-
ter. Look out for the small piece of stone from Mecca encased in glass, on the wall near the minbar (pulpit), and the marble gate on your way out. To the left of the mosque, near the cafés, is a statueof pehlivans (wrestlers) an Edirne emblem. 30 min. Corner of Talatpasa Asfalti & Londra Asfalti. Open daily from dawn till nightfall.
7- Selimiye Arasta.
Like many shopping areas built around a mosque, this covered market was commissioned to bring in revenue for Selimiye Camii. These days it’s not so much the produce (think baskets of fruit-shaped soap and fridge magnets) but the layout, with 73 arches, which take you back centuries. When you see piles of cheap shoes, remember that part of this market was the ‘ready-made ShoeMakers’ Bazaar’, as recorded by Evliya Çelebi (1611–1682), the famous Ottoman writer and traveler. In those days (perhaps before fridge magnets?) stall holders swore an oath under the prayer dome of the mosque that their transactions would be honest. I hope they’re as honest today. Selimiye Camii complex. Daily 9am–nightfall; free.
8- Selimiye Vakif Müzesi (Selimiye Foundation Museum).
Opened in 2007, this was a lovely surprise on my last trip. The museum occupies the old medrese (school) adjacent to Selimiye Camii (mosque) built around a square garden and using individual classrooms for different themes. Most displays specialize in Ottoman crafts such as calligraphic arts and ornate brass candlesticks, and explain the importance of metallurgy in Turkish art. If you’re a fan
of inlaid wood, you’ll love the 18th century wooden Koran stands and tables inlaid with mother-of-pearl. If you walk around the museum anticlockwise, you end up at the Koran room, with realistic life-size models of a Koran class and ornate 15th century wooden doors from Beyazit Camii (see Ch 3, p 84). Relax with tea in the central garden. 1 hr. Selimiye Kulliyesi, Sarul Kurra Medressi. 0284 212 1133. Admission free. Open daily 8.30am–5.30pm.
9- Selimiye Camii (mosque).
Why not save the best till last? Wonder-architect Mimar Sinan did, completing the mosque aged 80 in 1575 and, in his own opinion, his finest creation, and symbolic of the Ottoman state. If entering through the main entrance, you’ll pass the huge statue of the architect, indicating the reverence
held for him in the city. The four pencil-slim minarets are dazzling, even more so when lit up, each 71m high with three ornate balconies. In the middle of the spacious courtyard the 16-sided şadirvan (ablutions fountain, where men wash hands, face and feet before praying), gets busy at prayer time. Once inside, my eyes are always drawn to the 40m high dome, the most impressive I’ve ever seen, with intricate painting making me wish I could climb higher to see it close up. Take a close look
at the ornately carved marble minbar (pulpit) with tiled top, plus the use of gold, exquisite Iznik tiles and mother-of-pearl throughout. 1 hr. Mimar Sinan Caddesi. Admission free. Open daily sunrisenightfall; no entry at prayer time.
This new fish restaurant prepares simple fried fish with piles of salad in a spacious dining area, popular for lunch. It’s a lovely place to dine before returning to Istanbul. Mithatpaşa Mahallesi,
Maarif Caddesi. 0284 212 0550.
Fast, comfortable coaches run from Istanbul’s otogar (bus station) to Edirne, the 250km (155 miles) taking 2.5 hours. Allow extra time for the servis, the free shuttle minibus service that collects passengers from various points in the city and takes them to the bus station; the ticket office will inform you where and when. Taksim, Beşiktaş and Aksaray have offices; buy your outbound ticket
a day in advance to get a good seat. On reaching Edirne otogar, ask for a dolmuş (minibus) to Hurriyet Meydani or Selimiye Camii. A good option for a full-day trip would depart Istanbul on the 7am Ulusoy service, returning on Volkanat 9.30pm or later. Buy your return ticket when arriving at Edirne otogar unless it’s high season. Edirne Tourist Office, 17 Hürriyet Meydani (0284 213 9208) has helpful staff, maps, and leaflets. As with all mosques, visitors should cover arms and legs; women must also cover their hair.
If you wondered what’s with the statues of burly wrestlers, it’s because Edirne hosts Turkey’s annual Kirkpinar oil wrestling competition (late June-early July). With roots dating from the 14th century
when Ottoman troops returned from conquest, modern-day wrestlers (pehlivans) compete in heavy leather breeches, their bodies doused in olive oil. The three-day tournament takes place a few miles outside the center at Kaleiçi, complete with traditional music, excitable crowds, and a spirit of genuine humility, tradition, and ceremony. The winner of each level (determined by weight) wins cash prizes, with the heavyweight (baspehlivan) also winning a gold belt. Kirkpinar Festival is popular so if you’re staying overnight, book your hotel weeks ahead, and bus tickets in good time.