Edirne, in northwest Turkey, is situated on an ancient trade route that connects Europe with Asia Minor (i.e. Turkey).
The modern city of 200,000, located just 20 kilometres from the border with Bulgaria, and 7 kilometres from the border with Greece, began life as a small Thracian settlement known as Uskadama.
The founding of Edirne
The hamlet came to prominence when it caught the eye of Hadrian, the Emperor of Rome in the 2nd Century CE. Hadrian, who is known for taking the Roman Empire from its expansion phase to its consolidation phase, made Edirne the capital of the Roman province of Thrace.
Hadrian re-named the city after himself; Uskadama became Hadrianopolis, which over the years became Adrianople, which became Odrin in the local Slovak languages, which eventually became Edirne in Turkish.
The famous Battle of Adrianopolis, fought between the Romans and the Goths, took place just north of the city in 378 CE.
The battle was a disaster for the Romans; they were soundly thrashed, and their emperor, Emperor Valens, was killed in the fighting.
The Battle of Adrianopolis is considered one of the key factors that led to the downfall of the Roman Empire in 5th Century CE.
The Ottomans arrive in Edirne
Edirne was annexed by the Ottoman Empire as they swept over Anatolia and the Balkans in the 14th Century CE.
In 1364 CE Edirne became the capital of the Ottoman Empire, and it retained this status until 1453 when the capital shifted to Constantinople (Istanbul).
In 1569 CE Ottoman Sultan Selim II commissioned the construction of a grand mosque in central Edirne (Selim, the son of Suleiman the Magnificent, came to be known as Selim the Drunkard, as he relinquished power to his ministers so that he might pass his days engaged in orgies).
Selim hired Ottoman starchitect Mimar Sinan to design the mosque.
Mimar Sinan had been the chief architect for Suleiman the Magnificent, and during his lifetime he managed to design in excess of 300 structures, including the Suleiman Mosque of Istanbul, the Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge (also known as the bridge over the River Drina) at Višegrad in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Banya Bashi Mosque in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Mimar Sinan is regarded as the Grand Architect of the Ottomans, and Selimiye Mosque is regarded as his masterpiece.
Selimiye Mosque is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Sultan Bayezid II Health Museum
Located on the outskirts of Edirne, the Bayezid II Külliye Health Museum was completed in 1488 under the reign of Sultan Beyezid II. The structure is now a museum, but it began life as a hospital, and operated as hospital from the time of its opening until the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 – 78.
The hospital treated all kinds of illnesses. Tourists today can read detailed descriptions of the various types of procedures that were carried out here. For instance:
Breast Reduction Operation in Men (Gynecomastia)
In some male persons, the breasts become fleshy and swollen to a point that whoever sees them is disgusted. Cut lengthwise in a crescent shape and slide the skin back, remove the fat inside…
The hospital employed many revolutionary alternative therapies, including musical therapy (an ensemble band played music to patients with mental disorders), water therapy, and rose therapy (rose petals, rose flowers, and rose plants were attributed all sorts of healing powers).
Ottoman bridges of Edirne
Edirne is situated on a large sweeping bend of the Tundzha River, where the river is wide and shallow and dotted with small islands. It’s a geographical constraint that required an engineering solution in the form of multiple long bridges. Fortunately the Ottomans were especially gifted when it came to bridges.
There are at least 8 Ottoman bridges at Edirne; they aren’t all as splendid and imposting as Stari Most in Mostar, but they are all elegant structures, and they still look sharp after all these centuries.
In the early 1900s the population of Jews in Edirne surpassed 20,000. Planning for the Great Synagogue of Edirne began in 1906, following a devastating fire that destroyed several of the city’s temples.
In 1983 the Grand Synagogue was abandoned due to a lack of followers, but it was restored and reopened in 2015.
Practical information and how to reach Edirne:
Frequent intercity buses connect Edirne with Istanbul (trip time is 3 hours).
At the time of my visit (2015) it was possible to catch a bus onward to Plovdiv (trip time: 3 hours) and Sofia (trip time: 3 – 4 hours) in Bulgaria, but to do this you had to make your own way to the highway and flag down a passing bus. More transport info here.