Capital of the Ottoman Empire before Mehmet II conquered Constantinople and moved his court there; Edirne is blessed with imperial building stock, a notable culinary heritage and a lingering and much-cherished sense of civic grandeur. Close to the Greek and Bulgarian borders, the city has a European flavour that is best appreciated in summer, when locals party on the banks of the Tunca and Merich Rivers and cheer on the contestants at the world-famous Kırkpınar oil-wrestling festival.
The area around Edirne, thanks to its strategic position on the major routes to Istanbul, Bosphorus, and onward to Asia, had been repeatedly fought for in the past. It has been the site of no fewer than 16 major battles and sieges since the days of Ancient Greece.
Edirne’s former name is Adrianople (Hadrianoupolis), i.e. “City of Hadrianus”, named after the Roman emperor who founded the city on the site of Thracian village of Uskudama.
In the 14th century, the Ottomans captured the city and made it their capital; this lasted until the Fall of Constantinople. Even after the dynasty moved to Constantinople in the mid-15th century, Edirne was one of, if not the most, important centres of the European part of the Ottoman Empire. Edirne functioned as a semi-capital of the empire, with some sultans even favouring the city over Istanbul and whispering about returning the throne back to the city. Between 1700 and 1750, Edirne was the fourth most populated city in Europe, with an estimated population of about 350,000.
Dramatic changes started in the early 19th century and the city suffered heavy depopulation due to the Russian - Turkish wars of 1829. Another war with Russia in 1878, when Russians occupied lands extending to the western suburbs of Istanbul, along with the Balkan Wars of late 19th /early 20th century caused further depopulation. Lands which were part of the city during the Ottoman Era, along with Western and Northern suburbs were lost to the redrawing of borders in the 1910s and 1920s. During WW II when Nazi armies were only miles away from the city, on the opposite banks of the rivers, the population was moved to interior Turkey. Some of those who could not flee died of starvation during this period. This depopulation slowly but constantly continued until recently, with a recent census showing only 140,000 people. Although it is quite a lively city when compared to other Turkish cities of this size, only a fraction of its former glory remains.
Climate & Weather
Temperate continental — hot and occasionally rainy (as showers which tend to last for 15–20 minutes) summers (up to 40º C); cold and rainy, occasionally snowy winters (down to -10º C). Spring and autumn months tend to be warmer than the locations on the sea coast (such as Istanbul), so if tripping from a coastal place during those months, especially in May, drink plenty of water to avoid headaches due to dehydration, but winter arrives earlier (in November). Because Edirne lies in a geography that is the entering point of many weather systems from Balkans and South-eastern Europe into Turkey, a good way of forecasting the weather conditions for the next few days is to follow what other Balkan cities such as Plovdiv, Bulgaria is currently experiencing, as quite the same conditions will be what Edirne is experiencing within a two or three days’ time. Due to cold and dry winds of winters warm clothing is essential in winter.
Main Historical Sites
Main sights in downtown are quite close to the main square and to each other, and can be done in one a day.
Selimiye Mosque (Turkish: Selimiye Camii). That mosque which dominates the skyline of the city, built on a slightly higher hill than its surroundings, although a play on dimensions makes the exterior sight of the building smaller as you get closer to it. A grandiose piece of art by Sinan, the Ottoman architect of 16th century, Selimiye is usually considered the zenith of Ottoman architecture and has been listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2011. Sinan himself considered this building as his best work. The dome of the building, which hangs high over main hall, encloses a huge space which gives the place an expansive atmosphere, had the largest diameter (31.28 melter) of all domes in the world for several centuries. And its minarets are the second highest minarets (70.89 metre) in whole world, surpassed only by Qutb Minar (72.50 metre) in Delhi, India. The mosque has 999 windows in total, which according to its architect Sinan, symbolise the perfectness of God. The dome and interior walls are decorated with calligraphy and geometrical designs, most of which are painted in hues of pink and blue. The upsides down tulips, which are some sort of symbol of Edirne have their origin in a tulip illustration engraved on a marble in the fountain right under the central dome of Selimiye. It is believed to symbolise the landlord of the tulip garden on which the mosque was built, who was said to be reluctant to give over his garden.
Old Mosque (Turkish: Eski Camii). The smallest and the oldest one of three nearby, imperial mosques in downtown Edirne, it's known for its calligraphic inscriptions on its interior walls with a small central dome atop.
Üç Şerefeli (Three Balconied) Mosque (Turkish: Üç Şerefeli Camii). This mosque is easily recognisably, having four distinctive minarets that all have very different designs, uncommon during the 15th century, one of which has three balconies, giving it its name which literally means three balconied. Long undergoing restoration, interior of the mosque, which features a colourfully decorated central dome, smaller surrounding domes of varying sizes each featuring a different colour pattern, and very stately columns supporting them, has recently been re-opened to visits. The overall experience of this colourful mosque is perhaps best summarised as joyful.
Macedonian Tower (Turkish: Makedonya Kulesi)) is the sole still intact tower of Edirne’s city walls, named as such perhaps because it roughly watches the direction of Macedonia, or because of the former definition of Macedonia which extends all the way to Edirne. A round and robust tower, not unlike Thessaloniki White Tower except its colour, and next to it is the last visible section of city walls, now surrounded by a nicely landscaped park. It’s possible to enter the tower itself, but impossible to climb upstairs. The tower also served as a clock tower until 1953, when the upper part of the tower was demolished because of the danger of collapse.
Museum of Archaeology. An original prehistoric dolmen moved from its original setting and a reconstructed Thracian hut—typical of those used by the ancient folk of the region—is among the displayed in the garden of the museum. The subsection Archaeology Museums is a Museum of Islamic Arts
Saraçlar Caddesi (Street) is a pedestrianised shopping street with pleasant cafes on sides. The old shop buildings on this street have a distinctively neoclassical architecture.
Old Quarter, locally named Kaleiçi, i.e. walled city, this is the oldest part of the city although the city walls and gates have vanished a long time ago. Built in a grid plan after it suffered from a big fire in late 19th century, the main artery of this part is Maarif Caddesi (Street), which lies two blocks west of Saraçlar Caddesi. Along the side streets and Maarif itself line a number of elaborate wooden houses, the walls of which are with highly delicate handwork, though some are derelict. At one end of the street is the Jewish Synagogue, the biggest one in Turkey and the whole Balkans. Numerous small Ottoman mosques are also scattered around Kaleiçi and elsewhere in downtown.
Şükrü Pasha Memorial and Balkan Wars Museum is a monument dedicated to Rüştü Pasha, the commander of the defending forces of the city during the Balkan Wars. Next to it is a small museum with various weapons (such as a small cannon) used during the war. While the place is slightly away from the downtown and is off the usual trail between the main sights, it occupies the highest hill in the city and offers a large overlooking view of the city and the forests surrounding the rivers behind.
Muradiye Mosque (Turkish: Muradiye Camii), a 15th century Ottoman mosque. The building is noted for the tiles that decorate the mihrab and the walls of the prayer hall. The mosque was commissioned by Murad II and completed in 1435-6. It originally formed part of a Mevlevi dervish complex but was later converted into a mosque. The complex included a soup kitchen (imaret) and an elementary school (mekteb) but these buildings have not survived. The mosque has a T- shaped plan with a five bay portico and an entrance hall with a domed room on either side. The prayer hall is separated from the entrance hall by a solid arch. The building has been heavily repaired after suffering earthquake damage. The single stone minaret has been rebuilt several times; the present structure dates from 1957.
Sarayiçi. A modern stadium in which annual wrestling competitions take place, surrounded by some statues of champions of past years will welcome you to this island. Just next to it is the Justice Tower (Turkish: Adalet Kasrı), a sturdy square tower and the sole completely intact remnant of former imperial palace of Ottomans here. Next to the Tower, a smaller bridge on the narrower branch of the river surrounded by some centuries-old ash trees will take you back to the “mainland”. Here is the monument to the soldiers fallen at the Siege of Edirne in 1913 - Monument to the Martyrs of Balkan War.
Medical Museum. This museum, which was awarded “European Museum of the Year” in early 2000s, was essentially a mental institution used during Ottoman times, part of Beyazıt Complex. It was notable for its “progressive”/”alternative” approach towards its patients. Instead of locking them into cells with shackles, which was widespread during that time, methods such as meditative music or flower gardens were tried in this institution. Today, many Ottoman miniatures from medical schoolbooks and elsewhere and models of patients are among the displayed.