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The 17th century Turkish poet Nef'i declared, 'Is Edirne a city, or the rosegarden of heaven?' and in the 20th century Professor Suheyl Unver, author of many books about cultural history, said that loving Edirne was a form of worship. Admittedly, the paradise-like gardens of Edirne which so influenced both have now disappeared, but Edirne is still a city of great interest, with its old houses, mosques, kervansarays, imarets (public kitchens), bridges, fountains, churches, mansions, towers, hans, hamams and bazaar. This city of great antiquity, known as Adrianople to the Romans, is like an openair museum. The most celebrated monument of all is Selimiye Mosque built by the 16th century architect Mimar Sinan. Its graceful minarets soaring into the sky right in the centre of the city, the graceful interior and imposing exterior of this mosque are equally enchanting. Following the Ottoman conquest of Edirne in 1361, the city succeeded Bursa as capital of the empire. Even after the conquest of Istanbul nearly a century later, Edirne retained much of its importance as the second city of the empire, and the sultans spent many months of the year living in the palace here. As a result, some of the foremost examples of both early and classical Ottoman architecture are to be found in the city. The 17th century writer Evliya Celebi declared his intention of counting all the public buildings in Edirne, but gave up after estimating the mosques alone to number 314. With so many mosques, the mind boggles at the probable number of other buildings! Another Ottoman writer, Badi Efendi, in his book entitled Edirne, Land of Paradise, recorded that there were 49 medreses, 46 dervish lodges, 103 mausoleums, nine imarets, four bazaars, 24 hans, 16 hamams, 13 sebils (fountains for the distribution of drinking water), 124 street fountains and eight bridges.Edirne's inhabitants will tell you that the city is most famous for 'the architecture of Selimiye, the inscriptions of Eski Mosque, and the door of Uc Serefeli Mosque'. Eski (Old) Mosque was built in 1414 by Sultan Celebi Mehmed (1413-1421). This lovely example of the early Ottoman architecture of Anatolia is celebrated for the inscriptions inside the prayer hall. Another 15th century Ottoman mosque, the Muradiye, built by Murad II (1421-1451), has the most magnificent painted wall decoration of this period and a beautiful tiled prayer niche. Uc Serefeli Mosque, founded by the same sultan, is not only famed for its door, but for its dome and ornately carved minarets with their flutes, diamonds and zigzag designs. Just outside the city on the banks of the Tunca river is the building known as Yeni Imaret or the Kulliye of Bayezid II, a mosque complex dating from 1484. Both the mosque, with its beautiful architecture and painted decoration on wood in the style known as Edirnekâri, and the hospital belonging to the complex are of great interest. In an age when mental patients could not expect much sympathy, this hospital treated psychiatric disorders with music and the sound of water. No trace remains of the Eski Saray, or Old Palace, where Mehmed II the Conqueror (1451-1481) was born, and only a few buildings and ruins from the Yeni Saray or New Palace which he built are to be seen today on the banks of the Tunca. Next to the palace is the famous Kirpinar Meydani wrestling field, whose history goes back over six centuries, and where grease wrestling tournaments are still held in early July every year. The oldest quarter of Edirne, known as Kaleici because it stood within the city walls, still has the character of a typical Ottoman city, and beyond it the new city stretches from the old bus station as far as the Medical Faculty of Trakya University. In the years just after the conquest, the non-Muslim inhabitants lived in Kaleici, while the Muslim neighbourhoods grew up around Selimiye Mosque. Today traditional Turkish houses can still be seen in the old quarter of the city.Lying as it does in close proximity to three rivers - the Meric, Tunca and Arda - bridges are prominent features of the cityscape. To reach Karaagac, an outlying suburb of Edirne, you must cross two historic bridges over the Tunca and Meric rivers. The most striking of these is the Meric Bridge or Yeni Bridge constructed in place of the former timber bridge in 1847. These lead to a broad cobbled avenue lined by tall trees which is said to have once been called Capital Road. The former Karaagac Train Station is an attractive building which now has a very different role as home to the Rectorate of Trakya University and to the Lausanne Museum containing memorabilia relating to the Lausanne Treaty. Next to the station building is the Lausanne Monument, perhaps the only monument commemorating the treaty. Although Edirne at one time boasted 13 kervansarays for the use of merchants, today only a few are still standing, the most impressive of these being Rustem Pasa Kervansaray. The commercial heart of Edirne still beats in the old bazaars known as Bedesten, Arasta and Ali Pasa Carsisi. Much else could be related about the city, but perhaps we should conclude by looking briefly at Edirne's distinctive cuisine. Tarhana soup, made of yogurt, flour and herbs, is as popular here today as it was at the sultan's table, and there are several renowned varieties of helva, particularly deva-i misk helva, made of high fat ewe's milk cheese and famous throughout Turkey. Both the modern cafés and traditional coffee houses around the university and in the central shopping districts are lively meeting places for people of all ages. Edirne's inhabitants are friendly and sociable, and the conversation hums as glasses of tea and cups of coffee come and go. This is a city which has been accustomed to visitors from near and far over the centuries, and although times have changed in many ways, traditional hospitality is still very much a part of life here.

Source: Sky life 03/2001

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