Edirne, in Thrace, is a city with plenty of history. In Edward Gibbon's tome on the fall of the Roman Empire, this is where the Ottoman's Mehmet II launched his attack that took over Constantinople around 1300AD. Historic place, which means I will need a GPS waypoint of this place.
2 September 2009: It is an early morning for a daytrip to Edirne (Adrianople or Hadrianopolis), and the position of my new hotel allows me to take the first tram that passes Sultanahmet station on the way to the Otogar after a change of trains. Hope to grab my sleep later on the bus as the trip should take some time. If you recall, I booked this bus ticket in advance from the Istanbul Otogar on Monday and will be travelling with Ulusoy bus company on the 0800hrs bus. The trip should take around 2 hours. Left the hotel before 7am and at this time, Sultanahmet is totally dead. Nothing except sanitation workers sweeping up rubbish on the street from the night before. Lucky the tram starts moving at 6am. It looks like a blue sky day but I will be careful. Going with a small backpack with a spare lens, waterproof jacket and my all-important iPod. All cameras are coming along and I expect a long day of walking and aimless wandering in Edirne.
0715hrs: I have done this public transportation routine before. Tram to Metro station Aksaray and straight on to the Otogar from there. Just hoping to get there with enough time to have a light breakfast this morning. It's always good to have a feel of the area before a tight schedule so that muscle memory takes over.
Nothing special here, boarded the bus like clockwork, and proceeded to the all important nap.
1106hrs: Arrived in Edirne. The bus stops at the Otogar outside the city. Right next to the bus is a smaller shuttle bus which brings the passengers to wherever you want to go in Edirne. This type of town planning makes sense, but what happens if the bus is full and the shuttle bus is just carrying a third of the capacity of a large coach bus?
Eventually this trip took more than 2 hours from Istanbul to Edirne. It seems that the buses here do not travel so fast, so a little more time is required from what was expected earlier.
The shuttle bus would bring us to the bus stop next to Selimiye Mosque. Once I got there, thought that a 7pm return bus ticket is in order right now, and is a good time to return so I bought tickets right then to make sure I have an aim at the end of today. This mosque is quite visibly the most elaborate one in Edirne, another of Mimar Sinan's creation and the center of most tourist visits to this city I'm sure. I spend 30 minutes inside while shooting some macro closeups. The architecture of this mosque is unmistakably Ottoman in nature.
1243hrs: Took me some time to find my orientation here in Edirne. The place is rural, but in an outpost kind of way. Lunchtime now at Altinsis Sarayi consisting of Beyti Kebap, Cay and salad portion. No meat it seems. Everywhere you go they ask if you want coke, fanta or one of those soft drinks. Tea for me. They grill stuff in wood and charcoal fire oven so it has to be good. No Ramadan here as far as I can see! I am supposed to fast today but since I didn't have breakfast yet, I suppose I can compromise. Super hot day today and it's noon now so time to cool down in the shops.
1400hrs: Right outside a town square, I find a tourist office and enquired how to get to the Sarayi palace complex. Was recommended to take a minibus for 1TL and I noticed on the map that it passes through Sultan Beyazid II complex as well, so why not make an unscheduled stop there.
The bus winds through a rural area where the scene looks more Balkans with horse pulled carts and cows on the street. And all of a sudden I stop at a big beautiful Ottoman building complex complete with domes and minarets. The first stop is a medical museum for 10TL. I didn't plan to come here, but just so happen that the bus that I took passes by here. The plan is then to have a look at the complex and then walk back to the town center about 5km away in the hot sun, while going through a few other sights along the way.
This complex is medium in size. Definitely very well kept and renovated. To the right of the entrance, where tickets are bought, is the mental asylum where they started to treat patients with soothing music and so on, unlike the western world at that time that treats mentally ill patients as being possessed by the devil and thus should be... tortured like in the movie Exorcist! There are all these exhibits here on the medicine and cure of its time and some of them are quite impressive, but not impressive enough for me to remember most of it once I leave the room! That says something about my capacity to remember nowadays. There is also an outpatient department, where the audio for the slideshow below was recorded, and the central water fountain is surrounded by consultation rooms. Patients would hang around outside the rooms and wait for their turn, not unlike what happens today when we visit the our general practitioner. This place is worth a visit, even considering the dodgy bus ride outside the city in a clockwise loop.
1519hrs: After the medical museum, I walked eastwards past a dilapidated mosque that is being renovated. It is quite obviously part of the Beyazid II complex of buildings. Looks like the workmen are polishing up the stones that make up the exterior, and whatever they're doing with it, the interiors are still open to the outside, and it is a fully functioning mosque.
About 2 km further eastwards I arrive at the Edirne Palace after going pass a rural surrounding and old women in headscarves asking for money, at least that is what it sounded like with their palms outstretched. It was so hot they were not even willing to get out and walk for the money. Back at the Edirne Palace, I imagined that here before the conquest of Constantinople - this was the capital of the Ottoman empire where the Sultan stayed. Not much of the place is still standing, a ruined structure or two. I am now standing next to the entrance, in a shade, typing this out before spending some time imagining this place 700 years ago.
Surrounding this area, there are ruins and at least one of them being restored as I walked pass. Close by is Kirkpinar Stadium, where once a year in Summer the oil wrestling tournament takes place, amidst farm animals wandering all over the place. Today the stadium is eerily quiet. Around the stadium there are metal statues of wrestling champions, I would guess. The temperature today is freaking hot. I wouldn't say it is 40 Centigrade, but I think we are not too far from there. I have a few more km more to go according to my GPS. Direction back to the center of Edirne, hoping to pass Uc Serefeli Mosque, which is said to be the inspiration for the Selimiye mosque.
1605hrs: On my way back to Huriyet Meydani in the heart of Edirne. Still full from the mega lunch. Crossed the river along a stone bridge and I am now in a more urban area compared to the last posting. Taking refuge at Beylerbeyi Camii Mosque (1429AD). Mosques are a nice place to relax as it is generally quiet and cool in the hot sun. The only annoying thing here are the poor kids asking for money. Fine if they carry my 5kg of gear, but they will not get a cent from me and encouraging them to make begging a professional career. Everyone is always asking for something or selling something here. I rate this place as poor, wealthwise. Strange small mosque this one. Some poor kids chatting, a turk couple romancing outside the temple door with turkish music playing on their phone and 20m away a girl chats on her mobile and have been doing so for the last half hour.
Just a while after, I'm at Uc Serefeli Mosque, with each minarets different from the other. I'm not sure which is bigger between this one and Selimiye. The Uc Serefeli is definitely not a small building. Strange it does not show on most maps with its name. Not as famous as its newer brother I guess.
1712hrs: Having dessert at a local Pastanesi at the town square and a box of Seftari Nectari, or what looks like a peach. No idea the dessert but they always seem to come in sets of 4. The one I chose is white in colour and seems to be made of nut, and damn nice as well. Cost only 2.5TL for a set plus the drink. Happy camper.
On the way back to the shuttle drop off point (it is now 1700hrs anyway), I pass by Huriyet Meydani, and stopped for a little dessert at a normal looking shop which they call a pastaleri, which I take to mean pastry. They don't sell tea here which is very un-Turkish.
1745hrs: Right next to Huriyet Meydani is another mosque, Eski Camii, which translates to The Old Mosque. The architecture of this one is definitely different from the Sinan-era mosques. Instead of a large dome this one is made up of 3x3 smaller ones with 4 pillars arranged in a square inside the mosque. Very geometric in architecture, I'd guess that this is more Seljukian architectural style. Large arabic writing cover the lower wall before transitioning into red coloured blocks alternated with patterned blocks on the arches. The motifs on the dome is very different from the other mosques in the area. Very refreshing. And like other mosque, every donation comes with a receipt near the entrance. Makes for great souvenir, and at least the money is put to good use.
1819hrs: Back at the bus station where I was left in the morning. Has been a long but interesting day so far. While waiting for the servis bus, I get to have a nice view of Selimaye Camii right in front of me. If this mosque has not been renovated then I'd say it is a true masterpiece.
To recap a long day is not easy, but easier when you're still living the same day and memories are fresh. I'd say that Edirne is not a rich town, but moderate in size. I can imagine during its heyday, big cities don't reach millions inpopulation. In a way, perhaps Edirne never grew past its prime in terms of size. Not all monuments are preserved, but there are signs of rebuilding on whats left, take the Edirne Palace for example. I came at the wrong time else I'd be able to catch some oil wrestling. People living here are a mix of turks (the turkish look ala Istanbul) and some older people look like they came from the Balkans. Bulgaria and Greece is just across the border so that could explain why. I swear for a while in the countryside at Sultan Beyazit II's complex, I thought I was in Bosnia for a while. There are beggars everywhere. Walking in the countryside and old women open their windows asking for money, the hand signal for money is not too difficult, and rather universal: rub index finger and the thumb together. So poor it is. But culturally, I'm happy enough to see some of the structures that made up Hadrianopolis during the Byzantine and Ottoman times. Mission accomplished!
Next up tomorrow: Iznik/Nicaea, of which the religious Christians among you should have heard about.
Continue to Bursa/Iznik...