Edirne: From Imperial Capital To Greased Wrestling
Although the sultans moved to Istanbul, Edirne was their summer residence as its temperature was lower than that of Istanbul. There were forests and rivers to cool the air, hunts to be organized and other pleasurable pursuits
Turkey’s European province of Thrace is a thriving farming area whose main life centers on Edirne, a city that served as the Ottoman imperial capital before it was moved to Istanbul following the conquest of that city. Edirne’s roots as a city go back to the second and third centuries B.C., when it was Roman and even before. But today you would never know it because the monumental buildings are so clearly Ottoman.
Crowning the entire city is the famed Selimiye Mosque, a product of the Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, who built many of the outstanding buildings in Istanbul and nearby cities. The mosque, built on the tallest hill in Edirne is still a beehive of activity with a bazaar on its lowest level that attracts many buyers even as people worship in the mosque above.
Although the sultans moved to Istanbul, Edirne was their summer residence as its temperature was lower than that of Istanbul. There were forests and rivers to cool the air, hunts to be organized and other pleasurable pursuits. In addition this is where the Ottoman Army would gather in order to set off to attack the strongholds of the Balkans and Eastern Europe.
Rustem Pasa Caravansaray
Members of the imperial court who followed their masters to Edirne were interested in building other structures, so today a visitor can stay in the restored Rustem Pasa Caravansaray. You will immediately feel you’ve been whisked back to the 16th century. Very thick stone walls keep it cool in summer but are hard to heat up in the winter – the staff provides heaters if necessary.
Just across a small square sits the Rustem Pasa Bedestan, a lockable building with immensely thick walls where merchants stored and sold their wares. Today there still are some shopkeepers, but it must have been so much more crowded in centuries gone by. It has a ghost-like feel.
There are many historical places to see in Edirne, but to just pick one it would be the Bayezit II complex, which is just outside the city itself. This was devoted to the treatment of sick patients as well as serving as a mosque and place where caravans could put up for the night. Some of the rooms have been restored and mannequins put up to demonstrate how doctors would have treated their patients. Most importantly this 15th century complex used music to calm disturbed people when such a technique was a long way from being “discovered” in Europe.
Of course if you’re around in the early summer months, then time a visit to Edirne in order to see the greased wrestling matches, which have been held annually at Kirkpinar more than 640 times. Men and boys pour huge amounts of olive oil over themselves and then wrestle until their opponent is overcome. And if you think it’s easy to hang onto someone slathered with oil, think again.
The climax is on the last day when all but the best have been eliminated. As part of the matches, a festival is held outside the stadium, and people come from all around to sell their wares. Butchers set up tables and offer succulent lamb for those who are hungry. It’s quite an experience.
But if you’re looking for food in a somewhat less exciting atmosphere, then try one of the several restaurants that line the banks of one of the three rivers that meet at Edirne and serve fish. On a hot summer’s day, the cool water and towering willow trees make a tourist feel in heaven.