Myself and Sarah, having made our decision on Edirne, left bright and early on Friday morning. A little background. Edirne is a former Ottoman capital about 3 hours West of Istanbul, putting it within spitting distance of both the Greek and Bulgarian borders. Nowadays it has fewer than 150000 residents and is overlooked by all but the most adventurous of tourists. Enter us. Getting to Edirne consisted of us taking a shuttle bus to Alibeyköy bus station and then just catching another shuttle (luckily I was listening pretty closely to the service announcements which were of course all in Turkish) to the Bayrampaşa station and from there catching the actual bus to Edirne. Bayrampasa was nuts and our bus didn’t end up pulling into an actual parking spot but just pulled up behind the other buses and we heard some guy call out an announcement that it was there. We both slept on the bus but we got banana cake and drinks from the bus attendant. This despite the fact that we were only on the bus for 2 and a half hours. We stopped once for a smoking break and got into Edirne before noon. We caught a dolmuş or minibus into the town itself since the bus station is almost 10km from the city center. The driver of the dolmus seemed a little surprised to see foreigners in town and made sure that we got off at the right stop, which was right next to Selimiye Mosque. We grabbed lunch in a small restaurant and I gave the address of our apartment to the waiter, who gave it to the owner of the establishment and he called the hotel for us to get an exact location. He gave me directions (see that mosque there, go behind it) and within 5 minutes or so we were presenting ourselves to the management of a small Turkish apartment house, who appeared in the form of an attractive 20-something Turkish man. We filled out all the paperwork and he showed us to our room which was a bedroom, kitchen mudroom and bathroom, and free wifi. This was all less than $25 a night. This country does create unrealistic expectations for cost. We settled our stuff and decided to go exploring.
Üç Şerefeli Camii
On Friday we ended up seeing the three biggest and most important mosques in town, which are Üç Şerefeli Eski Camii and Selimiye Camii. We approached them in this order. After being given a Turkish umbrella, which has a canopy of clear plastic by one of the men who lived/worked at the apartment block since it was raining hard when we left, we walked about 30 feet and into Üç Şerefeli. We were the only ones in the place. I could hear the rain on the dome of the mosque and we quietly wandered, taking photos and simply enjoying the incredibly calm atmosphere that the mosque created. The physical beauty of it could have easily been overwhelming, but small human touches, like the shelves for the shoes of the faithful, or a rack of coats and scarves for women to cover up with, helped to avoid this. We stayed for a while and then ventured back out into the rain. At Eski Camii a funeral was just wrapping up on the porch outside so men were coming in to pray, but after I asked we were urged inside. This mosque did not feature any tiling and most of its walls were blank but for huge calligraphy inscriptions. İt was dark and we could hear the men moving around, but I liked this too. It felt like a place of worship, somewhere that people marked the everyday as well as important life events. While we were inside the muezzin started the call to prayer and so we snuck out through a stream of worshippers taking off their shoes and entering through the green leather doors that mark most any functioning mosque in Turkey. Since mosques prefer that tourists not come in during prayers we went beyond Selimiye and instead checked out the small local Archaeology and Ethnography museum. After showing our museum cards to some mildly surprised guards we wandered through the exhibits, which included some rather nice Greek and Roman pottery and sculpture, as well as mannequins showing traditional Turkish dress and a room in an Ottoman household.
Edirne is littered with old Ottoman homes, a few of which have been restored, and most of which have fallen into terrible disrepair, leaving their wooden fronts as a reminder of how fall this town has fallen, from the center of Ottoman life, to a small border town. Many of the streets are dirty and littered with debris. Homes are a bit ramshackle and water pours down in rivers when it rains moderately hard. The riverbanks are covered in trash and many of the roads outside of the city center are dirt, or half dirt. Modernity recedes from your consciousness. You take in the grime and the abandoned buildings dispassionately. Edirne felt poorer than Istanbul, or at least than the Istanbul that I know. Edirne is also home to the requisite stray cats and dogs, a large number of tractors and horse carts especially considering its size and what feels like a sizable portion of the Turkish army. Over the course of the weekend we walked past at least a dozen militarily protected sites, most of them barracks. This is probably because the town is on the border but it still is enough to put you a little on alert and induce some nervousness.
We returned to Selimiye after a while and stepped into an earthly paradise. Selimiye is supposed to be the crown jewel of Mimar Sinan’s creations. Sinan was probably the most important Imperial architect throughout the entire Ottoman era. His name is omnipresent and his works are famous. And Selimiiye is breathtaking. The balance of space, color, light, sound, atmosphere, material, scale, everything about that mosque sang. I could have sat there for hours. I took more photos than it really decent, and yet I knew that I could not capture the grandeur and the serenity of the place. Selimiye had a few visitors but not many. People were quiet and respectful and most of those inside the mosque were Turkish. A few cleaning women went about their task. I craned my neck to try and inspect every detail of the mosque’s furnishings, though the detail put in defies memory. I sat on a raised platform at the back for a while and watched the subtle changes in lighting as the sun sank lower on the horizon. I listened in to the conversations happening around me and found myself smiling at the pure pleasure of understanding without having to work at it. Not only the language but much of the culture and the history and the religion of this country have become clearer in the 2 and a half years since I started studying it. I am reaching a point where I can translate for people, but I can translate more than manuscripts and menus. I can translate much of the culture to those who have no prior knowledge of it. I can begin to share and open eyes and explain to people why I pick a language as an elective and insist on returning to the region despite the fact that it occasionally makes me crazy.
|Sarah in Selimiye Camii|
We walked that evening, through the rain and the falling fog, past men-only coffee shops and people selling fruit out of the trunks of their cars. We walked and took it in until our minds and hearts and shoes were saturated and then we turned for home.
The next morning we took a roundabout route to the Museum of Health in an old Ottoman hospital complex and learned about the advanced treatment that was available to patients of all types, including the mentally ill, such as music therapy, from the 1650s and before. I can highly recommend this museum, both for the rather startling knowledge that almost 400 years ago people treatment options were as good if not better than they are today for the mentally ill and also for the frankly hilarious mannequin exhibits of patients and treatments including a man with “chronic psychosis” who appears to have a Moses complex. The museum building was again stunning and attached to the Beyazid II Mosque, which of course we visited as well. This too was beautiful, small and raw, looking unfinished when compared to the other mosques that we had seen, but this detracted not at all from its charm. We were again alone in the mosque. We walked back into town through a residential area, where I heard a women speaking to her neighbor say “There are foreigners here!” as though we were the first they had ever seen. We checked out the shopping quarter of the city and visited two more museums: the Turkish Islamic Arts and the Selimiye Mosque Foundation Museum. Both were located in the former medreses, or schools, within the outer courtyard of the Selimiye mosque complex. Again, I think I enjoyed the building as much as the exhibits. We turned in early, due at least in part to the fact that it was again cold and rainy. Anytime spring wants to arrive I will welcome it with open arms.
Me outside Selimiye
On Sunday, our last day in town, we walked to the South to check out two Ottoman bridges, walked by the river for a while, attracted a very good number of amused startled and frankly confused stares and then decided we might as well hit a nice round 5 for mosques. We settled on Muradiye Camii for our last visit. This was an excellent decision. We walked through another residential neighborhood, this one feeling poor but very friendly and got directions up to the mosque, which stood on a hill in a sea of green, part garden and part cemetery. We went into the mosque with a man who I assume was its caretaker, but also seemed to be a very serious student of the Koran. An imam perhaps? I could not say. IN any case he offered to give us some history about the mosque, since, quell surprise; we were the only ones there. I provided a running English translation of his explanation of various architectural features and historical tidbits about the building and various figures who had been associated with it. I have never had a real tour of a mosque before and it made it so much more meaningful. It was also fun to stretch my wings a little and try my hand at translation. I think I rather like it. The mosque was small and cozy for want of a better word. The decoration had at one point been lavish but had fallen on hard times. It was built by Fatih Sultan Mehmet’s father, in the 1430s. The building felt like it knew its age but it was still proud, and perfectly aware of its history. The vista was stunning too, with an excellent view of the town. Edirne may not be what it once was, but it cannot be discounted. It stands tall, unabashed of what it knows lies at its feet. It endures. And I cannot help but to admire it for its forgotten glory.
|The street to Muradiye Camii [on hill]|