Over the past few years and especially in the past few months I’ve had the awesome privilege of getting to explore Turkey well beyond what the average tourist would get to experience. Thanks to good connections, language, and sometimes just following gravel roads on a whim we’ve seen, experienced, tasted, and met amazing people, places, foods and more. Mislabeled signs, long-cuts down gravel roads, and asking the right people the right questions have lead us into some of the most amazing moments we’ve had in this country!
A few weeks ago Nathan and I decided to go see Turkey’s most north-western city: Edirne (Sean’s still off on baby related business in the motherland). While the city is certainly amazing our trip was… weirdly normal? We wandered around taking in some of the grandest sights of the Ottoman Empire, took pictures, ate food, bought an ugly ‘Edirne’ fridge magnet, and had countless shopkeepers try to sell us stuff in English (Hello my friend! Hello! Yes please!). Our travel to and from the city went smoother than expected, no one was shocked at foreigners being there, the culture was familiar, and we didn’t eat anything weird (we’re counting liver as normal here).
The hotel we stayed at was kinda special. The guy at the front desk only had one eye for starters. The hotel was right in the heart of the city so that we could easily go out for some photos before sunrise and it was as cheap as you can find in a place like Edirne. And cheap it was. We had to share our room (and my bed) with cockroaches and the wall almost fell over when Nathan leaned on it. Also the drawers were full of cigarette ashes. Apparently previous guests had to improvise for lack of an actual ashtray. At least there weren’t any bloody handprints on the wall like that time in Çorum… Actually, staying at this place totally confirmed to me that I should write a post giving our top tips for saving money and staying in crap hotels, so look forward to that!
While our trip may have felt quite normal it wasn’t because Edirne wasn’t amazing. Nearly surrounded by rivers there are loads of beautiful bridges from the Ottoman period set in the green farmland, small forests, and wetlands. There are historical baazars, Turkish baths, caravanserais, historic neighbourhoods with traditional sweets or coffee shops, and, of course, grand mosques.
If you’re anything like me and love historical architecture and being able to trace the evolution in architectural possibilities and styles then Edirne is a must-see. Some of the earliest grand-scale Ottoman mosques were built here in Edirne and, a few centuries later, Ottoman architecture reached its zenith with the construction of the Selimiye Mosque and complex in 1575.
Selimiye is truly magnificent and is arguably the building that does the best job at hiding its Byzantine-inspired, dome-on-a-box layout, which also makes it one of the most innovative designs in centuries of building upon this model. Rather than getting carried away with my thoughts on Selimiye and the other great structures of Edirne let me recommend our Destination+ page for tons more details.
The only catch to enjoying Selimiye is all the ridiculously exaggerated praise of Selimiye. The magnificent achievement that is Selimiye is muddled by many absurd claims about the Mosque and a sort of need to preach the supremacy of the Ottomans over basically everything else. One thing I read is that the particular lighting style of the Dutch painter Vermeer (I’m pretty sure they said Vermeer) was actually invented by Mimar Sinan and the windows he designed in Selimiye. Never mind the fact that we’re talking about two different forms of art and utterly different uses of light. It’s also very common to hear about the superiority of Selimiye over the Hagia Sophia as if 1000 years of architectural development means nothing. Especially considering the design is roughly the same; grand dome on a box supported by buttresses and semi-domes.
Rather than ranting, let me just say that Selimiye ought to be enjoyed as a piece of art. You don’t scoff at one great painting because you saw a better one once, you take it in and enjoy it for what it is. And what it is, is a true masterpiece of architecture that I would seriously recommend you see if you get the chance!
We spent a great amount of our time wandering the city and the surrounding riverbanks. Apparently this pair of Canadians have totally acclimatized to Turkish weather because 4 degrees Celsius was bloody cold! Catching sunrise on a river bank with ruins, towers, stone bridges, and medieval hospitals was well worth braving the cold though. Also, an 8:30 sunrise is a whole lot easier than the 5:30 sunrises I was getting up for in the summer!
In an attempt to warm up one night we decided to go to one of the many Hamams, or Turkish Baths. We picked Sokullu Hamamı for no reason in particular and we were glad we did. It was built in the 1500’s and looked like little had been done to maintain it in a hundred years or so. It was designed by Mimar Sinan, the same architect that designed Selimiye Mosque and it really showed. The marble basins were worn down about an inch and a half from being used as an armrest just to give you an idea of how old and original this place was. As it turned out we knew the…. hamam guy? bath man? the guy-who-worked-at-the-hamam’s in-law (sister’s husband or maternal aunt’s husband. It’s not clear in Turkish) from another hamam that we have been to in Istanbul. Turns out it’s something of a family trade.
There’s really very little else to say about our time in Edirne (unless anyone ACTUALLY wants me to get going on architecture) so instead here’s a few more pictures of this beautiful place! If you want to know more about Edirne and all there is to see and do make sure you check out our Destination+ page for lots more details!