Bordering Greece and Bulgaria, Turkey’s northwestern Edirne province, looks forward to slake international visitors’ thirst for tourism with its historical sites, cultural heritage, rich cuisine, faith tourism and natural beauty.
Ruled by Persians, the Roman Empire and Venetians, Edirne has been home to numerous civilizations throughout its history, but its conquest in 1361 opened a new page for the province as it became the capital of the Ottoman Empire.
Today, the Ottoman Empire’s influence is vivid in every corner of the province, particularly in the architecture of Edirne’s famous mosques, which fascinate people from all walks of life.
Dubbed the “Sultan of Cities” by locals, Edirne welcomes visitors with the magnificent Selimiye Mosque, an imperial Ottoman mosque built by one of the empire’s greatest architects, Mimar Sinan, who referred to it as his “masterpiece”.
Included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List, Selimiye Mosque and its complex are considered one of the most sophisticated and highest achievements of Islamic civilization by experts.
Although Selimiye Mosque is the most internationally known spiritual place in Edirne, it is actually a part of “golden triangle”, a reference to three major mosques located in the city center which includes Old Mosque and Uc Serefeli Mosque.
The Old Mosque, or Great Mosque of Edirne, is one of the oldest monumental artifacts of the Ottoman era and stands as the symbol of the empire’s growth with its sophisticated architecture. Notably, the mosque is distinguished with various huge Arabic inscriptions written on its walls.
Uc Serefeli Mosque, reflecting the classical period of the Ottoman Empire, has a monumental minaret that is 67 meters (220 feet) in height. With its rectangle building style, the mosque inspired a fresh perspective for mosque architects.
Sultan Bayezid II Complex
Sultan Bayezid II Complex, or Kulliye, located on the outskirts of Edirne, was home to a hospital and medical training facility, in addition to the mosque. Built in the 15th century, the complex today serves as a health museum and was awarded with the European Museum in 2004 as well as takes place in UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list.
Back in the day, the complex was a place of treatment for the sick or mentally ill people. In addition to the traditional treatment methods, the complex also offered musical therapy.
Given that mentally ill people in the 15th century could be condemned to death or isolated from the society in various parts of the world, it is remarkable that this Ottoman complex dealt with patients in such a modern and innovative way. In addition to music, the sound of water and the lovely smell of flowers were also used to help mentally ill people.
One of Turkish history’s earliest toxicology experiments were used in the complex as well. Famous Ottoman physician Sherefeddin Sabuncuoglu treated his patients in the complex with his self-made theriacs which had good effects on people suffering from fever and hallucinations.
The complex is visited by tens of thousands every year and provides an insight into classical Ottoman healthcare services.
In addition to its magnificent mosques, Edirne is also home to the Grand Synagogue, which is the largest synagogue in Balkans and third largest in Europe.
Christians, for their part, freely practice their religious duties in Sveti Georgi Bulgarian Church which was opened in 1880s. Most of the church officials are from the same family line. One can learn about the Bulgarian culture in the upper floor of the church.
Edirne also hosted the Ottoman redoubts, or Osmanli Tabyasi, which were located on strategic positions, were used as a fortification in the Balkan Wars against the occupant forces.
Today, the redoubts are carefully renovated and are projected to be the largest interactive museum of Turkey and Balkans with the help of Culture and Tourism Ministry.
Treaty of Lausanne Monument
Those who seek to witness a milestone in modern Turkey’s history can visit the Treaty of Lausanne Monument in Edirne’s northwest.
The Treaty of Lausanne defined the borders of modern Turkey, announcing the end of the World War I conflict.
The colossal monument, established in 1998, was the symbol of the end of the conflict between Turkey and Allied forces. In addition, there is a museum dedicated to the treaty near the monument, ready to enlighten history enthusiasts.
Legendary oil wrestling festival of Kirkpinar
Every late June or early July, Edirne hosts Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival, where oil wrestlers compete to win the prestigious golden belt and honor country’s ancient tradition.
Referred as “ancestors’ sport”, oil wrestling has been held consecutively since 1362 without any disruptions with its unique rituals and characters in the Kirkpinar site.
In traditional oil wrestling, wrestlers wear leather pants, rub olive oil on their bodies and tackle each other on grass fields to be the last man standing.
Edirne is also famous with its pan-fried liver dish, or ‘Edirne Cigeri’. Thousands of tourists flock to the province just to enjoy this delicacy.
Edirne has a unique culture of street fruit and vegetable stands where vendors sell their fresh mouth-watering products such as tomatoes, grapes, potatoes, watermelon, peaches and many others.
If you are a sweet tooth, the traditional Ottoman Candy (Osmanli Paste) is a must-taste dessert with different flavors spiraled deftly around a stick and sprinkled with fresh lemon juice; in a way, it is an ancient version of current lollipops.
Mobile lemonade stands should be yet another yummy part of your food tour in Edirne as it is as tasty and authentic as it used to be centuries ago.
Animal friendly towns
When foreign tourists pay a visit to Turkey, they are usually surprised by the fact that there are many animals in the streets, which are regularly controlled and taken care of by the authorities.
To Turks, every single animal on the streets is of great value, and both officials and Turkish people do their best to take care of them. Edirne is no different with dozens of cats and dogs laying on the streets ready to be petted.
When you leave the urban area and swing by villages, you can see plenty of ducks, chickens and horses chilling near forestry areas while listening to the beautiful songs of the wild birds.
In addition, Edirne’s sweet-smelling fruit soaps — produced since 17th-century Ottoman era — are loved by all. These soaps are attractive in appearance and color, coming in different fruit shapes such as orange, watermelon, a bunch of grapes, apple, banana and many more.
With its 1,585 registered historical artifacts and sites, rich culture, gastronomy alternatives, and potential in faith and nature tourism, Edirne awaits local and international tourists.
Edirne stands as one of Turkey’s top tourism attraction points, ranking in country’s leading five provinces.