Border city Edirne becomes flourishing commercial hub
Greek and Bulgarian tourists throng the frontier metropolis, which once served as the capital of the Ottoman Empire, for shopping and sightseeing. Built along the shores of the Meric and Tunca Rivers, Edirne is best known for its majestic mosques, bustli
By Metin Demirsar
Edirne (Dunya) – In the markets, ancient bazaars and magnificent mosques of this bustling border city, one can often hear more Bulgarian, Greek and Romanian spoken than Turkish as tourists from the Balkans throng Edirne and mingle among merchants, buying everything from feta cheese and spicy sausages to color television sets and apparel.
With Turkey's economy booming, Edirne has been attracting visitors from the Balkans and from Western Europe seeking to buy low cost food and merchandize and admire the many monuments of the city's Ottoman past.
Built on the shores of the winding Meric (Maritza) and Tunca (Tundzha) Rivers, Edirne serves as Turkey's window to the West and European Union's entry door to the Orient. The city is only 19km (12 miles) from Kapikule, on the Bulgarian border, and a mere five km (3 miles) from Pazarkule, Turkey's border with Greece.
Every day caravans of huge lorries pass through the city, carrying cargo to destinations in western Europe, or transporting imported goods from the European Union (EU) nations to Istanbul and further east.
Although an unhurried atmosphere pervades the old section of the city, dominated by the graceful 16th century Selimiye Mosque, new suburbs with bustling shopping centers have sprouted up, housing the families employed at the hundreds of nearby factories producing export goods.
With a population of 142,000, Edirne is located 245 km (152 miles) northwest of Istanbul . The city, situated in the northwestern corner of Turkey, can be easily reached from Istanbul via a 2.5 hour drive along the Trans European Motorway, or by a longer trip along the E-5 Highway, better known as the Londra Asfalti, the London Highway because it supposedly runs all the way to London. Regular passenger buses and trains also operate between the two cities.
The city has always been an important junction between Europe and the Occident.
Edirne's roots go back to 4000 BC, but today's city was established by Roman Emperor Hadrian in AD 125. Originally known as Hadrianopolis, the name was changed to Adrianopolis under the Byzantines, and later shortened to Edirne by the Ottoman Turks, who conquered the city in 1361 and proclaimed it their capital (replacing Bursa). It remained the capital of the Ottoman Empire until the fall of Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453.
For 400 years, the city enjoyed peace, only to be broken in the 19th century when Russian armies invaded Thrace in 1828 and again in 1878. The Balkan Wars disrupted peace in 1912 and 1913, when the city changed hands several times. In 1922, Mustafa Kemal (later Ataturk) defeated the invading Greek army. The Treaty of Lausanne, which settled that conflict, permitted Turkey to keep Edirne and eastern Thrace (the southeast tip of the Balkans.)
During the Ottoman centuries, Edirne was one of the world's most populous cities, attracting travellers around the globe to its renowned Beyazit II hospital, one of the world's biggest charitable organizations.
In its heyday, Edirne had 24 caravanserais (or hotels), 285 mosques, 56 dervish convents, 16 baths and 124 fountains and its palace rivaled the Topkapi in Istanbul.
People visit Edirne for two principal reasons these days to see the Ottoman mosques and bazaars and to witness the Kirkpinar Grease Wrestling Championship, the oldest wrestling event in the world, held in July. It has been held every year since the Turks conquered the city 561 years ago
What makes the Kirkpinar tournament different from others is that the wrestlers -- contestants of all ages – are doused from head to feet with olive oil to make the holds more exciting and slippery.
Edirne is laid out in a grid pattern, making it easy to explore.
The Selimiye Mosque, one of the masterpieces of Ottoman architecture, stands on a hill in the center of the old town and is visible from miles around. Constructed by Sinan (1489-1588), the greatest Ottoman architect, the Selimiye in many ways rivals the 6th century Byzantine Haghia Sofia Basilica in Istanbul in its simplicity, sophistication and grandeur.
Scores of outdoor cafes and restaurants, serving the city's main dish, Arnavut Cigeri or Albanian-style fried liver, are located along the main square of the city, Hurriyet Meydani, and along the Meric River, east and south of the city
Worth a visit is the old Edirne Railway Station in the old neighborhood Karagac, about three km south of the city. The building now houses the administrative building of the Trakya University, and the railway station has been relocated..
In the garden is the Lausanne Monument, commemorating the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that recognized Turkish sovereignty of Thrace and Anatolia.