Once the Jewel in the Ottoman crown, Edirne is now a somnolent backwater on the Turkish borders of Greece and Bulgaria. Caroline and Andrew Finkel catch glimpses of its glorious past.
It’s a race down the westbound highway, and speed really is the essence to break through the jaw-clenching G-force of ghastliness that Istanbul pulls into its orbit. A blur of architectural grubbiness whizzes past. Our mission? We are boldly going in search of a gentle and melancholic space, somewhere out there on Turkey’s final frontier.
We are bound for Edirne, the Ottoman capital until the siege of Constantinople in 1453. The sultans moved their court here in the 1350s after they took the city and, like Bursa, the capital it replaced, it boasts an extraordinary wealth of historical monuments.
Even fans of Bursa readily confess that this jewel of a city has concreted over its charm. Edirne, however, preserves not just the monuments of the past, but also a sense of scale. Once upon a time many Ottoman cities were like Edirne, a place where centuries-old structures, from bridges to caravansarays, from covered markets to mosques, are still in daily use. The grand Selimiye Mosque not only dominates the town, but, like the spires of Oxford or a medieval cathedral, it dominates the flat countryside for miles around. The imperial mosque of Selim II, the Selimiye was finished after six years of construction in 1575, and it the master work of the architect Sinan.
Imperial kaftans were presented in kaleidoscopic patchworks of silk that were works of art in their own right
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The exhibition at the Sabancı Museum is not only about Genghis Khan and his heirs. It starts several centuries BC with beautiful pieces created by the peoples of the Steppes that tell us about the animals on which they depended in daily life and the mythical creatutes that saw them through to the afterlife.