On arrival, the sultan proceeded to his island palace. The first Saray had been installed in the spacious Byzantine citadel in the earliest days of Ottoman rule. It was from here that Bayezid I governed his newly conquered territories.
He was the Yildirim Bayezid who extended Ottoman dominion in the steps of his father, Murad I, in Europe and at first in Anatolia. He got his name because he took his enemies unaware due to the speed with which he skillfully moved his armies. Yildirim may also be interpreted as the Thunderbolt and this is more apposite for symbolic thunderbolts of green-glazed brick are inset into the outer walls of his principal mosque at Bursa. Bayezid was to be defeated by Timur in 1402 at the battle of Ankara, a misfortune which led to the temporary dismemberment of the Ottoman territories among rival brothers. Christopher Marlowe sanctified the legend that Timur kept the fallen ruler in a cage, but this was not true. Bayezid appears to have been treated moderately honorably and not used as a mounting block along with other fallen rulers. But no psychologist would be surprised at his early death in Timur's camp, not from cruelty but from mortal depression, deprived of all power or freedom and of his harem. Of the new palace which flourished from the mid-15th century until the 18th century and the earthquake of 1571, very little remains. It was neglected in the 19th century and suffered extensive damage during the first Russian occupancy of Edirne in 1828-9 and again in 1878 when it was an arms depot and many pavilions perished by fire.
Gone forever are the enchanted kiosks among the meadows with their remarkable walls of Iznik tiles, flower capes that brought the outside gardens inside to bloom throughout the year. One row of domes survives over ruins which may have been a part of the kitchens which had to feed 1000s but nothing of the great tower built by the ever-enquiring Mehmed II as his observatory. It was not loved by the conservative elders any more than the observatory of Sokullu Mehmed Pasha at Cihangir above Galata which was destroyed as the work of the devil after that great grand vezir's death. A child of the Christian levy Sokullu was a Bosnian who was all too kind to his extensive relations who came to seek their fortunes at court so that jealous rivals had him assassinated. But he had indeed been a pillar of the state and one of the most perceptive of Sinan's patrons.
The river keeps to its course and on its banks in the vicinity of the present city, as here in the abandoned meadows of the Saray, it is possible to sit under willows, poplars and tamarisks in the evening and picnic. It is not quite like olden times when the nightingales flourished, and the townsfolks flocked to the riverbanks where the orchards supplied the gardeners and their families with well-earned fruit and there was music and laughter where now there is silence. In the 18th century Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu, wife of the English ambassador, wrote to her friends at home so warmly of these delightful evenings that it is surprising that they did not pack their valises, jump into their carriages and set out for Edirne at once. Edirne under the sultans was an important agricultural center as well as a military command just as it is today. It was also the center of tanning and dyeing, bookbinding and soap making, along with carriages and that delightful furniture style painted with green and gold and, among other delights, attar of roses. In their day no alcohol was drunk within the city precincts. But the wine of Trakya is good and taverns were allowed at four miles distance, enough to sober up a drunkard reeling home, especially soldiers - who can be thirsty.
This added another pleasure to the 17th century's newborn sins of smoking and drinking coffee instead of the much older relief of boredom, hashish. The taverns were frequently rowdy most of all because the corps d'elite, the Janissaries, loved wine for its own sake but also because th6y were loyal supporters of the Bektasi order of the dervishes who drank wine ritually. The Janissaries were, after all, levied from Christian families but other troops also drank and quarreled over favorite boys. Or they were excited by performances of Karagoz, the shadow puppet plays, because these could convey popular feelings and resentments often of a political, radical kind. There are still taverns, within the city now, but these things are not what goes on. Sinan, when building the mosque of Selim II, had to dismiss an unruly lot of Janissaries and request the dispatch of sober replacements to continue the rough work which kept them fit when not on campaign and also, hopefully, out of mischief. The wine is still good in Edirne even now although the Janissaries have been abolished since 1826 but the best must be sought diligently.
Coffee exists but a hookah can hardly be found. Because of its royal past, perhaps, the main streets of Edirne are wide, and trees are planted in public places including the central Meydan or sprawling open square where tables spread round a large pool above the bazaars and below the Selimiye mosque. The military and local government buildings have the quiet and unpretentious dignity of 19th century architecture, but modern banks are flashy, wearing their glass walls with the same swagger with which the Janissaries wore the headpiece of Haci Bektasi. It is a city with a throbbing heart to remind one that this was a flourishing cosmopolitan city. Here a face shows traces of Greek ancestor and there a Slav forebear: and sometimes both. It has not been invaded by peasants, but it shelters numerous gypsies particularly when the wrestling contests are held for this gathering, they have made their own particular occasion. The old Jewish quarter is still pleasant with some wooden houses left from an era quieter than our own. Every pasha in his day had a Jewish adviser to organize his finances after the expulsion of the Sephardim sect from Spain and elsewhere.
With the withering of the importance of the city these financiers were to go to Istanbul and elsewhere in search of fortune. Of modern industrial developments and the new hotels of Talat Pasha Caddesi there is nothing to say except that in the garden of the Sultan Oteli there is a fragment of Hadrian's wall and there is a short stretch as well along the banks of the Tunca river below the Gazi Mihal bridge. The old citadel area is now the Kaleici stretching to the river from the Semiz Ali Pasha market. Of this old center only one tower remains. It dates from the reign of John Comnenus who is portrayed in mosaic in the gallery of Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofia) in Istanbul. With him are his wife, the benevolent Empress Irene, and on a separate wall the already dying King of Rome, his young son Alexius. The tower was there to defend the vanished gate and it is now crowned by a clock after serving as a lookout post for the fire brigade. Clocks in Turkish towns are significant because they were set up following the Tanzimat reforms in the 19th century when the secular government challenged religious customs and modern clockwork took over from the timepiece which was the call of the muezzin to prayer.
This itself has been super ceded by modernity for the call is tape-recorded and nobody stands on the balconies of the many minarets in the town. This was the city which bore the name of Hadrian, Emperor when Rome had reached the apex of its power. He came upon a dejected town and rebuilt it because of its strategic importance at the confluence of the Tunca, Arda and, above all, the Maritza rivers. The valley of the Maritza was the road to Sofia and so to all the Balkans and the Danube. It was for this reason that the Ottomans attacked it after various tribes had attacked and weakened it for centuries and when the shriveled Byzantine Empire weakly retreated before the dynamic forces of the future. It fell in July 1362 to Murad I and Lala Sahin Pasha, once the sultan's tutor and now his commander-in-chief. It was not seen to be the capital then because Murad was constantly absent on campaign or visiting his territories.
Emotionally, it was Bursa which remained the capital in the hearts of the Ottomans and it was there that coin was minted. There also Murad I, his son Bayezid I and his son Mehmed I were to build their palaces and major mosques. At that time the sultan and his sons married into Christian princely dynasties for political reasons, but Murad I married Nilufer, the daughter of the Lord of Yarhisar, who was about to marry the Lord of Bilecik. It was a marriage of love. She had been captured in 1299 and was a devotee of the dervishes who were of immense importance to the early governments of the Ottomans, and she was the first of those remarkable women who again and again deeply influenced Turkish history. And she was the mother of Yildirim.
By the time that Yildirim Beyazid succeeded to the sultanate the empire had greatly expanded and its position in the Balkans was consolidated by the victory of his father at Kossova where the sultan was assassinated in the hour of victory. The Turcoman chiefs preferred the elder son, Yakub, but he was away in Anatolia recruiting troops and Beyazid was on the spot. He assumed power immediately for at such a time there could be no vacuum. In Edirne he may have built or completed the mosque which takes his name, and he certainly faced the problems arising from the rapid conversion of the Christian population of both the city and all over the Balkans. His death at the court of Timur threw the Ottoman house into chaos and civil war. Stripped of his conquests in Anatolia, his sons Mehmed and Isa disputed the rump; Mehmed from Amasya with Isa ensconced in Bursa until he was defeated by the much abler brother, Musa, for at this time the dynasty had a surplus of ability and courage. He who reigned in Bursa could claim to be the ruler but in 1403 Mehmed took the city until Suleyman who had been recognized by Timur as the sultan in Europe defeated him. The struggle to win the loyalties of the Turcoman families, who were the backbone of the army, and of the Christian converts who in Europe represented commercial wealth, and so were the source of revenue, ended in the defeat of Suleyman by Musa in 1411. Isa who had survived to be sent on an expedition against Mehmed in Amasya disappeared. Musa was eventually attacked by Mehmed in 1413, defeated and executed.
It was Suleyman who transferred the mint from Bursa to Edirne and there this symbol of the power of the state was to remain until the conquest of Constantinople in 1453. Edirne was the undisputed capital while Bursa might glory in its wealth from the silk trade and be honored as burial place of the dynasty. Indeed, Musa's body was embalmed and sent there to lie beside that of his father. Suleyman had founded the first major mosque in Edirne, the Ulu Cami (Great Mosque) which became the Eski Cami (Old Mosque) of today when its position as the Friday mosque of the city was taken by the new Uc Serefeli Cami. Mehmed I was to complete the Eski Cami but only lived to 1421 when he died in Edirne. He had built the superb palace-mosque, the Yesil Cami (Green Mosque) in Bursa and the most magnificent of Ottoman mausoleums, his tarbe on the height above it. It shimmered inside and out with brilliant tiles. He had ruled as sultan almost exclusively from Edirne, but it was above the city of his ancestors that he chose to be buried.
He had married Despina, daughter of the King of Serbia, and their son succeeded him as Murad II. Murad II faced many powerful enemies in Europe and there was no question but that his headquarters had to be in Europe. Edirne, therefore, remained the capital. He was a remarkable soldier but also an intellectual - a Book for Princes was written for him - and he was deeply committed to the Mevlevi order of dervishes who are famous for their mystical dance that leads to trance but who stood for much more than this. Their sense of universality encapsulated in the verse of Celalettin Rumi, the Dante of Islam, was and is attractive to all thinking people. Their love of fine poetry was matched by a devotion to the other arts as well. Murad had built himself a handsome mosque and a tomb in Bursa, but his spiritual monument is the Mevlevi mosque at Edirne which looks out over the plain from a height at the edge of the city. Because he was devoted to mysticism Murad, after defeating his hostile neighbors, abdicated in favors of his second son, Mehmed. His elder boy, to his great grief, had died already and Mehmed was to execute his younger brother, Ahmed, because he saw any brother as threat to his throne. Sultans had killed their brothers before but the interregnum of 1402-1414 had made clear that wars between kin must be avoided at all cost and Mehmed on accession made fratricide the law.
Each sultan had his brothers strangled, since royal blood might not be shed, however great the grief. But when Ahmed I succeeded in 1603, to his great honor he abolished this law outright. It had however, prevented civil wars without question. Mehmed was a boy of 14 when his father first abdicated and left the state in the hands of the Vezir but trouble brews quickly. The Christian adversaries of the Ottomans scented discord in Edirne between rival grandees and their chance to drive them out of the Balkans. Murad had retreated to the gardens of Manisa with his cupbearer and cut himself off from worldly matters, but he cannot have been surprised when messengers arrived to importune him to return. He proceeded to rout the enemy, yet he was soon to abdicate afresh and with an uprising of the Janissaries the farce was to be repeated. This time he remained until his death. Mehmed II was now 21 and determined to rule in spite of his unpopularity. This did not last and soon the days of Edirne as a capital were over for to Fatih (Conqueror) Mehmed fell the glory of the conquest of Constantinople in 1453. The spiritual authority of Bursa was diminished likewise when Mehmed II was buried in his vast complex in the new capital. Edirne continued to be the capital intermittently for sultans often resided there as for example in 1509 when a disastrous earthquake savaged Istanbul and killed 13,000 people. The Saray was severely damaged and Beyazid had to camp in his garden. A hundred mosques were ruined and the new dome of Bayezid's mosque collapsed.
The sultan retreated to Edirne with his government and there planned the rebuilding of Istanbul and its monumental walls. More than 7000 masons were conscripted - preventing serious building elsewhere. Edirne was not to suffer a serious earthquake until 1751 from which date the decline of its importance can be dated. Beyazid II was a great builder as his sumptuous complex in Istanbul testifies.
As the heir to the throne his apprenticeship had been served at Amasya where he endowed a pastoral complex on the banks of the Ye0 Irmak (Green river -the Iris). In this there was some of the poetry of his grandfather and this thread is enhanced by his romantic hospital endowed on the banks of the Tunca river in Edirne. His son who deposed Beyazid, Yavuz (Grim) Selim was too involved in the conquests of Syria and Egypt to leave monuments behind him but in the reign of Silleyman the Magnificent vezir's and military commanders were to build markets and hamams. Suleyman had written verse but his son Selim II was the greatest poet of the Ottoman family. When he came to the sultanate there was no more room for a major mosque in Istanbul for all the seven hills had been built on. But Selim was the new patron of Sinan, incomparably the greatest of Ottoman architects and indisputably at the height of his powers. When the booty from the conquest of Cyprus made it possible, there was no question but that the new sultan must commission a major monument in thanksgiving and there in the Edirne of which he was fond was a small but only hillock.
A mosque erected there would dominate the town and it was there accordingly that this much maligned sultan ordered his mosque to be built and by ensuring that it was richly endowed put his detractors to shame by achieving the ultimate monument of the house of Osman. For Sarhos (the Drunkard) Selim was not only the heir to Suleyman's throne but he was born of his love for the Slav who was his slave, Haseki Hurrem. Because of Suleiman's devotion to this remarkable woman, he was to marry her as if she were a princess. She was one of the only three legitimate wives of later sultans and known to all Europe as Roxolani.
Selim drank and if one images the scheming and tensions of life in a confined palace one can hardly blame this sensitive, if ugly, man. If Ahmed I loved his tent and his hunting along the road more than Edirne itself, for him and many of the 17th century sultans the garden palace was their refuge and most of all for Mehmed IV who pined for it when he was confined to Istanbul. The city was thronged and flourished but no great monuments were added in part because the Selimiye was unsurpassable and partly because money was short especially after the defeat of Kara Mustafa Pasha before the gates of Vienna.
His sultan, Mehmed IV, was singularly undistinguished and not the monarch to be a threat to the Hapsburgs had they not been commonplace as well. But even in his reign, the sight of the Ottoman army taking days to march past the sultan at his gate, with the horsetails that were the standards of the pashas streaming and the emblems of the various companies of the Janissaries and all the other corps, was splendid. With them went the martial music of the band after band which could still strike terror into an enemy in the field with the deep drums and jingling Johnnies, Turkish variations on the fife and the clashing of cymbals which were invented in Anatolia. The sleeve of Haci Bektasi hung down the janissaries' shoulders to add swagger to their bearing. The cavalry or Sipahis were caparisoned, and their harnesses sparkled as squadron after squadron rode by very well aware of the splendor of their uniform. All too aware, since they and long resisted using firearms because of the soot and the burns that unreliable gunpowder caused.
The great pashas were surrounded by pages, chosen as much for their good looks as their agility, and their household of retainers and aghas. The baggage train carried arms, armor and helmets until donned when the Zone of War was reached: mules laden, camels laden, water buffalo dragging carts carrying cannon and innumerable tent props and the tents themselves from the grand vezir's pavilion to the pup tents of the fighting men. There were flowerpots too for the grand vezir's garden. Along with these was food for the first stage of the march only, because the commissariat was excellently organized with the country folk bringing in supplies to rallying points to reduce the train of wagons which could take a day to pass, not to mention the camp followers. And among all these, flocks of sheep proceeded - meat on the hoof to be slaughtered when required. Toughened by the march they could keep up for 15 or even 20 miles a day with any army. Such a show left no one in Edirne in any doubt that the grand Vezir would be victorious.