April 1, 2011

Edirne, Turkey. June, 2007

I wanted to see more than just Istanbul on my first visit to Turkey, so I took an early morning bus from the rainy city to sun-filled Edirne, three hours west, on the borders with Greece and Bulgaria. What drew me here (aside from the thrill of being in Thrace!) was the famous Sinan-designed Mosque of Selimiye that established the architect's reputation when this was the capital of the Ottoman Empire. It was one of the few mosques I visited that had beggars positioned at focal entrances, human reminders of the Qu'ran's commandment to share one's wealth with those less fortunate. In addition to visiting Edirne’s Eski Cami ("old mosque") and a Sinan-designed hamam where I enjoyed a relaxing Turkish bath and a sensational "massage and rough scrub," I also took a walk out of the city to the Beyazit II complex with caravanseri (originally to house visiting pilgrims and their animals), medical school, public soup kitchen, hamam, storage rooms, insane asylum (where the main “instruments of healing” were the sounds of music and water) and mosque proper. Settled out in the undeveloped fields, it gave me a real idea of how most of these mosques I'd been visiting in Istanbul had originally sat upon spacious grounds, their minarets visible to the approaching traveler from miles away. No one was in the Beyazit II mosque when I visited, the prayer rugs were all rolled up and stashed in a niche built into an outside wall. Then, almost out of nowhere, a young man bicycled up, removed his shoes, washed his hands and feet and entered the mosque to pray, one of five times he would probably do so this day and everyday.

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