Edirne is situated in the curve generated by the River Tunca just before merging with the River Meriç in the South-East of Balkan Peninsula called Thrace. Edirne, always being a significant center due to its location in the main route connecting Anatolia to Europe showed its major development in the era of Ottoman predominance. It can be thought that the development of the city was influenced negatively because of gaining a location of border city after the invasions faced since 19th century.
As widely accepted, the oldest settlement, in the area in which Edirne is situated now, was established by Odris/Odrisia-one of the Trak tribes in the part where Meriç and Tunca Rivers merge and it is known that Macedonians transformed it into a colony of Orestias. The name Hadrianopolis given in honour of Roman Emperor Hadrianopolis (117-138) when he
refounded the city in the 2nd century, was used as “Edrenos” and “Edrenaboli” in Islamic resources and “Edrene” form was generated during the reign of Sultan Murat I and probably has been used as “Edirne” since 18th century.
Edirne, best known for military affairs in ancient sources, witnessed disputes between Byzantine and Bulgarian Emperors after being besieged by Avars in 586. Besides, it was exposed to the attacks of Patzinaks (1049, 1078). Between the years 1342 and 1343 Aydınoğlu Umur Bey who passed to Thrace, fought against feudal landlords in Edirne, Ottoman Empire began to be interested in Edirne when Ottoman prince Süleyman Pasha passed to Thrace in 1352 and defeated Bulgarian-Serbian army. Consequently, Edirne was conquered in 1361 by Murat - the son of Orhan Gazi - and Lala Şahin as a result of their successful policy. The conquest of Edirne was not only a turning point for the history of the Balkans and Europe but it also facilitated the conquest of İstanbul. Besides being used as a base of operations for Rumelia, Edirne was the city where Yıldırım Bayezid initiated the preparations for surrounding İstanbul and he advanced towards it from here. Sultan Murat II resided until the end of his life and died in Edirne. Upon the death of his father, Prince Mehmet came to Edirne from Manisa and ascended the throne and he had all the preparations and plans made about the conquest of İstanbul in Edirne between 1452 and 1453. The importance of Edirne continued for a long time, after the conquest of İstanbul. Fatih Sultan Mehmet used the city as operations base for activities in the Balkans later on.
The 16th century became the era in which a lot of activities were done to develop the city and a lot of magnificent monuments were built. Additionally, in the 17th Century, thanks to the residence of the Ottoman Sultans such as Ahmed I, Edirne gained importance again and it was considered as if the second capital city. In the mid-18th century, Edirne was damaged by two disasters; one was the fire caused the devastation of nearly 60 districts in 1745, the other was the earthquake resulting the destruction of several buildings in 1751.
Edirne, which was invaded for the first time during the war between Ottoman Empire and Russia 1828-1829, experienced the toughest times during the second war between Ottoman and Russia in 1877-1878 and the Bulgarian invasion in 1912-1913. The city was rescued from Greek invasion at the end of the 1st World War in 1922. It became the border city of Turkish Republic after Lausanne Treaty
The evidences of the development of Edirne during the Ottoman reign are the buildings constructed in the period. The castle whose clock tower remained only and which is located in today’s Kaleiçi district by the River Tunca was considered as the soul of the city. Edirne is a kind of ‘palaces’ city. Apart from the Old Palace which was built in the reign of Murat I, it was known that Yıldırım Bayezid had also a palace built. Saray-ı Cedid which was also called as Tunca Palace, Hünkar Palace or Edirne Palace was located in the west side of the River Tunca in the country side of Edirne. In addition to the Hatice Sultan Palace located in the city centre, Çadır Mansion, Buçuktepe Summer Palace, Hıdırlık Summer Palace, Yıldız Summer Palace, Demirtaş Summer Palace are the examples of palace-style structure similar to palaces.
Edirne is known especially with its masterpiece mosques. The first mosque of the city is Halebi Mosque (Çelebi Mosque) which was built upon request of Murad I. A madrasa was built next to this mosque in the reign of Murad II. The only mosque remaining from 14th century is Yıldırım Mosque which was built in 1399. Old Mosques whose construction was started by Emir Süleyman was completed in the reign of Mehmed I and was named as Ulu Mosque. The other important work of arts belong to this century are Muradiye Mosque built in the reign of Murat II in 1436, Darul Hadis (a kind of academia where Prophet Muhammed’s sayings are thought) built in 1435, Üç Şerefeli Mosque whose construction was started by Murad II in 1438 and completed in 1447. The mosque, guesthouse, health center, medicine madrasa which were built upon the command of Bayezid II have unique importance (1484-1488). Today, the health center and the medicine madrasa which won the European Museum Award is our university institution and they host over 200.000 visitors every year. Gazi Mihal (1422), Beylerbeyi (1429), Şah Melik (1429), Mezid Bey (1442), Kasım Paşa (1479) Mosques are the other works of arts which were built in the 15th century.
The most beautiful architectural works were built by Mimar Sinan in 16th century. Among these monuments, Taşlık Mosque which was later collapsed, Defterdar Mosque, Şeyhi Çelebi Mosque and Selimiye Mosque - the masterpiece of Mimar Sinan - are the most significant ones. Madrasa, dârülkurrâ, the school of children and Selimiye Mosque were built in an important place which was once called as ‘Kavak Meydanı’.
In addition to Ottoman-Islamic Social Complexes (complex of buildings adjacent to a mosque), Saatli Madrasa which was built on the yard of Üç Şerefeli Mosque in the reign of Murad II, Darul Hadis and Peykler Madrasa which were built in the reign of Fatih Sultan Mehmed reveal that Edirne is a center of education. In addition to these places, several rest houses, Turkish baths, covered bazaars, bridges, and fountains make Edirne a city of civilization.
Besides its historical sites, Edirne is an important cultural center and there are a lot of individuals who grew up in this rich education and science center. Among these individuals, there are a lot of important names such as Kemalpaşazade Şemseddin Ahmed, Ahmet Şemseddin Efendi, Şeyhülislam Mehmed Emin Efendi (chief religious officials in the Ottoman Empire), Şeyh Hasan Sezai-yi Gülşeni (leader of the Gülşeni dervishes), Celâleddin ve Cemâleddin Çelebi (founders of lodges used by mevlevi dervishes in the reign of Murad II), Hacı İvazpaşazade Atâî (the poet in the reign of Fatih), Hekim Sinanoğlu Atâî (the poet in the reign of Selim II), Sehi (owner of biography collections), Mecdi (interpretor), Kesbi (official author), Oruç Bey (Historian), Abdurrahman Hibri, Çevri İbrahim and Örfi Mahmud Ağa (experts on the history of Edirne).
Between the 14th and 19th centuries in Ottoman Empire, there was a decoration technique named as "edirnekâri" or "Edirne işi". This technique which was firstly seen in Edirne was later used in Istanbul, Bursa and in many regions in Anatolia. Edirnekâri was used especially on railings, wardrobe or cupboard doors, drawers, ceilings, candlesticks and other wood materials even on book covers.
The ceilings are the most significant characteristics of Edirne houses and rococo style was used on them after the 14th century. Botanical patterns were also used on the ceilings. Unfortunately, the unique examples of these edirnekâri ceilings on Edirne Palace, Cihannüma Summer Palace and Kum Summer Palace do not exist today.
The name of Edirne can be identified with the traditional wrestling sport. The places where wrestling sports were performed outside the palaces were the fairs. The most important fair wrestling was Kırkpınar. The wrestling competitions which are still held in Edirne’s Sarayiçi district every year in the first week of July, maintain the old tradition. According to the tales, in the reign of Osman Bey, 40 veteran soldiers who went to Rumelia with prince Süleyman Pasha wrestled there and the history began with this event. Normally, while light weight wrestlers perform on the first two days, middleweight and heavyweight wrestlers do so on the last day. The wrestlers wrestle in a tough way with oil poured all over their bodies and the wrestling is in accordance with the rules of the type. The champion is awarded with a golden belt and the one who holds the wrestling championship successively for three years owns the gold belt for his entire life. One of the important characters of the Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling tournament is the announcers called ‘cazgır’ in Turkish. They introduce the wrestlers and pray for them. Announcers (cazgır) are mostly old wrestlers.