The power of a dream: Edirne's new palace
This photo shows current archaeological excavations at Edirne Palace. Sultan Murad II had a dream in which an old man told him to build a palace in Edirne. AA photoWe don’t have a lot of evidence that the Ottomans believed in the power of dreams but occasionally they’re recorded. There’s the initial one in which the founder of the Ottoman dynasty, Osman I, saw a great tree that expanded over mountain ranges and rivers, the interpretation being that he would found a great empire. We have the dream of Fatih Sultan Mehmed’s teacher, Aksemseddin, who dreamed he knew where Eyüp Sultan had been buried outside the walls of Constantinople in the seventh century. And then there’s the dream that Sultan Murad II (r. 1421-44, 1446-51) had that convinced him in 1450 he should build a new palace in Edirne.
The Ottomans under Sultan Murad I had conquered Edirne (originally Hadrianopolis) in 1362. From then on the city and in particular the citadel served as military headquarters for the army’s advances into the Balkans. But over the course of the following decades, it became clear that the citadel was far from large enough to hold the imperial household, governmental officials and army officers who were using it to train future officers. That’s when Sultan Murad II had a dream in which a white-bearded, old man told him to build a palace in Edirne. And what better place to do so than in a forested, 3-million-square-meter area along the banks of the Tunca River that was only being used for hunting at the time.
Although Murad II started construction on the palace, he died the following year and his descendants carried on with one of their favorite pastimes, adding new buildings until the beginning of the 18th century. Fatih Sultan Mehmed was responsible for completing and adding to what his father had begun and was given the name Saray-ı Cedid-i Amire. Later Kanuni Sultan Süleyman and Sultan Mehmed IV built additions. The palace is said to have measured 300-355,000 square meters in the end.
Sultan Mehmed III (r. 1648-1687) was permitted to live in the Edirne Palace after he was deposed in 1687 and he died there in 1693. The last sultan to actually use the palace as his seat of government was Sultan Ahmed III (r. 1703-1730) and then only for about three years until 1718 when he returned to Istanbul. It’s not known whether he engaged in any building activities on the grounds but most likely he did for he spent three years there.
The palace subsequently was allowed to fall into disrepair and much of it was destroyed when an arms depot was blown up in 1874 as the Russian army approached Edirne to prevent the weapons from falling into enemy hands. Restoration was only begun in 2008.
The palace buildings
The main entrance to the Edirne Palace was accomplished through the Bab-ı Humayun (Imperial Gate) which gives on to an open space known as the parade grounds (alay meydanı). The gate itself, which was made of iron cladding, stood 12 meters in height with four decorated wooden columns holding up wooden eaves. It was topped with a standard indicating its importance. The entry way was paved with stone and had a small room where the guards could take a break and another that served as a prison. At various times additions were constructed to give the gate an even more imposing appearance to the outside. The gate has sometimes been referred to as the old council chamber since it was where the viziers and pashas entered and also where they were required to relinquish their powers since inside the gate was the sultan’s personal territory. A second gate known as the Bab us-Saadet (Gate of Felicity) or the Gate of the White Eunuchs was nearby.
The parade ground resembled that of the one at Topkapı Palace where ceremonies would be held involving officials and the Janissary corps. It measured about 515 x 480 meters. Parades and festivals for weddings and circumcisions such as are found in illuminated Ottoman manuscripts must have been held elsewhere, perhaps just outside the palace in an open area since Edirne did not have a hippodrome like the one in Istanbul. There were actually four other parade grounds within the palace.
The sultan had his own quarters overlooking the compound along one edge of the main parade ground. It was sufficiently large as to incorporate his private apartments and offices for the Ottoman bureaucrats. One room was devoted to the sacred relics belonging to the Prophet Mohammed and the early caliphs.
The harem area was extensive and in a freestanding building behind the sultan’s private quarters. Although it undoubtedly started out small, as time went by rooms and additions would be constructed as needed. The eunuchs who were in charge of the harem were also housed within it. It is known that the famous Haseki Hürrem Sultan, Kanuni Sultan Süleyman’s wife, had a bath built on the grounds. Some of the rooms were set aside as a school attended by the young princelings of the dynasty.
The Janissary guard was housed in separate buildings within the grounds as they were not just engaged in protecting the imperial family. They were also assigned other chores such as gathering fire wood for the palace. A small hospital existed to look after the health of the sultan and palace officials.
A small, independent, domed building (33 x 72 meters) housed the sultan’s treasury. This was probably subject to the same careful measures used at Topkapı Palace to ensure that theft did not occur through regular inventories and a limit on the authorized people who could enter. One way this was carried out was by having one person responsible for preparing the seal on the door and another actually holding the seal.
The Cihannuma Kasrı which still exists today was built in 1452, the year before the conquest of Istanbul. It is seven stories high. The Adalet Kasrı or Justice Mansion which was built by Kanuni Sultan Süleyman is also a tall building in which divan meetings were held, officials dealt with business and the sultan would listen to the deliberations of his council on the top floor that included a fountain. Two stones stand outside the structure – the one on the right was for petitions and the one on the left held the heads of those men who were executed.
The kitchens also remain in part with even their chimneys still standing. They were probably kept busy day and night in order to supply the palace. Next to the kitchens was the so-called Chicken Forest where chickens were kept not just for food but to supply the materials that went into the mortar used for construction. As well, this area included plants and herbs for medicinal purposes.
Other buildings such as the Kum Kasrı hamam and a portion of the Bülbül Kasrı still exist.
The project undertaken by Professor Mustapha Özer of Bahçeşehir University will take years to complete and once it is compared with the many written sources, we hope that life in the Edirne Palace will take on a realistic picture.