Most of the visitors come to Edirne with just one thought in mind - to see the famous Selimiye Mosque, built by Mimar Sinan and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, there is another splendid example of Ottoman architecture in the city, namely: Üç Şerefeli Mosque. The name of this building literally means 'the Mosque with Three Balconies'. It reflects one of the most characteristic features of the mosque - one of its four minarets is adorned with three small balconies.
Üç Şerefeli Mosque was built between 1437 and 1447, therefore it is more than one hundred years older than Selimiye Mosque, but equally noteworthy. The building is representative of the architectural style which is a transitional form between the typical Seljuk mosques of Konya or Bursa and the Ottoman style, which was fully developed later, in Edirne and Istanbul.
The mosque was built during the reign of Sultan Murad II. It had been damaged during the earthquake in 1752 and repaired in 1763, on the orders of Sultan Mahmud III. Another major renovation took place in 1930. In addition, some renovation work of the frescoes was carried out in 1999.
A Quranic school (mekteb), a public soup kitchen (imaret) and a religious school (medrese) were built next to the mosque as parts of Üç Şerefeli külliye i.e. the complex of buildings managed by a vakıf (religious foundation). Only the medrese called Saatlı is still standing, although its form has been significantly modified by the renovation.
The mosque was built mainly of limestone blocks, however, some elements, such as columns and their capitals, mihrab, mimbar and portals, were made of marble. The lavishly decorated entrance leads into the mosque from a courtyard which is surrounded on three sides by arcades. A fountain for ritual ablutions (şadırvan) is situated in its center. The interior of the mosque is covered by a dome with a diameter of 24 meters (79 feet), resting on heavy pendentives. One of the mosque's most decorative elements are the frescoes, painted on the inside of the domes over the galleries surrounding the courtyard.
Üç Şerefeli Mosque has four minarets of varying heights, located in the four corners of the courtyard. The highest of these minarets (67 meters or 220 feet) - in the southern corner - is decorated with a pattern of white and red stones, arranged in a zigzag. This minaret has three balconies that gave the name to the whole mosque complex. The other three minarets are adorned with spiral, diamond-shape and zigzag motifs. The northern minaret has two balconies, while the remaining two minarets - only one each.
The wall around mihrab (a niche indicating the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca) is painted in a geometric pattern of circles and stars. The window shutters reflect the patterns of wood-carving typical for the times of the mosque construction. Adequate lighting of the mosque is provided by twelve windows in the drum of the dome.
Üç Şerefeli Mosque is situated in the center of Edirne, on Hükümet street, opposite historical Sokollu Mehmet Paşa Hamam, also designed by Mimar Sinan. The entrance is free of charge, but the tourists need to observe the prayer times and visit only when the prayers are over. Remember to dress appropriately - no T-shirts or shorts, and female travelers should cover their heads.
This mosque is definitely worth a closer look, especially as it is rarely visited. It remains a tranquil place, in contrast to Selimiye Mosque that draws crowds of tourists, souvenir sellers and beggars. In the case of Üç Şerefeli Mosque you will most probably be the only foreign visitor, accompanied possibly by local children who love to spend hot summer days running in its cool interior.