The peculiar case of Fatma Sultan Cemetery in Edirne offers an opportunity of demonstrating how even simple facts can be misinterpreted and confused. The main element of this puzzle is the grave of a 12 or 13 years-old girl called Fatma Hanım, situated in this cemetery, dated to the years 1573-1574.
We can start from the local legend concerning this cemetery, frequently repeated in various websites and publications. According to it, when great architect Mimar Sinan was delegated to Edirne to build Selimiye Mosque for the sultan, he arrived at the city with his wife and a granddaughter called Fatma. Unfortunately, little Fatma became very ill and died. Sinan became depressed and decided to build an open prayer space and a graveyard as the memorial for his granddaughter. While Mimar Sinan actually worked in Edirne in the years 1569–1575, the other elements of this legend do not really reflect the reality.
First of all, it is amazing how little is known about the earliest years of the greatest Ottoman architect and his private life. The most important source of knowledge about Sinan and his work are his memoirs. They were collected and edited by his friend, Mustafa Sa'i Çelebi, a painter and decorator, known for humorous verses. He also worked for Sinan and composed inscriptions for his buildings. The autobiographies have been preserved in five different accounts, and are now available in English translation, in an excellent book edited by Howard Crane and Esra Akın. However, Sinan's main focus was the presentation of his professional achievements and not personal life.
What's more, to put it bluntly, Sinan was a slave working for the Ottoman sultans. This strange situation might prove to be challenging to comprehend, as he was an influential statesman and a genius of architecture, frequently compared to Leonardo da Vinci. However, his slavery was not an exception among the ranks of the Ottoman dignitaries but rather a norm. One of his most influential clients, Damat Rüstem Pasha, humbly described their situation in a conversation with a doctor "We are all servants here!" This opinion was a common point of view among the ranks of even the most powerful statesmen of the Ottoman Empire. Moreover, the most glorious era of the Ottoman Empire, praised as a triumph of marching Islam, resulted, in the significant part, from the actions of people with Christian origins.
After all these preliminaries, let us get back to the case of the supposed Sinan's granddaughter. As a Janissary, Sinan was forbidden to get married. Only in 1566, Sultan Selim II gave Janissaries permission to marry, undermining their exclusivity of loyalty to the dynasty. Even if Sinan grabbed this opportunity, it would be impossible for him to have a granddaughter mere 7 or 8 years later. Thus, the question remains - who is the girl buried in Edirne, and how was she identified in the local lore as the great architect's daughter?
The reasons for the misunderstanding and misinterpretation are simple. Firstly, the date of the tomb coincides with Sinan's stay in Edirne. Secondly, there is also an inscription stating that she was the granddaughter of certain Sinan Ağa. However, the name Sinan was not unique, as several notable Ottoman statesmen were bearing it. In the case of Fatma's inscription, careful study reveals that she was the daughter of Mehmet Bey. He was, in turn, the son of Sinan Ağa, the 'mirlivası' (brigadier general) from Ankara. Thus, any claims that Sinan's lineage continues to remain doubtful and speculative only. Certainly, he was not the grandfather of the girl buried in Edirne. Unfortunately, the misinformation is even repeated on the information board placed at the cemetery as it identifies Fatma as 'Mimar Sinan'in torunu,' i.e., the grandchild of architect Sinan. Luckily, the official Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism website of historical monuments of the country offers the correct information.
Let us also take a closer look at the cemetery as it is a fascinating place for many reasons, not only because of the mysterious grave of Fatma. The cemetery is known as Fatma Sultan Cemetery but also as Çamlık Cemetery. In Turkish, 'çamlik' means a pine grove and the cemetery is really located below ancient pine trees. Again, the information presented at the site is rather confusing as it calls the place 'Mimar Sinan'in Hacılar Ezanı Yerinde.' Hacılar Ezanı is actually another historical structure, situated around 1.5 km to the south-east, also on the Talat Pasha Road. 'Hacılar Ezanı' means the Pilgrim's Prayer, and it is the source of confusion. In both places - Fatma Sultan Cemetery and Hacılar Ezanı - there are open-air prayer platforms called 'namazgah.' The pilgrims, travellers, and soldiers arriving at Edirne from the direction of Istanbul could stop in these two locations and pray while facing the direction of Mecca as indicated by the mihrabs of these prayer platforms.
The namazgah of the Fatma Sultan Cemetery is located on the western side of the graveyard. A roof covers the prayer platform, supported on six pillars that form pointed arches. The mihrab faces the cemetery, and it is decorated with a muqarnas vaulting. The structure stands next to the Edirne - Istanbul road. The construction of this road was the reason of severe damage to the cemetery, and now only 32 gravestones are left as the remains of a much larger graveyard. Of these graves, only three remain anonymous.
Luckily, Fatma Sultan's marble sarcophagus has been among these 32 preserved graves. It is situated on the eastern side of the graveyard, in an open mausoleum with a rectangular plan. The tomb stands on a pedestal and it is covered with a gable roof. There are two pointed arches on each of the long sides and one flattened arch on the short sides.
The graves are arranged in two rows of 16 graves each. In the front row, from left to right, these are:
- Hafız Hacı Ali (Hattat-ı Kirşhaneli) - the word 'hattat' indicates that he was a scribe and 'hacı' means that he had successfully completed the Hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca;
- Rifat Osman - the first Turkish radiologist who began his career as a military doctor. In 1903 he was delegated to the Military Hospital in Edirne, where he was an X-ray specialist. In his free time, he explored the history of the city, and soon became an expert in this area. He also co-founded the Archaeological Museum in the city, which initially operated at the Selimiye Mosque. He died in Edirne and was buried in Nazırçeşme Cemetery, now non-existent;
- Kefevi Hüseyin Efendi (Müderris) - a religious scholar;
- Halil Efendi (Müderris) - another religious scholar;
- Aşık Halebi Ağa (Bostancıbaşı) - a member of the Imperial Guard;
- Şeyhülislam Abdürrahim Efendi - the Grand Mufti who had the highest rank among the ulama, i.e. the Islamic law scholars;
- Şeyhülislam Ali Efendi - another Grand Mufti;
- Kınalı-zade Ali İbni Emrullah - a poet, philosopher, and astronomer;
- Mevlana Ahmet Bin Mehmet Bin Hasan-Üs Samsuni - a judge in Edirne;
- İbrail Savunucusu Yegen Mahmut Paşa (Beylerbeyi, Yeniçeri Ağası) - a provincial commander-in-chief and a commander of the Janissary corps;
- Pertev Paşa (Dahiliye Nazırı) - the first minister of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in the late Ottoman government, in the office from 1835 to 1837;
- Ayşe Bint-i Murat Ağa - a girl;
- Hatice Hanım - a woman;
- Hava Hanım - another woman;
- Fatma Hanım - the granddaughter of Sinan Ağa.
The people buried in the back row, from left to right, are:
- Ahmet Sıtkı Efendi;
- Seyyid Mustafa Efendi - the honorific title 'Seyyid' denotes people accepted as descendants of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and his cousin and son-in-law Imam Ali;
- Ali Ağa Bin Hasan Elbostani;
- Muhammed Zihni Efendi;
- Mahmud İbn-i Abdurrahim;
- Hacı Muhamed - another pilgrim to Mecca;
- Yeniçeri Mehmet - a member of the Janssary corps;
- Kazasker İslam Efendi - while the word 'kazasker' means a military judge, it was actually a chief judge in the Ottoman Empire, so named because originally his jurisdiction extended to the cases of soldiers;
- Mustafa Ağa - a general officer;
- Yeniçeri Ağası Edirneli Ahmet Ağa - a Janissary officer from Edirne;
- Yahya Efendi (Dergah Şeyhi) - a head of a dervish shrine;
- Evliya Kasım Paşa - the Beylerbey of the Rumelia Eyalet (Province) in the 15th century. There is a question of the authenticity of this grave as there is also his grave next to the abandoned mosque bearing his name, on the bank of the Tunca River;
- A gravestone from Edirne's historical leprosorium, i.e. a place to quarantine people with leprosy;
- Another gravestone from Edirne's historical leprosorium in Kirişhâne district;
- Hacı Hafız - another pilgrim to Mecca;
- Emin İbn-i Hasan (Yeniçeri) - another member of the Janissary corps.
As it can be noticed from the above list, there are graves spanning the period of a half of a millennium, both of men and women. There are excellent examples of various kinds of tombstones, including the ones with a tulip motif, characteristic for Edirne. Moreover, the Janissary tombstones feature a special king of headgear called börk. It was very tall and had long dangling ends at the back to buffer the sword hits. Its shape represented a shirt sleeve of Haji Bektash Veli, a Muslim mystic from the 13th century, whose teachings were extremally popular among the Janissary ranks. In front, the börk had a place called 'kaşıklık,' i.e., a spoon-holder, for keeping a spoon as a symbol of the fraternity of the Janissaries.
The presence of the graves of so many notable persons makes the Fatma Sultan Cemetery a unique burial ground in Edirne. It is definitely well-worth a visit, even if Sinan's granddaughter was not buried there.
Fatma Sultan Cemetery is clearly visible from the road and can be visited at all times of day and night. There's no need to pay for the visit.
Fatma Sultan Cemetery is located on the Edirne - Istanbul road D100 (Talat Pasha Street), 1.5 km to the south-east from the historical centre of Edirne.