2011/11/07

Edirne : music therapy

It has been cloudy and chilly in this dusty city where Turkey's Thracian province reaches out to touch Bulgaria and Greece, a quiet day, the second day of the Kurban Bayramı or "Festival of the Sacrifice," and many businesses are closed.

Merely by looking at a map, even without any historical reading on the area, you will see why Edirne, the Turkish name for Emperor Hadrian's Adrianopolis, has been the site of so many battles and sieges. “Military historian John Keegan identifies it as 'the most contested spot on the globe' and attributes this to its geographical location,” says the Wikipedia article.

But there were also long periods of peace after Murad I conquered it from the Bulgarians (1365) to make it the Ottoman capital until his great-great grandson Mehmet II (the Conqueror) moved the capital to newly-conquered Constantinople in 1453. Edirne continued to be a major concern of the sultans, as a military and administrative district for their European territory and a pleasant retreat from the more hectic life of Constantinople/Konstantiye/Istanbul. They built magnificent mosques here, including one considered to be among the finest of Suleyman the Magnicent's favored mimar (architect) Sinan, the Selimye (1575) — and which we plan to see tomorrow. 

Today we visited an earlier mosque-complex ("küliye"), built in 1682 under the auspices of Sultan Bayezid II, a 30-minute walk from the center to the outskirts of town. This II. Bayezid Külliyesi is famous for its hospital and medical school, which served patients free of charge from its founding until 1916. (The text on the linked page is all in Turkish, but its the best site I've found for photos.)  It is now a health museum, with displays of of medical instruments and mannequins representing medical procedures illustrated in the textbooks of the 17th-18th centuries, some of them pretty scary. One orthopedic procedure involved strapping the patient to a kind of rack to manipulate his vertebra back into place — he didn't seem to be enjoying it. And then there was all that cauterizing.

But best of all, and most pleasant to contemplate, was the music therapy, part of an ancient Turkish tradition from well before they reached Anatolia from the Asian steppes. By Bayezid II's time it had developed from shaman's drumming and humming to a professionalized and elaborate practice, with trained musicians on a variety of instruments performing the specific musical modes prescribed by the physician. There were particular modes for particular illnesses, their effects enhanced by the sound of water — in the kulliye produced by a fountain in the center of the domed inpatient pavilion.

At the moment, in our hotel, we are listening to a collection of İsfahan Makami ("makam" is a musical mode) that might have been prescribed to sharpen "intelligence and clearness of mind" (as well as to cure illnesses accompanied by fever) and is said to be especially effective on Mondays. A group called Tümata has recovered this musical therapy music and performs it on instruments like those used in Bayezid's time. It seems to be working. After all, it is Monday.

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