You should know that Edirne is among the cities where you can see the most and the best examples of Ottoman works. Almost overshadowing all the other sights, with its glorious and detailed ornaments, is Mimar Sinan’s Selimiye Mosque – but do take the time to look beyond this.

Bayezid II Hospital is just one of the alternative sights for your itinerary. It’s important not only as a work of architecture, but also as a monumental symbol of respect for the sick and needy. The eighth sultan, Bayezid II, was the son of Mehmed the Conqueror, and is also known as Sultan Bayezid-i Veli. Rumor has it that when he led his army to the city of Edirne in 1484, the locals asked him to build a hospital. He laid the first stone of the kulliyah (complex), which would include a variety of structures, the most important being a hospital.

This group of structures here now is composed of a mosque and various other buildings. On the right-hand side of the first yard in the hospital, doctors, ophthalmologists and surgeons made the first examination; some rooms were reserved for mentally ill patients. On the left-hand side of this yard were the laundry, cellar and kitchen, where the hospital food was cooked.

The medicine was prepared in the Şuruphane (syrup room) surrounding the second yard. On certain days, poor locals would be given medicine here.

The hexagonal part, called the Şifahane (health center) contained six winter rooms with stoves, and five divans for summer around a hall with a pool in it. On one of the divans, singers and musicians would play soothing pieces for the mentally ill three days a week. Those sounds still seem to echo among the walls of the museum.

The hospital is one of the first structures to be built around a “central system”; Bayezid II Hospital in Edirne therefore occupies an important place in the history of hospital building. Its hexagonal form, which enables few staff to serve a great number of patients, was later followed as an example in hospitals in Europe and the US in the 19th century.

During World War I, mentally ill patients were transferred to the French Hospital in Kıyık, and the hospital was closed in 1915. The empty hospital building eventually fell into ruin. In 1984, the whole complex apart from the mosque was given to Trakya University.

In 1997, the university renovated the hospital and turned it into a health museum. The museum’s History of Psychiatry section, opened after this successful restoration, received the European Commission Museum Award in 2004.

One of the most important relics of Ottoman architecture, Bayezid II Hospital was redesigned by Abdi İbrahim; the restoration lasted one and a half years and was true to the hospital’s historical and architectural texture. It was reopened to visitors in May 2015.

Edirne Hospital Health Museum, where I was the curator for ‘Ottoman Medicine Between the 15th and 18th centuries’, passes the valuable heritage of our history of medicine down the generations through modern and impressive presentation techniques.

The models, based on miniatures in Cerrâhiyetü’l-Hâniye (a medical book) written by Ottoman surgeon Şerefeddin Sabuncuoğlu in the 15th century, truly depict the hospital’s functions and the daily operations of doctors. The most impressive among these models are the ones depicting female doctors performing gynecomastia and polydactyly operations.

The room, which belonged to Küpeli Saliha Hatun, a women surgeon at the hospital who performed inguinal hernia operations on men, or even on janissaries, belies the misconception that the Ottomans didn’t provide any job opportunities for competent women.

The story of how the Turkish chickenpox vaccine spread from Edirne to Europe is also told in the Health Museum. This vaccine was the only hope for mankind until Edward Jenner’s later discovery of the smallpox vaccine.

If you happen to visit Edirne, do visit this hospital. The elegant and peaceful Bayezid II Hospital Health Museum, along with the nearby mosque, beautiful garden and complex building, will remind you that human life always matters. 

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