In the small town of Uzunköprü ("Long Bridge") stands this very long bridge, the longest stone bridge in the country, in fact. It was built between 1426 and 1443 by Sultan Murad II who used it to advance into the Balkans, crossing the Ergene River and the incredibly marshy area around it. It's over 4,560 feet long and has 174 arches, all still in tact.
Uzunköprü's bridge has remained actively in use for over 600 years. In 1963 it was renovated. Concrete paving makes the ride across less bumpy, but mostly everything else is all original. Cars move across in both directions, squeezing past each other, and trucks and buses take turns traversing the narrow lane. The structure sure is durable, which says a lot for Ottoman architecture. It's also pretty. Some arches are rounded, some are peaked. Little details show that no matter how functional a design was, aesthetics were important as well.
On one side of the bridge is an information board giving some background history. While we were there, sloshing through the muddy marsh, a family of female tourists is floor-length hijabs pulled up. The daughter, about our age, offered us a potato chip from her bag and explained that they were in town visiting her brother who is in the military. That's when we noticed the large army base right across the street.
On the other side of the bridge was the town's bus station a-bustle with passengers arriving and departing and simit vendors with huge trays of looped pretzels balanced on their heads. Under the bridge, a man disappeared beneath an arch, trash was heaped and this cow's head sat around waiting to become a balder, more picturesque skull.
In Edirne, at least four historic bridges still stand. The Tunca Bridge, named for the river it spans, is recovering from a recent flood. Melted snow, coupled with a Bulgarian dam which had sprung a leak nearby, resulted in a huge rush of water and overflow. Cars couldn't make it across and, just six days ago, Edirne's officials were talking about possible evacuation. An old man sitting feet away from the entrance warned us about crossing, even though it is clearly passable at this point. Uprooted trees and walkways showed the effects of the near disaster- but the 400+ year old bridge itself looked no worse for the wear.
These structures have survived storms and storming troops. Cows, carts and cars have been their daily traffic. They are historic and utilitarian, full of meaning and also just a means to an end. As we stood at the center of the Tunca Bridge, taking photos of an engraving in Arabic script that had been graffiti'd with smiley faces, horse-drawn-carts and tractors shared the road with new cars. The bridges and mosques stand tall with modernity flooding up all around them and then, gradually, recessing back to let them shine.