The Greek "40 Churches" Population: 62,000
Festival: Kakava - early May
Northeast of Edirne, Kırklareli has a history stretching back to Byzantine times when it was called the Greek equivalent of "Kırk Kilise" (40 Churches). The name reflected the fact that this was always a town with a large "minority" population, but in 1924, after the population exchange between Greece and Turkey, its name was changed to Kırklareli. Today, virtually the only reminder of the 40 churches is an unfinished gravestone in the museum that features an angel brandishing a blank cartouche.
Instead what Kırklareli now has in abundance is fountains, which is rather surprising given that this could never have been one of the hottest places in the country.
In the town centre the Hızır Bey Cami dates to 1383 and forms part of a pleasing complex of buildings facing the central Şevket Dingiloğlu Park. Across the road, a small bedesten (covered bazaar) is attached to a magnificent double hamam, the roofs of both buildings studded with little glass skylights like upturned beakers; the complex was the gift to the town from Köse Mihalzade Hızır Bey. The women's section of the hamam is now closed, although the men's side continues to pump out steam; the bedesten has turned into the place to stock up on colorful wedding finery, including poppy-red veils and baskets into which packets of henna will be piled.
Kırklareli has a surprising number of old fountains for a town that can never have been that hot. The finest is the Çarşı Çeşmesi (Market Fountain), a four-sided affair immediately in front of the Hızır Bey Cami. Many others can be found down the side streets and yet more survive in name.
The streets between the mosque and the hamam are filled with a fairly traditional bazaar in a mish-mash of architectural styles. It may not be picture-postcard pretty, but it is very authentic, with not a chain store in sight, and the shop windows are filled with the sort of things that used to be found on every Turkish high street -- helva, gold jewelry and dried okra -- but which are slowly being squeezed out in favor of clothes, mobile phones and electrical appliances. The overall effect is vaguely reminiscent of Kula in western Anatolia, except that here the surrounding buildings are stone-built and European in style whereas there they are wooden and Ottoman.
The mosque complex aside, Kırklareli's main official attraction is a small museum (closed Mndays) housed in an imposing stone building. The ground-floor boasts a fairly ho-hum natural history section, but the upstairs houses finds from local archaeological excavations, especially those carried out on some of the Iron Age tumuli (burial mounds) that dot the landscape between Lüleburgaz and the border with Bulgaria. Most of these appear to date from around the fourth century B.C., and the pottery found associated with them seems to suggest that the occupants, usually described as Thracian chieftains, actually espoused a Hellenistic culture.
The most impressive finds, though, are some large stone reliefs found during the excavations in the Roman theater at nearby Vize. These depict the Greek wine god Dionysius, the goddess Nike (Victory) and a solitary man on horseback; it's thought that they may have been designed for another building and then incorporated into the theater at a later date.
Although both Kirklareli and Babaeski have simple town-center hotels, most people will probably want to visit on a day trip from İstanbul.
Hourly buses for Kirklareli leave Esenler bus station in İstanbul, passing through Babaeski. There are frequent local buses between the two towns.
Day trip destinations
This article first appeared in Time Out Istanbul in English in May 2009
KİRKLARELİ AND THE KAKAVA CARNIVAL
Let's face it - Kirklareli is not the sort of place most people ever think of visiting. This is a town that will forever lurk in the shadow of its bigger and better neighbour Edirne, the one-time capital of the Ottoman Empire before Constantinople (İstanbul) stole its thunder. It's not as if the town even has a very convincing name. At one time this was a settlement with such a large Greek population that its moniker consisted of the Greek word for 40 churches. Of course that wouldn't do at all, and in time the churches were quietly dropped in favour of the seemingly meaningless Kirklareli. These days the only thing the town seems to have 40 of is fountains and most of these, with the honourable exception of the Çarşı Çeşmesi (Market Fountain) in the town centre, are either defaced with graffiti or bone dry.
The Kakava Carnival
But let's just imagine that you were feeling the urge for a trip to Kirklareli, then this might be just the month to give into the impulse because over the weekend of 9-10 May the Kakava festivities to celebrate the coming of summer will break out here and in the surrounding towns.
Where the name "Kakava" came from is not entirely clear, but the festival is a Roma one and highlights the fact that Thrace has a large settled population of Roma who are thought to have arrived here around the time of the conquest of İstanbul in the mid-15th century. In general, Turks tend to have a low opinion of the Roma, callously dismissing them as "çingene (gypsies)" but you'll soon realise that things are a bit different in this neck of the woods when you see rather politer signs reading "Roma Pastanesi (Roma Cake Shop)" and "Roma Düğün Salonu (Roma Wedding Room") dotted about town. The Roma themselves, with their dark complexions and fragile frames, are also conspicuous going about the same sort of business as everybody else in defiance of their basket-weaving stereotype.
Although trying to get hold of advance information about the festival is like trying to draw the proverbial blood from a stone, it seems fair to assume that the celebrations will include the predictable range of entertainments - folk singing and dancing, children's games and lots of pop music, some of it even by big-name stars (Nilüfer was a show-stopper last year). At the same time Kakava's strange name hints at something rather more interesting. This is. after all, a fire festival rather like Newroz (the Kurdish and Iranian New Year) and was traditionally celebrated in much the same way, which is to say with people taking it in turns to leap over outsized bonfires regardless of the risk to their party gear.
The morning after...
Kirklareli may not have any major monuments to pull in visitors but it's still a pleasant enough place centred on the Hızır Bey Mosque, and the hamam and bedesten (shopping centre) facing it across the road; all three buildings were the gift of one Köse Mihalzade Hızır Bey in 1383. There's also a small museum that shows off the finds from Roman Vize, another small and under-visited town east on the road towards İstanbul.
If that's not enough excitement for you, you could also hop on a bus heading south towards Babaeski where an unepected mosque designed by Mimar Sinan sits beside a delightful stone bridge dating back to the 17th century. Little kiosks midway across were designed to make it possible to admire the views in the days before they were marred by the usual rash of ugly concrete apartment blocks.
In the fields around Babeski you'll probably spot some of the Roma who do still weave baskets for a living. Their produce goes on sale in local street markets, especially the one in Uzunköprü, another town yet further south which is also renowned for its bridge (in this case it's definitely length that matters - "uzun köprü" being Turkish for long bridge).
Word to the wise
Kakava happens in most of the towns of north-western Thrace but in Kırklareli it's a two-for-the-price-of-one deal as they celebrate Karagöz shadow puppetry at the same time.
Who are the Turkish Roma?
Very little information exists about the Turkish Roma community. Officially it's said to be 500,000 strong, although some sources put the number as low as 35,000 while others push it up to 5 million. Most of the Roma are Muslims and some, especially older members of the community, speak their own Romani language. In the last few years several organisations have started agitating for greater rights for the Roma.
Remember the scenes in the James Bond movie From Russia With Love which were set in a gypsy encampment against the İstanbul city walls? Well, that was Sulukule and when it comes to the Roma recently it has been the plan to gentrify Sulukule that has been scooping all the publicity. Sulukule is said to be the longest established Roma community in Europe with around 3,000 residents. Until 1992 this was a part of town well known for private "entertainment houses" where many a young Turk got his kicks watching the locals wiggle their belly buttons to fiery rhythms. Today, however, it's in a sorry state and residents are being offered housing in Taşoluk, a new town well beyond the walls. Slum clearance? Ethnic cleansing? Modernisation? Opinions are as divided on this topic as on anything else to do with the Roma.