Balkans had always been attached strategic importance due to its position as outpost area and served as technologic, information and communicational bridge between Europe and the Ottoman Empire. The road alignments connecting Anatolia to the Balkans and Central Europe have always been of particular importance due to the strategic emphasis on Balkans.
Uzunköprü (Long Bridge), located approximately 60 km south from the modern city center of Edirne, was built on one of the most challenging passages of Ergene River (in antiquity: Agrianes/Erginus or Riga) in the Balkans. This location is very important as it was a transition point between the Balkans and Anatolia. The bridge constructed by the Architect Muslihiddin between 1427 and 1443 during the reign of the sixth Ottoman Padishah Sultan Murad II along with the epitaph on the bridge is featured to be the longest stone bridge on earth surviving to date with 1392 m length, 174 arches and 6.10 m width. The year of 1443, when the construction was completed, correspond to the pre-classic period of the Ottoman Empire architecture. In this period the Empire built universally well-known superior structures. The architect of the bridge is Muslihiddin, was the chief state architect of the period. Architect Muslihiddin is one of the most important of all medieval architects and at the same time he was the leading architect of the classical period of Ottoman architecture with the bridges, social and religious complexes and mosques he built.
Although there exist many timber bridges in this region to provide passage through River Ergene, Sultan Murad II asked for the construction of a large stone bridge due to the fact that such timber bridges were all destroyed after a while and that they failed to provide passage under the seasonal conditions of all type. Uzunköprü is a masterpiece of this early period of Ottoman architecture, 1392 m. long masonry structure. The reason why the bridge is constructed at such a length is the fact that it was designed to provide passageway for the armies through the vast marshy land of the River Ergene and its tributaries while the location and form of the bridge built on the faulted fits perfectly with the topographical conditions of the land on which the bridge is situated.
It has 174 arches at different heights and different shapes: round and pointed. Among those arches 171 are visible today, whereas remaining two are below ground and two arches are combined together. The vaulted feet of the stone bridge stands on the base of the Ergene River and its main flood areas, which are reinforced with stone and wood. Arches’ widths are ranged between 4.68 m (the narrow arch is 4.68 m. in upstream direction and 4.71 m in downstream direction) and 13.55 m (the largest arch is 13.19 m in upstream direction and 13.55m in downstream direction). Width and height of all 174 arches of the bridge were designed to allow the bridge to perform its task perfectly by taking into account that the winter and spring seasons floods. The Edirne side of the bridge (north side) has a sloping section where the arches rising by 2.5% like a ramp and has 22 arches. The section which stands on the Ergene River is 33.67 meters and has the largest arches which let the water flow through in comfortably. After the arches passes Ergene River, bridge belts directed to southeast direction with a wide angle and slope through the Uzunköprü town. In this largest section (1070.8 meters) height of bridge decreased by about 2% and bridge joins the town.
Having been constructed of limestone and cut stone blocks of travertine type, the bridge foundations settled on the alluvium soil are placed on the energy absorbing timber grill system. The arches of the bridge are mostly double-centred and in pointed form while there also exist circular and flattened circular arches. The arches of the bridge with discharging eyes on the left and right spans across the large spanning of River Ergene include a cornice in circular form with outstretching chamfers on the spandrel walls together with a parapet. To the upstream of the bridge, there exist flood splitters in triangular form while such flood splitters are polygonal and circular to the downstream which also include cones.
The bridge bears the motif of art and aesthetics of Ottomans which harmonizes different cultures from Central Asia to the Balkans. There are authentic ornaments, observed on the arches, especially on the keystone, such as geometric motifs (pentagons, hexagons, octagons, seven-pointed stars, Star of David and circle), plant and animal figures (lions, elephants, birds, etc.), central or Rumi palmette motifs. (Rumi motif is a style of ornamentation which is widely used by the Seljuks of Anatolia.)
The epitaph with passage on a marble plate states that the bridge was constructed during the reign of Sultan Murad II while by the time the bridge was restored with the rise of Sultan Abdülhâmîd II, the epitaph was taken from the bridge and brought to the Gazi Mahmud Bey Fountain. It is a well known fact that the fountain was built in memory of Mahmud Bey who was deemed to be responsible for the maintenance of the timber bridge at the same location during Sultan Murad I period. In addition, to the direction towards the town, there constructed a monument on which "Liberty, Justice, Equality and Fraternity" is scripted to commemorate the Second Constitutionalist Period.
Upon construction of the bridge, a namesake town with two hundred dwellings, mosque, inn, baths and two hundred shops was established while the people leading their lives in the surrounding area were deemed to be responsible for the repair and maintenance of the bridge. Hence, the mobility of the Ottoman army was developed and the transportation was provided in a faster manner.
The bridge which is of strategic importance was built on marshland on the route which provides access to the Balkan geography from Gelibolu (Gallipoli) in Rumelia through the district of Edirne. Uzunköprü, which has been in use for 570 years, is one of the most outstanding examples of bridges with its construction technique, architecture, design, material used, site selection and craftsmanship as well as an exceptional example of how a building can resist to challenges of nature. It has the distinction of being the longest stone bridge today as well as at its time of construction.
Uzunköprü built on Ergene River to overcome the military, political, economic, geographic and climatic challenges of a newly established state of Ottomans, created new alternative direction from the Balkans to Western Anatolia by connecting the Roman Millitary Road, which itself was an alternative to the ancient Via Egnatia, and connecting the Roman Millitary Road to the Gallipoli around Edirne via Uzunköprü.
This monumental structure survived a period of nearly six centuries under the harsh natural conditions due to the engineering knowledge of materials used, the placement of the base and calculation of the arch width. The ornaments on Uzunköprü show us that the bridge is a cultural and geo-political meeting point and much more than a simple bridge, with their elegance and superiority.
Criterion (iii): Uzunköprü is an outstanding example for 15th century Early Period Ottoman architecture. It is an exceptional work that reflects architectural, technological and artistic level achieved during this period due to its length, strength and design. The Bridge is the concrete indicator of the engineering - architectural accumulation of the impulse of the mankind to overcome the hindrances which are deemed to be difficult to overcome. The Bridge built on one of the most challenging passages of Balkans, on swampy surrounding of the Ergene, is also one of the most important examples of Ottoman architecture, especially in the field of bridge engineering.
Criterion (iv): Uzunköprü is an outstanding example of the bridge architecture at this size of all-times. The Bridge is the concrete structure which exists within the scope of the architectural - engineering cultural accumulation dating back to medieval ages in the Ottoman architecture. It has been in service to provide access for the vehicular, pedestrian and horse - drawn traffic between the Balkans and Anatolia in an uninterrupted manner. With all these features of geo-political engineering, design, technical engineering, the Bridge is one of the great architectural and artistic aspects of medieval architecture.
Integrity: The Bridge and the protected areas of the bridge cover holistically all outstanding universal values in terms of engineering, architectural design and site selection. The Uzunköprü Bridge is under protection by the Turkish Legislation for Preservation of Cultural and Natural Property, Law No: 2863. It was registered as an “immovable cultural property to be protected” by the decision of Superior Council for Immovable Antiquties and Monuments dated 14.10.1978 and numbered 10729, and by the decision of Edirne Regional Council for Conservation of Cultural and Natural Heritage dated 19.02.2009 and numbered 2314. The restoration and repair responsiblity of the bridge belongs to the Directorate General of Highways.
Authenticity: The bridge has managed to survive until today without any substantial structural damage over the last 600 years. Structural integrity of the bridge with its 174 arches sustain its 570-year history despite the removal of an arch during repair dated 1820. This repair gives great information about early restoration techniques so that it raises the documentary value of the bridge. With its 1270 meters lengths, 171 arches and foot, the bridge still keeps its form and function since the period it was first built. The Bridge can be perceived holistically with its outstanding universal values which reflect its authenticity as a great construction of medieval times and early Ottoman architectural period on the Ergene River where the bridge is connecting still different geographies as well different cultures.
The whole history of bridge can be followed in detail within different sources such as II. Murat Charter of the Waqfs (15th century), Sayyed Luqman's and Muralist Osman's miniature artworks called Hünername (16th century), Travelogue of Evliya Çelebi (17th century), Hammer (Ottoman History 1827-1835), II. Mahmoud Charter of Waqfs (18th and 19th centuries) and the Directorate General of Highways (20th century) holds the records about the Bridge. It is also highlighted in these sources that the bridge has kept its authentic and superior form for almost 6 centuries.
Uzunköprü stands out in terms of structural design and size immediately when it is compared with the few ''bridges'' inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Among the bridges on the list,(i.e. Vizcaya Bridge, Sokullu Mehmed Pasha Bridge on the Drina River and the Iron Bridge), Sokullu Mehmet Pasha is the only stone bridge. Sokullu Mehmet Pasha Bridge on the Drina River is the most outstanding examples of Ottoman classical period bridges, and it is a valuable example of Great Architect Sinan's structural and engineering prowess. However Uzunköprü shows differences in length with this bridge. Uzunköprü had a significant place in the acquisition of cultural and technical experience which might have made it possible to construct the Mostar Bridge (1557 - 1566) and Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Bridge (1571-1577) in Bosnia and Herzegovina constructed during the time of Architect Sinan who set his seal on 16th Century Classical Ottoman Architecture while both of such bridges are included in the World Heritage List. Uzunköprü Bridge reflects the engineering - architectural accumulation of 15th century Early Ottoman Period Architecture. When we analyze C. Çulpan’s work; (Turkey Stone bridges- 1975 - Turkish Historical Society) about all stone bridges built from the Middle Ages until the end of the Ottoman period and which comparing the earlier Iranian, Asian and Roman bridges with the Ottoman Bridges and works of İ.H.Uzunçarşılı, E. H. Ayverdi, O. Aslanapa who give detailed information on Ottoman period architectural assets, and L. Bagmans's work on Uzunköprü "Uzunköprü History and Documentation" - (1996) we see that engineering achievement of Uzunköprü, that keeps the bridge standing over the 6 centuries, put Uzunköprü exclusive position within the all other bridges. The properties gathered in these works and grouped as "Stone Bridge" that can be compared with the Uzunköprü are stated also mostly in the Ottoman geography. For Example; in the works mentioned above, Dicle Bridge in Hasankeyf and Malabadi Bridge located between Diyarbakır-Silvan, both are the masterpieces of Artuqi Dynasty, are located in the cultural connection and transition points. Despite the greater size of their eyes, both in terms of length and preferred construction techniques, they stay different than Uzunköprü. In the Seljuk period in bridge construction techniques, smaller eyes opening and extensive number of foot are preferred compared to Artuqi Period Bridges. Thus bridges of Seljuk Period are more similar to Uzunköprü. Among prominent works of this period Kayseri Tekgöz Bridge (length: 119 meters) Erzurum Çoban Bridge (length: 220 m) came on the prominence. There is a significant difference when they compared with Uzunköprü in terms of length even they have similar construction techniques and design. When the early structure of Ottoman Architecture are grouped, Edirne Gazimihal Bridge, Plovdiv (Bulgaria) Lala Şahin Pasha Bridge (1363?), Eski Malatya Kırkgöz Bridge (XVI. Century) can be gathered in the same classification with Uzunköprü in terms of design and building techniques. But they differ from Uzunköprü in terms of length and geo-political importance and a special position to create a new route. Cisr-i-Mustafa Pasha Bridge (Bulgaria Svilengrad-1528-29), Büyükçekmece Bridge (1567), Alpullu Bridge (16th century), Lüleburgaz Sokullu Mehmet Pasha Bridge (1565), Bolvadin Bridge (Afyon- was built in the Roman Period, but restored and extended by Mimar Sinan- a.k.a. Forty Eyed Bridge with total of 64 eyes and 375 meters in length) which are Great Architect Sinans’ works, are exceptional work that shows architectural, technological and artistic level achieved during the Ottoman Classical Period. But in terms of length Uzunköprü is still stay apart from all this great works of Sinan. Edirne Ekmekçizade Ahmed Pasha Bridge (XVII century) which is an outstanding architectural and engineering work belong to the after Sinan period, differ from Uzunköprü in terms of architectural design. Comparative studies show that Uzunköprü has a very special and outstanding place in terms of engineering specifications, design, site selection and workmanship among the bridges both that are in and out of the UNESCO World Heritage List.