This is about a May Day trip to the second Ottoman capital from the third. In the latter, the government has been suppressing May Day demonstrations in Taksim Square since 2013. That year, the suppression may have helped provoke the Gezi Park protests, as I suggested in “May Day One Month Late.” I reported on the following year’s suppression in “Madness, Stupidity, or Evil?” This year (2017), labor unions held a legal May Day demonstration in Bakırköy, further west in European Istanbul, as reported by the Anadolu Agency (which as far as I know is owned by the Turkish state). My wife and I just got out of town.

Selimiye Mosque, 2017.04.30

This is my first blog article since Turkey blocked Wikipedia, apparently for such articles as “Turkish involvement in the Syrian Civil War.” Many links in my own articles are to Wikipedia. Many links in the present article are to Wikipedia. I have ways to get around the block, but I do not know whether they will continue to be successful. Even my university seems at first to have effected the block, then relented, as if we have a dispensation to read from the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. Something like Kiwix would be a personal solution to the problem of reading the probited Wikipedia (as distinct from editing it). More precisely, Kiwix would be a solution, if only one could download up to 70 GB—and do so monthly, in order to stay current; but the monthly quota on our wireless modem is 8 GB. Of course one download can be shared among many people.

We happened to buy our wireless modem on the very day of last summer’s coup attempt, which I reported on in “War Continues.”

The Rise of the Ottomans

The Fall of Constantinople in 1453 represented the completion of the Turkish conquest of the Roman Empire. The conquest had begun in 1071, with the Battle of Manzikert, in what had once been Armenia. The Turks who defeated Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes were the Seljuks. The Seljuk leader Alparslan provided an example of chivalry to the West, in his treatment of the captive Emperor: I wrote about this in “Turks of 1071 and Today.”

Ottoman bedding, put away for the day: Ethnographic Museum, Edirne, 2017.04.30

The Seljuks were Sunni Muslims, and their ultimate aim was Egypt, which was ruled by the Shi’ites known as the Fatimids. In the view of John Julius Norwich, author of a three-volume history of Byzantium (but I have only his Short History of Byzantium [Vintage Books, 1999]), the Romans need not have lost the Battle of Manzikert. Having lost, they need not have given up Anatolia to occupation by the Turks. The Byzantines lacked not physical strength, but the sense of how to use it. Because of this, they lost half their empire in a couple of years, as Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 American Presidential election to Donald Trump.

Young women taking selfies, Selimiye Mosque in background: Meriç River, Edirne, 2017.05.01

The Seljuk Sultanate of Rum, or Rome, was established over much of Anatolia. The poet Rumi came to be so called because he had migrated with his family to Konya, the former Iconium, within the Sultanate of Rum. When the Sultanate declined, several Turkish emirates took its place. One of these was founded by Osman, known in English as Ottoman. He died in 1326, as his army conquered Bursa, near Nicaea, after a seige of seven years.

Üç Şerefeli Cami, 2017.05.02

In 378, the Goths had defeated the Roman army under Emperor Valens, in the Battle of Adrianople. Thus had been established the superiority of Barbarian cavalry over Imperial infantry (as reported by Colin McEvedy, The New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History, 1992). Henceforth the Romans would hire Barbarians to fight for them. Nine centuries later, the Romans were hiring Turks. This brought Turks over to Europe. In 1362, the Ottomans took Adrianople for themselves: thus the city now called Edirne became the new Ottoman capital. This is why Edirne is home to three spectacular mosques of the fifteenth century. These mosques apparently show the development of the Ottoman style from the Seljuk style. In Edirne too is the climactic example of Ottoman style, the Selimiye Mosque, the masterpiece of the maturity of Mimar Sinan.

The Selimiye Mosque, from the garden of the Muradiye Mosque, 2017.05.01


Sinan is his name; Mimar or Architect is his title; he is the namesake of Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in Istanbul, where my wife and I work. Ayşe and I went to see the work of Mimar Sinan in Edirne on Sunday morning, April 30, 2017.

Minbar, Muradiye Camii, 2017.05.01

We would stay for two nights. One Istanbul guide-book suggests a day-trip to Edirne. Under good conditions, you can get there in two-and-a-half hours. These conditions include (1) open roads and (2) being near the actual departure point of your bus. We failed to meet either of these conditions.

Meriç River, Edirne, 2017.05.01

Our bus was at 10:30 on a fine spring weekend morning, the day before May Day. The road out of Istanbul was jammed with the cars of families going on picnics.

Saraçlar Caddesi, with Üç Şerefeli Cami behind, 2017.05.01

With a population of less than two hundred thousand, Edirne is a hundredth the size of Istanbul. Nonetheless, the road into Edirne was also jammed.

South of Edirne, 2017.05.01

Our bus had departed from Istanbul’s old Esenler Station. This is a vast complex, where the signs of countless bus companies are on display. Some of these companies serve many towns; others, one or two. Some companies will take you to Greece, Bulgaria, Austria, or Germany. We rarely see Esenler Station today. The busses we take are usually bound for Asia, and we catch them at the newer station in Alibeyköy, at the tip of the Golden Horn, which is closer to us. A visit to Esenler was a step back in time. It seemed unchanged since the rise to power of Tayyip Erdogan. However, a subway line had been brought there, and this was how we arrived.

Karaağaç, Edirne, 2017.05.01

The bus company (Kâmil Koç) that we usually patronize did not serve Edirne. We used the company called Nilüfer, whose name is both a woman’s given name and the Persian word for water lily. The Nilüfer bus did not go all the way to Edirne; before heading south for Uzunköprü, the bus left most of its passengers at Havsa, a town a tenth the size of Edirne. Nilüfer minibuses took us the rest of the way. Most other passengers got off our minibus on the way into the city. By the time we reached the Selimiye Mosque, on a hill at the city center, only a stout peasant woman was left on the bus, besides ourselves.

First view of Selimiye Mosque, 2017.04.30

When we toured Aegean Turkey with her, fifteen years ago, my mother was impressed by the ease with which we made connections. Alighting at the Izmir station from a long-distance bus, we immediately boarded a smaller bus, which would take us further south to Selçuk. Ayşe and I often make this connection now, to reach the Nesin Mathematics Village in the hills above Selçuk—and getting there means riding in an even smaller bus. We often remember my mother’s cheerful appreciation of the efficiency of the Turkish transportation system.

Eastern lawn of Selimiye Mosque, 2017.04.30


Trying to reach Edirne from Istanbul on a sunny Sunday morning in spring, with irony we recalled my mother’s appreciation of transportation in Turkey. Our trip took longer than expected, and the extra time was spent in traffic jams. Once we had found the Ottoman Palace Hotel near the Üç Şerefeli Mosque, Ayşe at least was keen to have a beer. She viewed with suspicion my eagerness to visit the mosques.

Edirne Archeological Museum, 2017.04.30

We found a meyhane on the main pedestrian drag. Mey is a Persian word, cognate with the English “mead”; hane, also Persian, means “house.” A postane is a posta hane, a post office; a hastane is a hasta hane, a sick-house or hospital. Etymologically speaking, what we found in Edirne was a mead hall. The notion of a mead hall had fired my imagination when I read Beowulf in tenth grade. In Edirne, the Zindanaltı (“Under the Dungeon”) Meyhanesi did not really do business till evening; but we could have a cold beer if we sat indoors.

Selimiye Mosque from the Archeological Museum on the eastern side, 2017.04.30

A foreigner came in to study the menu. Ayşe offered translation assistance, and I offered him a beer. He was a French person making dinner arrangements for the seventeen Dutch persons he was leading on tour. He lived in Bulgaria with his Bulgarian wife and their children. Their house in the woods was accessible only by two kilometers of hiking.

Selimiye Mosque from Mimar Sinan Caddesi on the west, 2017.05.01

Before we parted for the rest of the afternoon, Julien invited us to join his group for dinner. At a few minutes past eight in the evening, we found the group seated outside at a long table, where there were two empty places. Our new companions were all elderly and almost all women. They may all have been academics. The woman across from Ayşe was eighty years old, was a scholar of the avant-garde art movement called CoBrA, and had recently published a book on the subject. CoBrA rang a bell, and we must have seen the 2012 CoBrA exhibit at the Sabancı Museum; but my memory of this is dim.

Selimiye Mosque from the east, 2017.04.30

The woman to my left must have been a lot younger than eighty, but who knows? Maybe not. She asked me a lot of questions about Turkey. She reminded me of my late aunt, who had a tendency to interrogate the friends that I introduced to her. I have experienced little such curiosity in Turkey, where hospitality does not seem to involve getting to know somebody as an individual.

Selimiye Mosque, northern entrance from courtyard, 2017.05.01

When I asked my neighbor what she did, she said she was an historian. She did not seem inclined to say much more, so I did not pursue the subject; otherwise I might have asked her if she knew Collingwood’s philosophy of history (which I think I made my best attempt at working out in “Freedom” and “Thales of Miletus”). Perhaps most people do not philosophize about what they do; but I am aware of at least one Dutch scholar of Collingwood.

Selimiye Mosque, 2017.05.01

At Zindanaltı Meyhanesi, our Dutch companions were obliged to drink their wine from rakı glasses and to hide the bottles under the table. The city was under the political control of the secularist, Kemalist opposition party: still, some puritanical restrictions had to be respected, or at least broken only discreetly.

David Teniers the Younger (Flemish, 1610–1690), Peasants Celebrating Twelfth Night, 1635, oil on panel (National Gallery of Art, Washington; Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund)

Our companions were subject to such native self-control that external restrictions on their behavior were otiose. They showed no inclination to the riotous drinking seen in a painting of Flemish peasants by David Teniers II.

Selimiye Mosque, qibla wall, 2017.05.01

My neighbor was first to head off to bed. Soon all but three guests had left, not counting Julien. Like Ayşe and me and one of the three Dutch women, Julien was having rakı. He observed that the three women were true Hollanders: in his terms, as I recall them, they were southerners, not so uptight as northerners.

Selimiye Mosque, southwest corner, 2017.05.01

Inside the meyhane, a Roma band had been playing increasingly lively music with drum and clarinet. The Turkish folks sitting there started singing along, swaying side to side, and even dancing. This was not something our Dutch companions would do (or I would do).

Selimiye Mosque, west side, 2017.05.01

The evening suggested the challenge of fitting different countries into one European Union. It is a challenge that ought to be faced. A book I had brought along to Edirne was Montaigne’s Essays: A Selection (translated by M. A. Screech, Penguin, 2004); I read it in the mornings before breakfast. According to the essay called “Advice on Educating Children”:

mixing with people is wonderfully appropriate. So are visits to foreign lands: but not the way the French nobles do it (merely bringing back knowledge of how many yards long the Pantheon is, or of the rich embroidery on Signora Livia’s knickers); nor the way others do it (knowing how much longer and fatter Nero’s face is on some old ruin over there compared with his face on some comparable medallion) but mainly learning of the humours of those peoples and of their manners, and knocking off our corners by rubbing our brains against other people’s.

We would have some experience of Turkish manners at our hotel. Breakfast would be served at eight in the morning. We were in bed by 11:30 on Sunday. Some guests arrived after that, and they used their outside voices in the corridor. The same happened at seven in the morning, when they went down to breakfast. They had apparently arranged to eat early, so as to continue their sightseeing. Ayşe recalls that they were noisy even earlier, as they went out for the first light’s prayer, currently around five o’clock. The guests were a group from Konya making a mosque tour. I think they had no notion of the individual. In their own homes, they would surely display the hospitality for which Turks are famous; but they would neither expect for themselves, nor offer to others, any respect for personal concerns or needs. This is how I understand some Turkish habits. They could have to do with not having had a feudal system; they could have to do with not being far from peasanthood. Thus I speculate.

Eski Cami, Edirne, 2017.04.30

The pious tour group were gone on Monday night. Still, around midnight, a mother and daughter in another room woke us with a shouting match. In the spirit of Montaigne, I try to take such experiences as educational. Our worst hotel experience ever was in Bodrum in 2008, at a hotel frequented by British guests whose idea of a good holiday was to drink oneself into a coma.


In chronological order by year of completion, according to my sources, the grand mosques of Edirne are:

  1. Eski Cami, “Old Mosque,” 1414.

  2. Muradiye Camii, 1436.

  3. Üç Şerefeli Cami, “Three Gallery Mosque,” 1445.

  4. Selimiye Camii, 1575.

My best source on these mosques is Early Ottoman Art: The Legacy of the Emirates (2002), which should apparently be considered as the catalogue of an exhibition of the Museum With No Frontiers (“carried out within the framework of the Euromed Heritage Programme of the European Union”). The exhibition consists of eight “itineraries,” and in 2009 we followed part of the second of these, called “Protectors of the Arts and Artists”; at least we followed the itinerary from Selçuk to Tire, as I reported on a page of my departmental website.

Eski Cami, Edirne, 2017.04.30

In preparing to go to Edirne, I forgot about the catalogue as a possible resource. I was reminded of it when I saw, mounted at some of the Edirne mosques, the familiar faded signs of the exhibition. Edirne is covered by the eighth itinerary, “Music Therapy in the Darüşşifa.” Credited for the corresponding section of the catalogue are Lale Bulut, Aydoğan Demir, and İnci Kuyulu. I said above that the Turkish word for “hospital” was hastane. An archaic word for the same thing is darüşşifa, where dar is Arabic for house, and şifa is Arabic for getting better. I suppose then the first two syllables of darüşşifa correspond to those of the name of the former capital of Tanzania, Dar es Salaam, the House of Peace. The darüşşifa in Edirne was an attraction that we had to postpone till another visit, since it was a little ways outside of town. We did make a trip out of town, but it was in another direction. Our Dutch dinner companions recommended the hospital museum, as did a clerk at our hotel. The hospital was part of the complex named for Sultan Bayezid II, who reigned 1481–1512.

Muradiye Camii, 2017.05.01

To return to the mosques, the one called Muradiye has an inscription naming Murad II, but giving no date, at least according to the exhibition catalogue. The 7th Edition of the Lonely Planet guide Turkey (March 2001) gives the year 1436 for the mosque, with no explanation. Sultan Murad II reigned 1421–44 and again 1446–51; in the gap reigned his son, Sultan Mehmed II, born 1432, who would conquer Constantinople in 1453.

Üç Şerefeli Cami, 2017.05.01

How do you roof a building with stones? This is the structural problem for a mosque or any other building (such as a Turkish bath) for which a wooden roof is inadequate (or for which the lumber is unavailable). A dome converts the weight of its stones into a lateral, centrifugal force; this force has to be counteracted. An additional challenge arises if the dome is to cover a rectangular floor. Apparently this challenge is not too hard to meet, if the dome is not too big. The Old Mosque of Edirne is roofed over by nine domes, arranged three by three. The domes are held up by the exterior walls of the mosque, along with four internal columns. The earlier Great Mosque (Ulu Cami) in Bursa is covered by twenty domes, in a four-by-five array.

Muradiye Camii, 2017.05.01

The interior of the Muradiye mosque is covered by four domes, arranged in a T. There is a central domed room with three domed projections. One of these projections is in the qibla, the direction of Mecca; the other two are left and right of this. The Lonely Planet guide refers to either of the latter projections as an eyvan. Eyvan is a Turkish word, translated in the big Redhouse dictionary as “liwan”: the Arabic source is iwan, but an ell can be attracted to it from the arabic article al, just as, in English, “a newt” was derived from “an eft.” Early Ottoman Art calls the intended feature of the Muradiye Mosque a tabhane, meaning a heated room, apparently for the use of visiting dervishes. Sultan Murad II dreamt that Rumi asked him to build the mosque.

Üç Şerefeli Cami, 2017.05.01

In the Üç Şerefeli Cami, the problem of supporting a larger dome is addressed. Here a large central dome rests on a hexagon. Four vertices of the hexagon are on the walls, and two are supported by columns within the mosque. On either side of the central dome are two smaller domes, so that the whole mosque has five domes.

Central dome of Üç Şerefeli Cami, 2017.05.01

After a career of supporting single central domes in various ways, Mimar Sinan supported the dome of the Selimiye Mosque on an octagon. The octagon cuts the corners of the square plan of the mosque. Semidomes project into those corners, and a lower semidome projects in the qibla direction. For convenience, let us say that this direction is south, though it is more like southeast. The walls of the Selimiye Mosque are not supporting, so they can be filled with windows: six or more levels of windows in some parts, depending on how you count.

Selimiye Mosque, 2017.05.01

In the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, in the southeast garden of the Selimiye Mosque, a film about Mimar Sinan described his three masterpieces:

  1. The Şehzade Mosque, of youth.

  2. The Süleymaniye Mosque, of middle age.

  3. The Selimiye Mosque, of maturity.

The first two works are in Istanbul, and I have some Google photo albums, both of the Şehzade Mosque (and other things) and of the Süleymaniye Mosque. (Two more photos from the Süleymaniye Mosque are on a departmental web page that I called “Çarşamba.”) The Selimiye Mosque has a similar feel to the others. In the afternoon, all three of them shade their eastern lawns, where there are plane trees. According to Lonely Planet, the dome of the Selimiye Mosque is slightly larger than that of Ayasofya. The film reported this story as myth: the Selimiye dome is slightly smaller.

Eski Cami, Edirne, 2017.05.02

Sinan’s ideal was not to be measured by size, but by harmony of composition—or let me say symmetry of composition. In fact I have submitted for publication an article called “Commensurability and Symmetry,” in which one theme is that measuring symmetry cannot be exactly analogous to measuring size; ultimately, symmetry cannot be measured at all, in the sense of being ascertained mechanically. I confess that my first submitted version of the article was rejected, apparently because the referee could not perceive a method in the madness of its order. I have tried again. [The paper was ultimately published in the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics.]

Muradiye Camii, 2017.05.01

The Muradiye Mosque has the best location in Edirne, on a hill with a view of green countryside to the north—and a view of the Selimiye Mosque to the west. But the Muradiye Mosque is in a part of town where some citizens fear to venture. We walked there along Mimar Sinan Caddesi, past the men who sat facing the street. In a broken window, a hand-written sign advertised beer for seven lira, a cheap price. At a fork in the road, a man pointed the way to the mosque.

Mihrab, Muradiye Camii, 2017.05.01

We climbed the hill, but the entrance to the mosque was not grand. A guard was in the garden with a gang of rambunctious boys. The boys were rather dark-skinned, and perhaps they were Roma. Though we had been warned by books and persons that the mosque would be locked outside of prayer times, the guard cheerfully told us that it was open. Nobody else was inside. The interior was mostly white, but this was from restoration. There were preserved blotches of the faded original painting here and there. A kind of wainscot was made of green tiles, but some of these were missing. Apparently people were inclined to steal bits of the mosque.

Muradiye Camii, 2017.05.01

When we went to leave the hill as we had come, the guard warned us away from that direction, saying people used drugs on that side. We took the southern exit, and a boy tagged along. I thought he would ask us for money, but instead he showed us that he was informed about the history of the mosque. If he hoped we would reward him financially for his knowledge, he was too polite or pious to say so.

Venuses in the Edirne Archeological Museum, 2017.04.30

Thefts from the Muradiye Mosque may have been committed out of piety, or a superstitious belief in the power of relics. In the Old Mosque, on the right side of the mihrab showing the qibla, a hole in the stone was covered by an acrylic plate. A sign explained to the visitor that all good came from God alone. There was more, but I did not take the time to study the Turkish. Apparently a local superstition about that part of the mihrab was being discouraged. On Tuesday morning, as a woman vacuumed the carpet of the mosque, another woman walked determinedly into the narrow space between the minbar and a low platform on the right. A male guard came up behind, as if to make sure she did no mischief.

Eski Cami, Edirne, 2017.05.01

The Old Mosque makes me wish I could read Arabic. The four interior columns are large and square, and the walls have few windows: thus there are a lot of flat surfaces, and these are used for spectacular calligraphy.

Eski Cami, Edirne, 2017.05.02

It is convenient that a mosque floor is carpeted and kept clean. You walk on it in stocking feet. You could do yoga if you wanted, or just take a nap. Children run around, and nobody stops them. There are none of the images of saints that appear in Christian churches, at least the iconodule ones. There is nothing that suggests any particular doctrine—unless there is calligraphy, and then this might suggest doctrine rather forcibly, if you could actually read the letters.

Mihrab, Eski Cami, Edirne, 2017.05.02


We can see great mosques in Istanbul, but what we cannot see so easily is green fields and forests.

Trees in the Old Mosque, Edirne, 2017.05.02

On Monday morning, we walked south out of Edirne. First we stopped by the synagogue, which had recently been restored.

Edirne Synagogue, 2017.05.01

Behind the locked gate, there was a guard in a booth, along with an X-ray machine. At least I thought I saw the guard go in the booth. We did not try to get him to let us through the gate. The synagogue building was boxy, and apparently it had a hipped roof, rather than a domed one.

Edirne Synagogue, 2017.05.01

We crossed two rivers on old Ottoman bridges, which cars used as well. As guidebooks said, there were various places where one could sit and eat, both between the rivers and beyond them.

Edirne, Tunca River, 2017.05.01

We followed the car road for a while, then entered the municipal forest and found a path through the woods. Not many picnickers must have gone far into the woods: there was not much litter, but a lot of birdsong.

South of Edirne, 2017.05.01

We ended up in the fields around the village of Karaağaç.

Karaağaç, Edirne, 2017.05.01

The attraction here was the old train station and a monument to the Lausanne Treaty of 1923, whereby the Republic of Turkey was recognized.

Lausanne Monument, 2017.05.01


The train station had been given to the fine arts faculty of the University of Thrace; but during our visit, the area was surrounded only by tourists.

Old train station, Edirne, 2017.05.01

They climbed in the steam locomotive, and they posed at the Lausanne monument.

Old train station, Edirne, 2017.05.01

Pondering the text explaining the monument was a slight young person whom I might have taken for a boy, except she was wearing a headscarf. Presently she ran off at high speed. I cursed her parents (silently) for imposing on her the notion that her hair must be covered, since otherwise men would not be able to control their lust, and she would go to hell.

Limon Cafe, Edirne, 2017.05.01

On the way back into town, we stopped for a meal at a place called Limon (meaning “lemon”), where one ate beneath trees. Though we could sit, we were warned that food would take half an hour. It took more like 50 minutes. Many Adrianopolitans were taking their leisurely Sunday brunch. Most of them were young adults, sometimes with small children. I wondered if the trees had been planted specifically for the restaurant. We had already seen a field of trees, planted in neat rows, presumably for their wood.

Karaağaç, Edirne, 2017.05.01

Continuing our return journey, we stopped again at a monument to the martyrs of the Balkan Wars. A girl there addressed us in English, but preferred Turkish. Her family had migrated from Bulgaria in 1989. This was before her time, but still she had a Bulgarian passport, and this meant she could accompany her father on a short bicycle ride to Greece. A passport holder of another country of the European Union did not need a visa. The girl’s impatient father called her to come: he did not approach us, perhaps because he was shy about not knowing English. Or he was shy, period. Ayşe speculated that his main reason to visit Greece was to buy cheap liquor.

Memorial to the Balkan Wars, Edirne, 2017.05.01

We were near two different countries, which used alphabets differing both from one another and from both the Latin alphabet that Turkey uses today and the Arabic alphabet that Turkey used formerly (in a way that discouraged literacy, as I reported in “Mîna Urgan on alphabets & Atatürk”).

Otopark Παρκάρισμα Паркинг
Edirne, south side, 2017.05.01

Back in town, I took a nap in the room while Ayşe sat in the garden of the Üç Şerefeli Cami. The name of the mosque apparently refers to the three galleries of one of the minarets. Each gallery is supposedly reached by a different winding stairway. I do not know why three galleries would be needed. Perhaps the louder the voice of the muezzin, the higher the gallery he wants to use.

Üç Şerefeli Cami, 2017.05.01

One Comment

  1. Posted October 12, 2020 at 7:51 pm | Permalink | Reply

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2 Trackbacks

  1. By Çarşamba Tour, April 2018 « Polytropy on July 2, 2018 at 5:12 pm

    […] The original Darüşşafaka school building sat for years with a canopy over it, pending restoration. Now the work seems to have been done. The guard did not let us far into the grounds. I centered a photograph on the distant Süleymaniye Mosque, the masterpiece of Sinan’s middle age. The masterpiece of his maturity is the Selimiye Mosque, which Ayşe and I visited last year in Edirne. […]

  2. By NL XLIV: The Turks « Polytropy on February 20, 2019 at 7:47 am

    […] Took Constantinople (İstanbul) in 1453 and made it the third Ottoman capital (the second having been Adrianople (Edirne). […]

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