Emperor Hadrian made Hadrianopolis (later Adrianople) the main centre of Roman Thrace in the early 2nd century AD. In the mid-14th century the nascent Ottoman state began to grow in size and power, and in 1363 its army crossed the Dardanelles, skirted Constantinople and captured Adrianople, renaming it Edirne and making it the third capital of the Ottoman Empire.

The city functioned in this role until 1453, when Constantinople was conquered and became the new capital. Subsequent sultans continued to acknowledge Edirne's historical importance by maintaining its industries and preserving its buildings. It was briefly occupied by imperial Russian troops in 1829, during the Greek War of Independence, and in 1878, during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78, but remained relatively unscathed by these events. Its role as a fortress defending Ottoman Constantinople and eastern Thrace during the Balkan Wars of 1912–13 was more significant, and it suffered heavy losses of life and property at this time.

When the Ottoman Empire collapsed after WWI, the Allies handed Thrace to the Greeks and declared İstanbul an international city. In the summer of 1920 Greek armies occupied Edirne, only to be driven back by forces under the command of Atatürk. The Treaty of Lausanne (1923) ceded Edirne and eastern Thrace to the Turks.