A Brief Guide to Bursa, the First Capital of the Ottoman Empirehttps://unsplash.com/photos/_ujdbO5gRMQ

Not far from Istanbul, the smaller city of Bursa offers some striking historical architecture. A conservative city when compared to Istanbul or Izmir, Bursa offers visitors numerous religious and imperial buildings.

Seljuk architecture in addition to the sites from the Ottoman era can be found here. These include mosques and a historical city centre and even a citadel. This is partly due to the fact that Bursa served as the first capital of the Ottoman Empire, way back in 1320s. It served as the capital of then growing Ottoman Empire between 1326 and 1365. It can be considered a major early Ottoman historical and cultural centre. In short, Bursa can be an amazing day trip out of Istanbul because it’s just a few hours by car.

Attractions & Highlights

Bursa is known for its religious sites that span both Seljuk and Ottaman styles. It also boasts Ottaman tombs and palace complexes that will provide insights into the early Ottaman state and structures, such as the Bursa citadel.

Bursa boasts its own covered market similar to the Grand Bazaar called the Bursa Tarihi Çarşı. There are other similar bazaars connected to the same area. In the past, these markets were focused on a particular trade or goods such as mirrors, arrows, silver and gold jewelry, home goods, etc. Next, you can walk over to Koza Han, an old silk caravanserai known for silk production.

Image by Abdullah İkiz from Pixabay

As with any commercial city, you can also find modern parks, museums, shopping centres and restaurants in the city. The fairly new Hudavendigar Park overlooking a beautiful creek and the Bursa Zoo and Botanical park is worth a visit if you enjoy and find calm in green spaces.

Bursa is a popular destination for winter sports such as skiing and is especially popular with Istanbullites because it’s only an hour ride away. On a 40-minute cable car ride up to the top of the Mt. Uludağ will take you to the snowy slopes during winter. It is the highest mountain in the region and has a national park with endemic flora and fauna. In the summer, trekking and camping are also good options. There are many accommodation choices here for every budget ranging from luxury ski resorts to camping areas.

Bursa has a UNESCO World Heritage site in the form of the small village of Cumalıkızık. It is located some 10 km to the east of the city. Around 700 years old, the small village has original architecture in the form of traditional wooden houses and idyllic cobblestone streets. Take a tour of a traditional house at Kupeli House, which houses cultural items and nick-knacks to take home as souvenirs. Then grab a traditional small town meal in one of the small family-owned restaurants in the village.

Image by Ahmet Canalp from Pixabay

History

Known as ‘Prousa‘ since the 3rd century, the Ottomans made it there capital and it became ‘Bursa‘. It was also called ‘Hudavendigar‘ by the Turks.

The walled city was located in the kingdom of Bithynia, a region that Bursa was part of at the time. It was controlled by Byzantine minister Saroz. But had a number of players involved in its development: Christian Greeks, Mongol-Ilkhanids under the Mongol conqueror Timur, the Seljuks, the Armenians, the Crusaders and others from Central Asia.

It was first conquered by the Ottomans in the early 1320s and became as important commercial centre, forming a big part in the trade routes, as well as the capital of a newly emerging state soon after.

A View into Bursa in 1827 from the west, by Carl Löwenheilm (Uppsala University, Rare Books Collection) in “The First Capital of the Ottoman Empire” by Suna Cagaptay

The region’s agricultural potential made it a tempting place for the semi-nomadic Turks to eventually settle down and begin adopting a new cultural identity and cement themselves as Ottomans.

The leader at the time, Osman, expanded into Byzantine territory closing in on Bursa and Nicaea (now Iznik) in 1302. Soon after he fell ill, his son Orhan took over the command of the sieges and eventually captured Bursa in April 1326. Today, their mausoleums lie outside of Bursa’s citadel marking the Empire’s birthplace. Bursa celebrates the capture of the city each year on April 6th.

Bursa Citadel walls, Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

As a commercial centre, Bursa has always been known for its place in trade routes and being close to Constantinople. Its textiles (particularly the silk industry), spices, natural landscape with a mountain backdrop and its thermal waters have always held a significant place in this part of Anatolia.

Cuisine

A popular meat dish served with yoghurt and butter sauce called İskender kebap should be on top of your list. It’s made with thinly sliced layers of grilled meat sitting on a bed of soft pita bread and a spicy tomato sauce on top. Melted butter and a side of yogurt are almost always offered with the dish. Hot melting butter is drizzled over the table by the waiter. Plus, it is best enjoyed with a side of Ayran. You can enjoy this wonderful dish with hot piping butter at Kebapçı İskender, a restaurant in a historical ambience. 

Iskender Kebap, Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

Other popular dishes from Bursa is İnegöl köfte, a dish from a city from Bursa province – İnegöl. It is similar to another dish called Pideli köfte and to the Balkan meat dish Ćevapi. It’s presented in a similar fashion as the İskender kebap with sauces and pita bread.

As for sweets, Bursa is known for its chestnut dessert called Kestane şekeri, similar to Marron glacé. Try it at Kafkas Patisserie, a candy shop open since 1930. 

Religious Sites

Two beautiful mosques stand out in the city: the Grand Mosque (Ulu Cami) and the Green Mosque (Yeşil Cami). The city also has a number of tombs of Ottoman sultans, their consorts and other princes. An extensive Muradiye complex in the west of the city is worth exploring as well as the citadel.

Ulu Cami, Image sourced from Flickr

 
One of Bursa’s most important historical sites, the Ulu Cami is a large mosque, constructed in 1399. Built with 20 small domes and two minarets, it incorporates elements from Seljuk architectural style.

Very different from the previous architecture that had its roots in the Seljuk aesthetic, the Yeşil Cami (Green mosque) was built between 1412 and 1419 for Mehmet I. Named after the green hues of its interior tiles, the beautiful structure is bedecked in intricate carved marble and calligraphy.

Yeşil Türbe (translated as green tomb) is a gorgeous mausoleum of the fifth Ottoman Sultan Mehmed I. It is covered in turquoise blue-green tiles on the exteriors and turquoise Iznik tiles in beautiful patterns on the tomb itself. It has impressive interiors flanked with ornate wooden doors of the mausoleum. It’s worth a visit as its decor resembles early Ottoman architecture inspired by broader Iranian architecture with ornate muqarnas in the entrance and for the mihrab. Hacı Ivaz Pasha was the architect of both the Green mosque and the Green Tomb.

The Muradiye Complex houses some very historical educational/medical buildings and a cemetery. Tombs of significant princes and consorts are part of the complex. The Sultan Murat II Mosque, built in 1426, is also part of the complex and impresses with its decorations that are similar to the Yeşil Cami. Today, it also serves as a park and is one of the city’s most serene places to wander about.

Other Seljuk & Ottoman Sites

Image sourced from Flickr

One of the early Ottoman sights is a historic caravanserai built in the 15th century that Bayezid II commissioned. Known for its sale of silk cocoons, from which it got its name, “koza” in Turkish translates to silk cocoon. Today, it functions today as an outdoor space where you can have a tea or a coffee in one of the tea gardens in between shopping or exploring.

The Bursa Citadel with its few surviving walls divides the city’s old oldest neighborhood called Tophane. Here you can see a tall clock tower called the Tophane clock tower. Here, you have to visit to visit the tombs of Ottoman Sultans Osman and Orhan, the founders of the Ottoman Empire.

Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

One of Bursa’s interesting sights is the yellow coloured Irgandı Bridge. Built in 1442 during the reign of Murat II. It is an example of a covered bridge with shops, similar to Pointe Vecchio in Florence. 

Museums

Bursa also have a long list of museums and some are quite interesting for this city. The Bursa Archaeological Museum has a good amount of ancient of statues, including one of Greek goddess Athena. Next, you have to visit the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, the Turkish Arhictecture Museum and the Iznik museum. There are some cultural and historical museums such as the Atatürk Museum, the Mudanya Armistice House and the Ottoman House Museum. The most interesting is the Tofaş Museum of Cars and Anatolian Carriages that is dedicated to the Turkish car Tofaş and other older Ottoman carriages, that were once produced and were popular in Turkey.

The city is known for Turkey’s traditional shadow play show characters called Karagöz and Hacivat, apparent real people from 13th-century Bursa, who inspired the show. A museum dedicated to the characters was created in 2007 and now houses many collections of puppets. There are even Ottoman-era newspapers, posters and other exhibits that you can check out at this interesting museum!

Uludağ

Snow-covered Uludağ mountain in the distance, from Asian Istanbul, Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

This beautiful mythical mountain is Western Anatolia’s highest and is located 36 km south of Bursa. The mountain had many monastaries and many saints were said to visit it. In ancient Greek mythology, the Trojan war in Troy (now located in present-day Hisarlik) was believed to be watched by the Greek gods from this mountain, called Olympos in ancient times. Its highest peak is Kartal Kaya Tepe at 2543 m. On clear days, this mountain is also visible all the way from Istanbul but you’ll have to climb up to a high vantage point to see it this way.

Uludağ winter sports, Photo by Abdelrahman Mohamed on Unsplash

The area is covered by lush forests and serves as a skiing resort in the winter months. The season is open from October to April, with the best times being December to March for powdery snow. The altitude of the area ranges between 1700m to over 2500 m. You can choose between skiing, snowboarding, biathlon, sledding or skibob. A winter festival and après ski parties with popular DJs and musicians or singers takes place annually and for New Year’s.

The many hotels in the area are available for all kings of budgets. There are even day trip tours offered from the other big cities such as Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara, all reachable by buses in just a few hours! Ski rentals, chair lifts and t-bars offer the best winter sports for those interested.

Resort hotels in Uludağ, Image sourced from Ets Tur

The area’s natural flora and fauna can also be enjoyed as there’s a National Park here. Summer activities include hiking and trekking and you can enjoy camping if that’s your jam. Roads leading to the resorts and park can be dangerous and filled with snow and snow tires and chains are recommend in winter as it can be tricky to drive on mountainous roads. Small shared taxis from Bursa take about an hour.

Consequently, cable car services makes it easier for you to access the ski resort and park. It is believed to be the longest in Turkey at 9 km long in total. There are four different sections of routes which allow you to access the mountain and then onto the hotels in the area. The first station is the Teferrüç station in Teferrüç Street in the Yıldırım district of Bursa. This service reaches the hotels area in Uludağ mountain. The other stations are the Sarıalan, which is a transfer station, and a hotels zone station.