“Green Bursa”, A City of Parks and Historic Trades

6 Minutes

Bursa, a city in north-western Turkey, is the administrative centre of the Bursa Province and is the fourth most populous city in Turkey. The city was the first major, and second overall, capital of the Ottoman State Empire, between 1335 and 1363. During this time, Bursa was a source for many royal silk products, manufacturing silk locally and importing raw silk from Iran and, occasionally, China.  

The city was first captured by the Byzantines in 1326, resulting in Bursa becoming the first official capital city of the Ottoman Empire. In 1326, the city was walled, surrounded by a few small villages. The mark of the Ottomans is still felt in the city today, with six Ottoman sultans buried in Bursa, and many buildings bearing the mark of Ottoman architecture. The city’s historical treasures are gained thanks to these early sultans, who expanded the city beyond the initial walls and into the surrounding plains, where the city’s centre currently lies.  

Ulu Cami (Grand Mosque)

Ulu Cami is the largest mosque in the city, and is a landmark of Ottoman architecture, and incorporated many elements from Seljuk architecture as well. The mosque was ordered by Sultan Bayezid I, and designed by the architect Ali Neccar, by around 1396-1400 AD. The mosque is considered to be an impressive and important landmark in the city, along with being the fifth most important mosque in Islam, following the ones in Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, and Damascus. The mosque is also declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in 2014. 

The mosque consists of 20 domes, arranged in rows of five, and supported by 12 columns. This particular arrangement divides the large rectangular room (around 2,200 square metres) into specific sections. The interior of the mosque includes a large marble fountain (used for ablution – a method to wash the body before prayers) that’s located underneath the glass dome. The walls and pillars are richly decorated with over 190 calligraphy samples, written by 41 calligraphers. The rich calligraphy on the walls has earned the mosque the title of being a ‘calligraphy museum’. Most of the calligraphy dates from between 1778 and 1938 and is painted on the walls, columns, large plates and medallions. The samples include verses from the Qur’an, the 99 names of Allah, the different names of Prophet Muhammad, the names of major Islamic scholars, and a few hadiths (sayings by Prophet Muhammad).

The doors and the pulpit are made from carved walnut wood, and the pulpit contains an engraved scale model of the solar system. The mosque’s exterior is built from stone, with fountains located on the courtyard in front of the mosque’s minarets. The west minaret was built during the time of initial construction (at around 1400 AD), with the east minaret later added in the 15th century, under the rule of Sultan Mehmet I. 

Bazaars in Burza

Burza’s sprawling central bazaar is a great place to grab a bite to eat, shop for souvenirs, have some tea, take photos, or even enjoy a stroll and marvel at the city’s architecture. The Grand Mosque and Koza Han are two major landmarks located in the central bazaar area. 

One unique attraction is Bursa’s ‘Covered Market’, or Kapalı Çarşı. Though it is much smaller than Istanbul’s counterpart (which contains over 4,000 stores), the covered market is the centrepiece of a much larger bazaar district. The covered market is next to the Grand Mosque. It contains some unique, well-built Hans (or caravansaries, roadside inns for travelers – caravaners – to recover from the day’s journey), including the Koza (cocoon) Han, and the Emir Han. The market itself consists of a few Ottoman buildings attached to the central covered market, with a large, shady courtyard in the middle – the perfect spot for travellers to cool their heels, enjoy some Turkish coffee, and soak in the sights. The narrow streets are a great place to walk through and discover the various hans, old ottoman workshops, and complexes that are arranged around the market. Shoppers who are interested in local products can pick up some local silk, as silk was Bursa’s prime cloth trade for centuries. The variety and selection available in stores is still quite impressive, and guests can haggle for raw silk or finished silk goods with other brokers and buyers. 

Bursa’s hot springs

The city is also famed for its thermal springs, a direct result of Bursa’s natural volcanic history. Bathhouses have tapped the hot, mineral-rich springs for centuries, and guests today can enjoy some hot, therapeutic spring water at traditional hammams (Turkish baths) or at more modern spas that are scattered throughout the city. 

One particular place to visit is Bursa’s historic Eski Kaplıca Hamamı. This is the largest, oldest, and most famous Turkish bath in the city, and is a massive, multi-domed structure, with vast ceilings and marble fountains. The site was first constructed by Sultan Murad I in 1385, and later enlarged by Sultan Beyazid II in 1511. The hammam is also registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is included in Bursa’s UNESCO World Heritage inscription. The hammam itself is open to all and contains three sections – one for men, one for women, and one for families. The hammam is fed by Çekirge’s Horhor Spring, where the water is piped in at a blazing 90 degrees Celsius. Once the water cools down to about 45 degrees, the water is piped into marble-lined wading pools, and the water itself is well-known for its mineral content and its ‘curative’ properties for a variety of ailments. 

Historic sites 

Bursa is packed to the brim with historic sites, from mosques to the old town to some well-preserved Ottoman houses, this city (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) truly does offer a wealth of architecture, beauty, and historic information to its visitors. 

Yeşil Cami, also known as Green Mosque, is part of a larger complex that’s located on the east of Bursa. The complex consists of a mosque, a madrasah, a kitchen, bath, and a tomb. The name is derived from its green and blue tile decorations in the interior. The Green Mosque is a part of Bursa’s history, as it was first commissioned by Sultan Mehmed I in 1412, and was completed sometime around 1419 to 1424, with decorative work continuing well after the Sultan’s death. This mosque, too, contains intricate calligraphic designs, and the mosque contains a wide range of tile techniques and styles, reflecting a range of cultural influences. The mosque also has carved decorations along its exterior, from the entryway to the mosque’s windows.

The Muradiye Complex, or the Complex of Sultan Murad II, contains twelve tombs belonging to the sultan’s relatives, and the complex houses a mosque, a madrasa, a bath, a fountain, and around 12 tombs. The tombs are decorated with glazed blue tiles, with two of the tombs decorated in painted Iznik tiles. The Muradiye mosque was completed in 1426, with four domes and two minarets. The madrasa is to the west of the mosque and comprises of a central courtyard and student rooms and a classroom, covered by a dome.  

Museums in the city

Bursa is a great place to visit for history enthusiasts and museum buffs, as the city itself serves as a monument to its rich past. The streets, historical sites, bazaars, and locals themselves feed into the city’s culture, and its easy to see the city’s past unfold in front of your eyes. Bursa’s museums, however, offer a structured, well-curated experience, ranging from the city’s history to the history of the country’s culture. 

The Bursa City Museum is located in the city center in Cumhuriyet Square, and is the city’s flagship history museum. The museum contains over 7,000 years of history, tracing the city’s past from pre-Roman times to the modern era. The Turkish Islamic Arts Museum is housed in a madrasa built in the 15th century, next to the Yesil Mosque. The museum displays various types of Islamic art particular to Bursa and Turkey, with artwork that dates back to the pre-Ottoman period. The Atatürk House Museum is a house that was gifted to Atatürk (Turkey’s first president) by the Bursa city municipality in 1923. Atatürk returned the house to the municipality in 1938, and the city converted the house to a museum in his honour in 1973. 

The city also boasts a number of natural features around the city, including smaller villages like the Saitabat village, or the Uluabat Lake. Park-goers and nature lovers can enjoy the lovely parks scattered around the city itself, including the Merinos Park or the Kültürpark. Of course, a popular reason Bursa is the place to visit is because of the Uludağ mountain, the highest mountain in the Marmara region is accessible by car or by cable-car and located in the Bursa province. The mountain is a popular place for skiers and snowboarders and houses a number of popular and cosy ski resorts. The city and its surroundings offer a range of activities and sites that keep on giving, and visitors to Turkey should spend a few days here to make sure they catch everything the city has to offer them.

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