Two Days in Bursa

  • Bursa has a history of some 5,000 years. It was built by Hannibal as a gift to King Prius, and later became the capitol of the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Orhan Gazi, who is buried here. The city became the cultural center of the scientific world, and was an important part of the trade routes heading West.

It’s a 6 hour trip by bus to the Boyoguzel Hotel, a modern business hotel just outside of town. I spend the evening walking around, and find the grave of Suleyman Celebi (author of the Mevlid, an epic poem describing the birth of Mohammed) and the Karagoz Cemetery, marked by a pair of oversized Turkish shadow puppets.

Kayıt Altındaki Tek Tasvir Ustası. Photo credit: ismek.blog

The next day I hail a cab to Yesil Madrash, the Green Tomb. It’s the furthest point of the city, with all the other sites lined up in a mostly straight line back up the hill to my hotel, as far as I could tell from my ‘not for tourists’ map.

  • Yesil Madrash is the burial place of Sultan Mehmet I, and his sons and daughters. Commissioned in 1421 it is commonly known as the Green Tomb because of its turquoise-green tile work, which is inscribed with cufic inscriptions.
Exterior detail of the Green Tomb

I have posted a 360 degree video of the interior of this tomb at August Phoenix Hats.

My next stop is the Turkish Islamic Museum of Arts, with its extensive collection of artifacts, organized by theme in tiny rooms surrounding a courtyard. Assuming that a catalog does not wait for me at the end, I start clicking photos, which attracts the attention of the security guards. “Yes, photos OK,” they signal. Here are my favorites from this museum.

A fish bowl : ) From the Turkish Islamic Museum of Arts

I take a last look round and wave ‘goodbye.’  Outside the entrance, as I pause to figure out where to go next, the youngest guard runs up to me and presents me with an English language Bursa City Guide. “A gift,” he beams. It allows me to plan the rest of my day. Small gestures make such a big difference…

Just outside of the Yesil Madrash there’s a few street merchants. One is peddling small antique trinkets and silver by the ounce. The ring I never found in Istanbul is here — a prettily worked silver bezel surrounding an onyx cabochon. I also buy a silver thimble, covered with granulation. It’s the most perfect thimble ever, and one which now I cannot sew without. Thank You Bursa.

Not too far away is the Cultural Museum, previously a dervish lodge and then a library, which now houses a collection of costumes and textiles. Here’s a collection of my favorites.

A silver belt buckle covered in granulation and cabochons.

I find the Ulu Camii closed for prayer, so I find a lunch spot, where I have my first (and very tasty) durum.  I mill around until the end of afternoon prayer. It was interesting to note that the only people exiting the mosque, are men.

  • The magnificent Ulu Camii (Great Mosque) was built in 1399, when, to satisfy a promise to construct 20 mosques, Yildirim Bayazid chose instead to build a single mosque with 20 domes and minarets. The center dome is glass, hovering over a 16-sided fountain — features I haven’t seen in any other mosque here.

The mosque dates to the turn of the 15th century. Every wall is ornamented with calligraphies which were finished in 1904. Ulu Camii is the largest mosque in Bursa, and is also the most distinctive mosque I have seen in Turkey thus far.

Children run around, and a couple of girls are rolling around on the carpet. Women in headscarves enter with the tourists, and in spite of the secluded women’s gallery in the corner, most women were praying in groups of twos and threes, along with a scattering of men, praying separately but simultaneously on the main floor. It’s the only time I’ve witnessed men and women praying together at the same time here.

I return to the Orhan Camii, where a custodian is vacuuming between prayer services. I quickly take a few photos, pull all of the change out of my pocket and put it in the offering box.

Nearby is the tomb of Orhan Gazi. The walls are whitewashed with limestone. It was very airy and beautiful.

It’s a city of sultan’s tombs. A silver domed building that had been the chapel of a Christian monastery, was converted to become the burial place of Orhan’s son, Osman Gazi.

I tour the 17th Century Ottoman House, believed to be the birthplace of Sultan Mehmed.

I find the Uluumay Ottoman Costume and Jewelry Museum just minutes before it was scheduled to close. The curator gives me a personal tour of his 50 year collection which is housed in an old Ottoman school. Only about a quarter of his collection is housed here. He did not allow photography, but The Hurriyet published an article about this museum the year after I was there.

I head back up the hill to the hotel and find dinner at a kebab place about a block away. Seated at a sidewalk table, I watch the relentless stream of traffic just feet in front of me, where right-of-way seems to go to whoever is fearless enough to take it. I spend the rest of the evening wandering around the residential areas, admiring the architecture. I have figured out the high-speed ferry, a 2 hour trip which will return me to Istanbul tomorrow morning.

Upon returning to Istanbul,  I had hoped to see the Orient Express but it left a few hours earlier. I spend the rest of my day shopping for hatmaking materials along a “Textiles Row” of shops near the Grand Bazaar.

  • This is an excerpt from my original travel journal. The full text, which includes historical notes and traveler tips, is now available at AugustPhoenixHats.com.

I take one more walk through Gulhane Park and Sultanahmet Square before returning to the Han Hotel. Baha offers me an hour of his time and a small bowl of chorba, a final gesture of hospitality.  A taxi arrives three hours later.

“Inshallah you will visit Istanbul again some day,” he says, as the door to my taxi slams shut and I am whisked back to Ataturk Airport for my flight home.

Inshallah…

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