Turkey’s “Green” Bursa, First Ottoman Capital

Turkey’s “Green” Bursa, First Ottoman Capital

The Ottoman Empire’s earliest roots are traced to 14th century Bursa, in what is now Turkey. An ancient city dating back to 4,000 B.C., Bursa has been at the center of several religions and civilizations, its monuments and history permeated with Moslem, Christian, and Jewish faiths. In 2014, Bursa and the nearby village of Cumalikizik were named UNESCO World Heritage Sites, recognized for their significance in world civilization.

Green Tomb <i>(Yeşil Türbe)</i> is the green-themed mausoleum of Mehmed I in Bursa, Turkey<br>Photo credit: Helen Holter

Green Tomb (Yeşil Türbe) is the green-themed mausoleum of Mehmed I in Bursa, Turkey
Photo credit: Helen Holter

Capital CityAn easy, scenic ferry ride across the Sea of Marmara from Istanbul (once Constantinople), Bursa is a bustling, beautiful former Ottoman capital dubbed “Yeşil Bursa”(“Green Bursa”) for its abundant parks, trees and gardens with towering Mount Uludağ and its ski resort as the backdrop. Bursa bursts with Ottoman treasures, from ancient mosques to its world-famous thermal baths; many visitors travel to this city for the sole purpose of soaking in the hot mineral waters of 6th century Yeni Kaplıca (“New Baths”) or 14th century Eski Kaplıca (“Old Baths”).


Monumental MosquesThe 1399 Seljuk-style Ulu Cami (“Great Mosque”) is impossible to miss: it is Bursa’s largest mosque with 20 domes, 12 massive supporting columns, and a large crystal-clear marble fountain that cools even on the hottest day. Islamic calligraphy adorning the mosque’s walls is astounding in number and in detail; it is considered some of the finest examples of Ottoman calligraphy in the world. Unlike some mosques that can be quite dark inside, light pours through a skylight in Ulu Cami, creating a soft, warm glow in this holy place. It is a welcome invitation to rest and contemplation.

Bursa's Great Mosque (<i>Ulu Cami)</i> is topped with 20 domes; its walls filled with nearly 200 inscriptions <br>Photo credit: Helen Holter

Bursa’s Great Mosque (Ulu Cami) is topped with 20 domes; its walls are filled with nearly 200 inscriptions
Photo credit: Helen Holter

Turbans top the markers in Bursa, Turkey for Ottoman leaders of long ago Photo credit: Helen Holter

Turbans top the markers of long-ago Ottoman leaders in Bursa, Turkey
Photo credit: Helen Holter

There is definitely a green theme in Bursa, from buildings to gardens. Yeşil Cami and Yeşil Türbe are Ottoman in style; respectively they mean “Green Mosque” and “Green Tomb.” Among Bursa’s many parks is Kultur Parki, a popular place for relaxing and sipping strong Turkish tea in a vast oasis of colorful gardens and leafy trees – a favorite hangout for locals, especially in the cooling breezes at sunset.


Markets and MeatKapalı Çarşı (“Covered Market”) is ancient and atmospheric, a place to buy great souvenirs such as thick cotton towels and bathrobes, silk scarves, and Bursa’s famous Karagöz shadow puppets.  (This place is definitely less daunting than Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar of 4,000 shops.) Located near Ulu Cami (“Grand Mosque”), Kapalı Çarşı features an abundance of restaurants, with some of Bursa’s best iskendar kebap found here. That popular dish originated in Bursa nearly 150 years ago, with thinly sliced roasted lamb embedded in flatbread and topped with tomato sauce, browned sheep butter, and yogurt.

Bursa's covered market is filled with centuries-old shops, many specializing in silk <br>Photo credit: Helen Holter

Bursa’s covered market is filled with centuries-old shops, many specializing in silk
Photo credit: Helen Holter

Also known as "Bursa kebap," <i>iskender kebap</i> is often served with tomato sauce and melted sheep butter <br>Photo credit: Helen Holter

Also known as “Bursa kebap,” iskender kebap is often served with tomato sauce and melted sheep butter
Photo credit: Helen Holter

Big Mountain You can’t miss Uludağ; at more than 8,300 feet, it is the tallest mountain in this region and easily visible from Bursa. Located in Uludağ National Park, towering Uludağ (“Grand”) Mountain attracts summertime hikers, wintertime skiers, and visitors year-round. You can stop along the road in summer and rest at the overlooks and roadside cafes, sipping tea and playing backgammon, Turkey’s favorite board game. Although the thermal baths in Bursa proper are famous for their rich concentrations of calcium, sulfur and magnesium, the hot mineral waters at Mount Uludağ are also well known; their ancient springs are believed to be healing.

Once a small town in a large forest, today Bursa is Turkey's fourth-largest city <br>Photo credit: Helen Holter

Once a small town in a large forest, today Bursa is Turkey’s fourth-largest city
Photo credit: Helen Holter

Ancient CumalikizikAbout six miles east of Bursa is the village of Cumalikizik, now a designated UNESCO site for its Ottoman buildings and houses and virtually untouched for hundreds of years. In Turkish “Cuma” means “Friday,” the day Moslems gather for worship, and thus the name given to the holy place where they worshipped. Today Cumalikizik is an outdoor ethnographic museum of Turkish culture and history, as well as an authentic location for several movie productions. Just over half of the nearly 300 dwellings and buildings in this outdoor museum are still used as homes, their walls consisting of stone, wood, or adobe; dried branches are stacked outside in the narrow alleys as fuel for cold winters ahead.

More than 700 years old, Cumalikizik is a treasure trove of Ottoman architecture Photo credit: Helen Holter

More than 700 years old, Cumalikizik is a treasure trove of Ottoman architecture
Photo credit: Helen Holter

There's a sense of timeliness, walking the narrow streets of ancient Cumalikizik near Bursa, Turkey <br>Photo credit: Helen Holter

There’s a sense of timelessness, walking the narrow streets of ancient Cumalikizik near Bursa, Turkey
Photo credit: Helen Holter

Travel to Turkey with MIRYou can see the sights of newly UNESCO-designated Bursa and Cumalikizik in Turkey on a MIR custom private journey.  A MIR travel expert will work with you to handcraft a unique itinerary that fits your schedule and pace, and focused on your special interests.

(Top photo credit: Helen Holter – Marking the memory of Mehmet Uftade at Uftade Cami (Mosque) in Bursa, Turkey)

 

PUBLISHED: January 30, 2015

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