Bursa blends old and new in sprawling metropolis
The city, which served as the Ottoman Empire’s first capital, draws tourists with its charming historic center, mosques, bazaars and public baths.
By Metin Demirsar
Bursa (Dunya) – Nestled on the slopes of Uludag, the highest mountain in the Marmara region, and spread over a vast fertile plain, this former imperial city combines the best of Turkey’s old and new.
The fourth largest city of the country with a population of around 2 million, Bursa is a bustling industrial metropolis and export hub. It is a city of migrants, coming from the Balkans and different parts of the nation, with each community forming its own neighborhood.
New modern settlements have sprouted in Bursa Ovasi, the plains area, to house tens of thousands of middle class families working at the three big motor vehicle producers, Oyak Renault, Tofas and Karsan, and more than 400 parts and components manufacturers. Thousands of textile mills and ready-wear producers and scores of large processed food manufactuers also line the plains area.
Slum areas are being torn down and new residential complexes are being contructed in their place in a massive urban renewal.
But the Old Town, and old sections of the city, with its old Ottoman homes, mosques and bazaars, are being restored to their past splendor.
A recent visitor to this part of the city said it resembled old Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia.
The old state Merinos textile mill in central Bursa has been turned into a magnificent congress and cultural center, exhibition halls and a huge public park.
Pottery shards found in and around Bursa dates the city back at least 6,000 years. But Prusias I, the king of Bithynia, a state that existed in northwest Anatolia, built the city in 4th century B.C. and gave it his name “Prusa.” Under the Turks it became Bursa.
In 74 B.C., the Bithynian King bequeathed his kingdom to the Roman Empire. When the Roman Empire divided into east and west in AD 395, Bursa came under the eastern half of the empire, under the rule of Byzantine emperors.
The Ottoman Turks, led by Osman Gazi, conquered the city in 1326, and it served as the first capital of the Ottoman Empire from 1326 to 1361
Tombs and sites of interest
The first six sultans of the Ottoman Empire built lavish mosque complexes with mosques, medresses or religious schools, public baths in separate parts of the city, and five of the rulers are buried in Bursa.
Each sultan built a mosque complex, or kulliye, in a different part of the city, and neighborhoods developed around them and the metropolis grew to today’s heights.
The tombs of Osman Gazi, founder of the Ottoman Empire and first sultan, and his son, Orhan Gazi, are found in Tophane Park, a citadel overlooking the city.
The magnificent Yesil Turbe (Green Tomb) of Celebi Mehmet, the fourth sultan, is the symbol of Bursa, standing in the district Yesil, across from the Yesil Mosque, gift shops and tea houses overlooking the city.
The Ulucami (Great Mosque), built in 1400, is the first big city mosque built by the Ottomans. It faces Ataturk Caddesi, Bursa’s main street. Constructed by Sultan Bayazid, the ‘Thunderbolt,’ it has 20 domes, an unusual large fountain inside, and gigantic Islamic prayer inscriptions on its interior walls, unlike any other in Turkey.
The mosque stands next to the Kapali Carsi, or Covered Bazaar, the commercial hub of the city, with many adjacent bazaars, shopping arcades and hans, or large commercial buildings, the most interesting of which is the Koza Han (Cocoon Han).
This shopping area with a mescit, or small mosque, in the middle, was the center of Turkey’s once-flourishing, silk trade. Shops in the arcade still sell silk ties, shirts, bandanas and headscarves, but these are now made with imported silk.
A half a dozen outdoor cafes operate in Koza Han’s square, surrounding the mosque and is a pleasant place to relax and have coffee.
Bursa is best known for its doner kebab, tender slices of lamb and beef served on pide bread with a dash of tomatoes and yogurt. Several Kebapci Iskender restaurants, operated by members of the family who introduced doner kebab to the world, are located in this area of town.
Ataturk Caddesi leads to Heykel, or Statue of Ataturk on horseback. This is the center of the city with governor’s office and affiliated provincial offices.
Other areas of the city worth visiting is Muradiye, a district that includes Complex of Sutan Murat II, with it mosque and royal tombs, including Cem Sultan. Many of the old Ottoman houses in this disrtrict have been restored.
Another area of the city worth seeing is Cekirge, which includes the thermal baths, including the Roman Eski Kaplica (Old Baths), which are operated by the adjacent Kervansaray Hotel.