Birthplace of the Ottomans                    Population: 15,000

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Old name: Thebasion/Sebasiyon (Roman)

Market day: Thursday

Festival: Second weekend in September

In front of the small park containing the shrine to Ertuğrul Gazi (1188-1281) in Söğüt, near Bilecik, there stands one of those outsized flagpoles that are becoming such a conspicuous feature of the Turkish landscape.

But here more than in most other places there's ample justification for such nationalist posturing since it was here perhaps more even than in Bursa that the seeds of the Ottoman Empire were originally sown.

Because the Conquest of İstanbul took place in 1453 it's easy for people to run away with the idea that the Ottomans came into their own more or less at the same time as the Tudors in the UK.

Easy, but wrong, because in fact Ertuğrul Gazi, the father of Osman Gazi who is usually thought of as the first of the Ottoman sultans, was actually born in the late 12th century, at a time when large parts of what is now Turkey were still firmly under Selçuk sway.gut1

Ertuğrul's background is somewhat uncertain -- although his birthplace is often given as Ahlat on the northern shore of Lake Van, he probably came from what is now Turkmenistan where he's honoured by a mosque in his name in the capital, Ashgabat.

An Oghuz Turk, he was leader of the Kayı tribe, which soon became involved in battling the Byzantines alongside the more powerful Selçuk Turks. For his efforts Ertuğrul was rewarded with land near Ankara, although he later succeeded in seizing Söğüt (Willow), which is sometimes described as the first Ottoman capital.

Ertuğrul's tomb stands to the left of the road as you come in by bus from Bilecik. Originally it would have been open to the skies but later a protective shrine was added, then rebuilt in its current form in 1886 during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II.

Today his grave is surrounded by soil samples brought here from all over the Turkic world in his honour. In the grounds outside can be seen the graves of Ertuğrul's wife, Halime Hatun, and of his second son, Savcı Bey, as well as a marker showing where Osman Gazi was originally buried before his body was transferred to Bursa when it succeeded Söğüt as the Ottoman capital.

gut3At the back of the graveyard stands a cookhouse with, right beside it, a vast arena. Both come into their own over the second weekend of September when Ertuğrul Gazi is commemorated with a festival that builds on a celebratory pilav günü (rice day) dating back more than 700 years. Thousands of people show up annually to take part in the feasting and fun.

It might be tempting to take a quick look at the tomb, then hop back on the bus to Bilecik. Tempting but mistaken, since if you stroll downhill to the town centre you'll soon discover modern Söğüt, an unexpectedly pretty little town vaguely reminiscent of İznik.

The first thing you'll come to is a very attractive compound containing a high school, orphanage and the Çifte Minareli Hamidiye Cami, all dating back to the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II.

Keep walking to reach the much older Çelebi Sultan Mehmet Cami built between 1414 and 1420, but extensively restored by the enthusiastic Abdülhamid. In front of it there's a bust commemorating Ertuğrul Gazi as well as a beautiful fountain decorated with Kütahya tiles and called the Kaymakam Çeşmesi (Governor's Fountain) after Kaymakam Sait Bey who had it placed here in 1919.gut2

Nearby you'll find the Söğüt Ethnographic Museum housed inside a lovely wooden mansion that started life as a clinic but had to be completely rebuilt after a fire in 1990. Inside it contains a fine collection of traditional costumes and lovely knitted purses, while the grounds host a few tombstones dating back to the time when Söğüt was the Roman Thebasion (Sebasiyon).

Finally, take a quick look at the statue of Atatürk just where the bus back to Bilecik stops. It's surrounded by sculpted panels setting out the main events in Ottoman history.


Most people will want to visit Söğüt on a day trip from Bilecik.

Namlı Hotel. Tel: 0228-361 2011

Transport info

There are hourly dolmuşes from Bilecik otogar to Söğüt.

Read more: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-241859-sogut-and-bilecik-cradle-of-the-ottoman-empire.html




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