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BURSA

The first Ottoman capital                        Population: 2,800,000

bursa1Elegant early Ottoman mosques, spectacular ancient hamams, a sprawling covered bazaar and a great little street full of meyhanes (taverns).

Sound like İstanbul? In fact it’s Bursa, the thriving, self-confident city on the southeast side of the Sea of Marmara which was the Ottoman sultans' original capital from 1326 to 1365 when it was replaced by Edirne.

Today tourism is something of an add-on to the serious business of manufacturing, but for those in less of a hurry Bursa makes a great place to get a feel for the real Turkey while ticking off some excellent sightseeing too.

Mere hours from İstanbul across the Sea of Marmara, Bursa has a scarily busy one-way system that roars through the historic centre and it’s easy to whizz through town and barely realize what a lot it has to offer. That would be a great mistake because the suburbs that spin out from the centre are chock full of wonderful mosques, medreses and hamams dating back to the glory days of the early Ottoman Empire.bursa2

There's plenty to see in Bursa itself, but you might also like to take the cable-car (teleferik) up the slopes of nearby Uludağ (the Great Mountain, 2543m), which offers not just trekking and skiing possiblities but also wonderful 360-degree views of the surrounding countryside.
 
Around town

The obvious starting point for exploration is immediately north of busy Atatürk Caddesi where the Ulu Cami, with its 20 domes, makes an unmissable landmark. Dating back to 1396, it was built for Sultan Beyazıt Yıldırım (“the Thunderbolt”) as a thanks-offering after he managed to defeat the Crusaders.

The Ulu Cami has an appealing austere splendour, but many people fall more easily in love with the famous Yeşil Cami in the Emirsultan suburb on the eastern side of town which comes paired with the Yeşil Türbe (Green Tomb) housing the remains of the mosque’s founder Sultan Mehmed I. Actually “yeşil (green)” is a bit of a misnomer since the tiles on the tomb’s facade are really a turquoise blue. This is an especially pleasant area to wander around, with panoramic views back over the city and a number of fine old wooden houses.

You should also try and squeeze in a visit to the Muradiye complex way across to the western side of town. Here a mosque paid for in 1426 by Sultan Murad II is set in a lovely garden where a collection of 12 imperial tombs mingle with sweet-smelling box hedges. 

Most of the tombs house the remains of crown princes who fell victim to a system of inheritance that left the succession up to the strongest son rather than the first-born; the results were inevitably bloody as relatives turned on each other to ensure their own supremacy.

Nearby are a couple more small museums that may or may not be open: the Ottoman House Museum offers the chance to see what a typical home might have looked like in the 19th century, while the Hüsnü Züber Evi contains some interesting collections, including a set of wooden spoons whose delicacy will cast all those you’ll see on sale today into the shade.

Of course Bursa is much more than its mosques. Back in the part of the town centre marked by a statue of Atatürk and known universally as Heykel (Statue). The Bursa City Museum (closed Sundays and Mondays), housed in an old courthouse, is a state-of-the-art history museum with lots of bells and whistles and some wonderful recreations of old shops as well a great film clip showing local men using the upper parts of their bodies to beat felt into submission inside a local hamam.

A short walk away, the Tofaş Museum of Anatolian Carriages (closed Mondays) housed inside an old silk factory is a great place for the kids, with examples of everything that has ever rolled on wheels from old ox carts through to the latest limos. Then you’ll need to head across town to Muradiye to visit the Ulumay Museum of Ottoman Folk Costumes and Jewellery , housed in an old medrese. DSC09360

Up in Tophane Park you can inspect the tombs of Osman, the first Ottoman sultan, and his son Orhan as rebuilt in the 19th century after an earthquake.

Across the road a gate leads into the Hisar (Citadel) area where restoration of the old houses and mosques is still ongoing.

Tombs of the sultans 

Keen Ottoman enthusiasts will know that Bursa preceded İstanbul as the capital of the empire, and it’s here that a pursuit of the sultans’ burial places must start. Osman and Orhan, the father and son who established the dynasty in the 13th and 14th centuries, were laid to rest in tombs high up on a hill in what is now the Tophane part of town near the remains of the citadel. The original tombs fell foul of an earthquake in 1855, but replacements were provided by Sultan Abdülaziz in 1868.

Orhan’s son Murad I, victor at the momentous Battle of Kosovo in 1389, was buried a little further out of the town centre in the I. Murad (Hüdavendigar) Camii.

His son was the unlucky Sultan Beyazıd I who was captured by Timurlane after the Battle of Ankara in 1402. Thought to have been kept locked up in a cage, he may have killed himself in despair; his remains were buried in the Yıldırım Beyazıd Camii in the Emir Sultan part of town across the valley from the sultans who had founded his line.

Beyazıd’s son Sultan Mehmed I was buried in the exquisite Yeşil (Green) Camii that has become an icon of Bursa.

But perhaps the most lovely of all the early imperial tombs in Bursa belongs to Sultan Murad II, the father of Mehmed the Conqueror, who was laid to rest in the exquisite Muradiye complex.

DSC07901Shopping

For shopaholics Bursa can certainly give Istanbul a run for its money. The most atmospheric place to offload your spare lira has to be the bazaar which spins off in all directions from around the Ulu Cami.

What makes this such a magical place to shop is that you’ll find yourself wandering in and out of a series of delightful medieval hans where accommodation used to be provided for traders and their animals around a central courtyard.

Finest of all is the Koza (Cocoon) Hanı which dates back to 1490 and used to be the focal point of the local silk industry; even today most of the shops on the upper level sell silk scarves in every conceivable colour combination. Sundays aside, it’s a great place to while away a few hours.

DSC07876Amid the meandering bazaar streets there is one area that is actually called Kapalı Çarşı (Covered Market) like its better-known rival in İstanbul. The difference is that Bursa’s Kapalı Çarşı still exists to serve the locals, thus giving it an edge over the İstanbul version in some people’s eyes. Come here to stock up on the bath towels (havlu) and robes (bornoz) for which the city is famous (although they're all machine-made these days), or to buy a Karagöz shadow puppet in the Aynalı Çarşı (Mirrored Market) corner housed inside an old hamam.

Like İstanbul, Bursa is rapidly acquiring the shopping-mall habit, and in an effort to fight back and keep the market alive, the city authorities recently roofed over some of the streets that used to be open to the elements, a very wise idea given that the huge glass pyramid of the undercover Zafer Plaza Shopping Mall is only a stone’s throw away down the hill.

The authorities were also responsible for the recent renovation of the picturesque Irgandı Bridge at Setbaşı which, like the Ponte Vecchio over the River Arno in Florence, is lined with small handicrafts shops.

 

DSC07874Hamams

Bursa is one of those wonderful Turkish towns that grew up around mineral springs that gush from the ground at temperatures perfect for bathing. No visit to the city would be complete without a trip out to the suburb of Çekirge (Grasshopper) to luxuriate in the Eski Kaplıca (Old Spa; Tel: 0224-233 9300. Open: 7am to 11pm).

Perhaps the most extraordinary thermal bath is also the most easily missed. It’s inside the partially Art Deco Hotel Çelik Palas, midway along the road between Hisar and Cekirge. The hotel owes its existence to Atatürk who had it built beside his own house to accommodate guests. Unfazed by the absence of a hot spring on the site, he then oversaw the building of a pipeline from Cekirge to guarantee them the same thermal delights as lesser mortals. Fading photographs reveal what a major undertaking this was.

However, what really makes Cekirge special is that most of its hotels have their own private thermal baths. No matter what your budget you should be able to luxuriate in copious hot water that promises to soothe away every ache and pain at the end of a hard day’s sightseeing, shopping or skiing.
 
Eating

The delicious İskender (or Bursa) kebap consists of thin slices of lamb sliced from a revolving grill, laid on a bed of fluffy pide bread and served with a dollop of fresh yoghurt. To top it off, fresh tomato sauce and melted butter are dribbled over the top.

It was in Bursa in 1867 that a cook named İskender first thought of grilling meat upright so that the dripping fat would self-baste it. These days you can tuck into an İskender kebap anywhere in Turkey but there’s something especially romantic about sampling it in its home town. One of the best places to do this is at a branch of Kebapci İskender whose current owners are supposedly descended from the original İskender.

Their town centre restaurant in Heykel makes great play with stained-glass windows and fancy décor but the Soğanlı branch, out in the suburbs, is more cheerful. What really gives Soğanlı the edge, though, is the chance to walk off a meaty lunch in the delightful and frequently overlooked botanical gardens afterwards.

Fresh from a good scrub, where better to round off the day than Arap Şükrü Caddesi, Bursa’s mezes-and-rakı-dispensing answer to İstanbul’s Nevizade Sokak, albeit on a smaller scale?

Finally, Kayhan Caddesi at the eastern end of the bazaar and close to Setbaşı is lined with restaurants serving pideli köfte (meatballs on pide), a tasty and fairly cheap alternative to the İskender kebab. 

Sleeping

In general, Bursa's hotels are not especially cheap, reflecting the fact that they largely serve a business clientele.

Hotel Cesmeli $$

Hotel Gonluferah $$$$

Kaleiçi Hotel $$$$

Safran Otel $$$

Hotel Celik Palas $$$$

Efehan Hotel $$

Kitap Evi Butik Otel $$$$

Authentique Club

Tel: 0224-211 3280

Transport info

İDO fast car ferries sail from Yenikapı to Güzelyalı and from Kabataş to Mudanya. Then you take a bus to Bursa Metro’s Organize Sanayı station. The Metro brings you to Şehreküstü, within walking distance of the bazaar.

Bursa's bus station (Terminal) is frustratingly far from the centre, accessible on bus No 38; even in good traffic buses take a good three quarters of an hour to reach the centre and it can be much longer. You will have to buy a ticket before boarding to add to the complications for new, non-Turkish-speaking arrivals. The taxi alternative will make an expensive start to your visit. A new Metro line is on the drawing board but will not be completed before 2017 at the earliest.

The Butram runs through the town centre and out to Merinos, while a second tram trundles very slowly along Cumhuiyet Caddesi to the north of the bazaar area.

Dolmuşes run from behind the government building at Heykel to the Telerferik. Buses to Cumalıkızık leave from the middle of Atatürk Caddesi.

For some unknown reason the Bursa city authorities don't like traffic lights. Crossing the roads in the town centre is a scary business. There are a few underpasses but only one has an escalator. Watching old and disabled people, and people with children and animals trying to cross without using them is alarming.

bursclockThe clocktower in Tophane ParkAreas of Bursa

Bursa: Çekirge

Bursa: Merinos

Bursa: Muradiye

Bursa: Setbaşı

Bursa: Tophane (Hisar)

Bursa: Town Centre

Bursa: Yeşil

Day trip destinations

Cumalıkızık

Gölyazı

İznik

Misiköy

Mudanya

Uludağ

Yenişehir

 

 

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