Bursa: A journey to the birthplace of the Ottoman Empire

Saturday, 10 December 2016 02:19 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Aysha Maryam Cassim

Towards the North Western Coast of Marmara Sea, lies a trade destination that linked East to the West once upon a time. Being Turkey’s fourth largest city and the first capital of Ottoman Empire, Bursa bears striking similarities to its megalopolis sister, Constantinople.

The city has witnessed the rise and fall of states having significance throughout the Byzantine Empire. Today, Bursa is at the core of the automotive industry in Turkey and bustles with a prosperous economy. Its close proximity to Istanbul and popularity for being known as the silk centre of excellence attracts the curious traveller to this mesmerising city in search of a fascinating sightseeing adventure.


Bursa is the birthplace of the Ottoman Empire, which was once revered as a hermitage place. Ottoman intellectuals who were tired of the intrigues of palace environment sought an atmosphere of peace in Bursa during the Roman and Byzantium periods. Thus, Bursa has been referred to as the “City of Immigrants” for a long time and became a realm of tolerance and spirituality due to all of these features.

Bursa, renowned as “Green Bursa” is abound with natural splendours such as lakes, rivers, mountains, curative thermal springs, picturesque fertile plains and rich flora. Bursa is located in the northern-south of Anatolian peninsula, northern- west of the foots of Uludag mountain, and southern-east of Marmara Sea, making it a geographically stunning landscape that captivates the eye of many travellers.

Ferry ride across the Marmara Sea

The journey across Marmara Sea began from Kabatas, Istanbul. Before reaching the plains of Bursa, the ferry took us to a little seaside port city called Mudanya in less than two hours. Established as an Ionian colony in the 7th century B.C, Mudanya is a hinterland filled with mulberry woods, olive groves, vineyards and small, well-preserved historical houses. You can sit at the cafes and watch the Marmara Sea while puffing away on your shisha or nibbling away a spicy potato swirl, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

“Travellers arriving at Mudanya by ship took horses for the last part of the journey to Bursa. Their way passed through orchards and vineyards, and for a long time the delightful view of the Marmara Sea was visible in the distance. Then as the traveller began the gradual descent from the hills the view of the sea disappeared, to be replaced by the sight of a city rising above a plain with many cypress trees.”


Along the Silk Road to Koza Han

The strategically important location of Bursa made the city an important terminal on the itinerary of the road to Western civilisations – “Historical Silk Road”, a conduit for silk jade and spices. The citadel became one of the main cities of culture, trade, and industry in the 15th century.

Silk is a word synonymous with splendour. Mankind has always admired silk for its aura of royalty. It is the yarn of life, extruded by a caterpillar in a continuous filament as long as a mile. Mulberry silkworms have fed the economy of Bursa. In the sixteenth century, rich fabrics woven in opulent Bursa silk, wool and silver and gold thread were used for clothing worn by the Ottoman sultans and princes. Sericulture is the secondary occupation in the country and Bursa silk had now become a highly desirable luxury throughout Europe, North Africa, and parts of Asia that had gained a favourable reputation.

Koza Han is a charming tea garden (“Cocoon Inn”) and often hailed as the most handsome of Bursa’s hans. Opened in 1491 by Sultan Bayezid II, Koza Han became the center for the city’s then vibrant silk trade. It is prominently situated between Grand Mosque (Ulu Cami) and Orhan Bey Mosque. The cobblestone open courtyard is surrounded by an elevated domed mesjid (prayer chapel), an ornate marble water fountain centrepiece, silk shops and souvenir stalls. It’s easy to get carried away by the vibrant colours of soft silk fabrics and scarves. A genuine ipek scarf may cost around $60. But there are always affordable alternatives available for customers with small budget and expensive tastes.

Today, old citadel buzzes with an indelible Ottoman charm, the aromas of iskendar kebaps moving between its armoured doors and Byzantine fortifications, and the mellifluous cadences of the city’s winter hustle and bustle echoing under its truly exquisite Sultan’s city gate known as Hisar Kapısı.

Ulu Cami

Bursa is a city full of minarets and mausoleums, which conveys the architectural and cultural features of Byzantine, Ottoman, and Republican eras to present-day. Many of the city’s historical treasures revolve around early Sultans like Orhan and Osman who aggressively expanded the city beyond the Byzantine walls and into the surrounding plains where the city center lies today. The city’s monumental landmarks include numerous edifices, which carry impressive elements from the Sejuk architecture, such as Ulu Cami, the Great Mosque of Bursa.


A Wes Andersonesque ascension to Mount Olympos

Bursa houses the third important sacred centre of Christianity after Vatican and Jerusalem in the boundaries of Iznik and Uludag. Mount Uludag is known as a settlement area in which Christian monks were used to seclude themselves. Uludağ was one of the twenty-odd mountains around the eastern half of Mediterranean that used to be called Olympos in ancient times—more precisely Mysian Olympos. It is the highest peak of North-west Anatolia with its height of 2.543 m. The ski resort towering over the mountain range is where mountaineers and trekkers congregate during winter. Uludag National Park harbors lakes of ice age, endemic plants, and the rare Apollon butterfly, making it a must-visit destination for summer tourists.

The Bursa Uludağ Gondola is locally known as Teleferik. It is an aerial lift line transporter connecting the city of Bursa with the nearby ski resort area and national park at mountain Uludağ. Ascending the summit of Mount Olympos rewarded me with Wes Andersonesqe views of the city below and a lasting sense of satisfaction. The winter sports season, especially skiing commences in October, with a guaranteed stable snow shower and constant below freezing temperatures between December and March.