Gölyazı is a small fishing village on a verdant peninsula in Lake Uluabat, whose misty waters are Bursa’s gateway to tranquility.

We are going to a very old lake village where time flows slowly, to Apolyont, which, together with Lake Iznik, is one of the two ‘blue eyes’ of Bursa. The calm and misty waters of the lake shape life’s destiny in this village which is literally bursting with history. The rustle of the rushes here in this village famous for its fisherwomen transport a person back to the past. Gölyazı teaches its guests peace and quiet all over again.

At 35 kilometers along the road from Bursa to Izmir, the sign for Gölyazı takes travelers winding among the olive groves to the banks of Lake Apolyont. Gölyazı with its red tile roofed houses situated on a long, thin peninsula extending into Lake Uluabat, or Apolyont as it used to be known, is reminiscent at first glance of an attractive necklace around the neck of an elegant woman. On the northern shore of the lake the two sides of the village, which is located on the peninsula and two small islands directly opposite it, are joined by a long, narrow stone bridge. It is plain to see that the East still has the last word at Gölyazı, as if in defiance of modern times. Formed by a tectonic collapse, the 156 square-meter Lake Uluabat is a shallow lake no more than ten meters deep at its deepest point. Rising as much as four meters in the winter months, the lake waters narrow the peninsula that joins the two sides of the village, giving it the appearance of an island. If you happen to go to Apolyont in spring when its banks are covered with wild flowers, you will probably remember it as the place where you made the acquaintance of more bird species than you had ever seen in your life. The shallow waters of this lake, surrounded by fruit orchards and fields of grain, offer a rich source of nutrition for water birds. Lying on one of the world’s most important routes for migratory birds, the lake forms an unmatched ecosystem for wildlife together with its nextdoor neighbor, the Manyas Bird Sanctuary. Protected by the international Ramsar Treaty, Lake Uluabat is an important natural area not only for the rare species of birds and other living creatures that take refuge in its environs but for its fish species and other aquatic creatures as well. Said to be ‘dying’ in the 1990’s, the lake has been revived thanks to the unflagging efforts of nature lovers. Declared a ‘living lake’ by the World Wildlife Fundation (WWF), Uluabat is recognized as Turkey’s most important habitat for the lesser cormorant and whiskered tern. It is also a refuge for rarely observed species such as the squacco heron, spoonbill, ferruginous duck, nocturnal heron, ibis and coot, as well as the robin.

Boats fill every nook and cranny in Gölyazı. The fact that one out of every three households has one is proof that fishing is a major source of livelihood. Mending nets, painting boats, preparing bait, and buying and selling boats are part and parcel of everyday life here. The village coffeehouse serves as a school where seasoned fishermen pass along their experience to the young. The boats, which carry the sick to the doctor and garden produce to homes and markets as well as ferrying children and reuniting lovers, mean life itself for the people of Gölyazı.

The founding of Gölyazı, a small Greek village until the 1920’s, goes back 2500 years. Established over the ruins of ancient Apollonia, named for Apollo, patron god of the Delphic oracle, it contains areas of interest not only to nature lovers but to history buffs as well. The remains of a Hellenistic gate and tower can be found in the ancient city walls, which run for 800 meters around the present-day settlement. A 400-capacity ancient theater left from the Roman period stands at Zambaktepe on the southern slope, and ancient aqueducts and grave structures dot the area known as Deliktaş. But the truly mysterious ancient ruins where no archaeological excavation has as yet been carried out lie hidden on the tiny islands in the environs. There is a widespread belief that the ruins of the Temple of Apollo depicted on coins found in the area are on Kız Adası, an island some 500 meters north of the ancient city. The ancient building fragments, sculptures and coins unearthed in excavations in the vicinity are exhibited at the Bursa Archaeology Museum.

As you stroll through Gölyazı’s history-saturated streets you will hear a fascinating account of the region from the local people. As the story goes, the former king of Apollonia had a beautiful daughter. One day the prince of Melde, a neighboring kingdom, fell in love with her. But the princess was unwilling, and the marriage did not take place. So the King built a castle atop a hill on the banks of Lake Apolyont and sequestered his daughter there. Quite put out by the refusal, the Melde King changed the course of the Mustafakemalpaşa River, leaving Apollonia under water. And that historic inundation is what formed today’s Gölyazı Peninsula. In other words, Gölyazı is believed to have come into being as the result of a love story...

The research being done today has proved that stones left from antiquity have been used in the construction of most of the old village houses. It is possible to trace in the village, which keeps alive the harmonious use of stone and timber, the chronological eras of Gölyazı architecture from ancient times through the Ottoman period. And the two-story Greek houses with jutting bay windows and chimneys from which smoke still rises, are adorned with gaily colored flowers bursting from tin cans lined up in front of their doorways. During the population exchange in the early 1920’s, immigrants from Salonica settled in the area to become its new residents. The church on the village square and around 90 Greek houses, taken under protection and declared an archaeological site in 1980, continue to perpetuate the memory of Gölyazı’s former inhabitants today.

Another colorful aspect of life at Gölyazı, which brings the atmosphere of a typical Mediterranean or Aegean fishing village to the Marmara region, is its centuries-old tradition of the fisherwoman. Seventy-five-year-old Auntie Mürvet, whom we met on the village square, is one of the oldest of her breed. “We used to live on the banks of a lake in Salonica,” she explains. “The women of the village learned fishing from their mothers and grandmothers. Why should it be considered strange for women to fish?” she adds. “If there is no land, we too will earn our daily bread from the water.” Regarding the lake as their fields, the women of Gölyazı try their luck in Apolyont’s misty waters every morning summer and winter. It’s traditional to go out in pairs. These teams, which usually consist of a man and a woman, frequently pair up husband and wife, grandmother and grandson, father and daughter-in-law. The heavy work like rowing and casting anchor is left to the men, while the women gather in and mend the nets. Every heave the oars leaves behind calloused hands and faces made ruddy by the morning frost. And when a person sees the piercing blue eyes of the Gölyazı women so full of hope he can’t help but ask himself if that blue isn’t a gift of the lake...
Hushed by morning in the rising sun, the village perks up with the return of the fishermen who have gathered in their nets. Their laughter and wild shouts are the best clue to the abundance of the day’s catch. If the fish are plentiful it means that a lively auction will commence on the village square around noon.

According to research carried out by WWF-Turkey, exactly nineteen species of fish live in the lake. Barracuda, smelts, rudd and carp are the ones that most delight fishermen. And while the once plentiful crayfish have diminished in number, they can still show up in the nets in summer. There is even a restaurant in the town where you can sample fish prepared in the local manner. Whether you come for nature and history, or just for the fish, you won’t forget the warm friendships you will forge with the hospitable people of Gölyazı.