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Write: Sinan Ceco Photos: Ömer Orhun
City Of The Five Senses Bursa
City Of The Five Senses Bursa
Is there any other place on earth that appeals to the five senses as Bursa does? And first are its myriad shades of green that delight the eye.
Nor should the inimitable coral red of Iznik tiles be forgotten. Nor the unique aromas and flavors that combine to assault the palate in a virtual festival of flavor. Before you even finish your meal, you will hear a hum in Bursa. That would be the silkworms.
The silk produced from the cocoons of these miraculous insects will appeal to your sense of touch, and you will realize how far off the mark the well-known English writer Robert Walsh was when he said, “Nature seems literally to have created Bursa for the Turks.” In fact, Bursa with its many treasures is a city that belongs to all mankind. So welcoming is this city that a person hardly knows where to go first.
Awaiting you on the one hand is Orhan Gazi, historic conqueror of the city. On the other, the Ulu Cami, or Great Mosque, built by his grandson beckons with its mysteries. Bursa citadel calls to mind Prusias, for whom the city was named some 2,200 years ago. Nor should Zeus be forgotten, whose voice once thundered down from Mt. Olympus (today’s Uludağ). So magnanimous is the city with its bounty that it flaunts its treasures for all to see. But the story of this sage of cities begins thousands of years ago.
Journey To The Memory Of A City
It was a few centuries before the birth of Christ when Bursa’s potential as a city was first discovered following that of Iznik (ancient Nicaea) and Mudanya (ancient Apamea Myrlea). Bursa’s journey through history coincides with that of a legendary figure, Hannibal, king of Carthage and strategic genius of antiquity. Hannibal was a crack general who, so to speak, gave the Roman Empire a very hard time.
When he lost his final battle with Rome, he took refuge, together with his soldiers, with the Bithynian King Prusias I. Prusias, who had great respect for Hannibal, founded a city in his honor and surrounded it with defense walls. Remembered as Prusa after its founder, Prusias, this city is known today as Bursa. By the 11th century, Bursa was facing a new civilization.
And the city would become the capital of that civilization, about which those who saw it exclaimed: “Were these people born to ride horses?” But the fate of Iznik and Bursa, which remained under Byzantine rule for some time after the Byzantines took Istanbul back in 1261, would change completely when Orhan Gazi put his stamp on the city. A mosque, soup kitchen, madrasa, bath and caravanserai were built and the city grew up around this complex in a pattern of development characteristic of Islamic towns. And the Ulu Cami or Great Mosque...
With its 20 domes, its extraordinary calligraphic inscriptions, and its enigmas unsolved even today, the Great Mosque, harbors virtually all the mysteries of the East. The story of the building of this mosque, which was commissioned by the Ottoman Sultan Bayezıd the Lightning Bolt in 1400, is actually a mystery in and of itself.
Praying to Allah on the eve of the battle of Niğbolu, the sultan promised to have 20 mosques built in the event he was victorious. Electing to keep his promise when the war ended in victory for the Turks, the sultan only then realized how difficult the task would be. So a practical solution was found in building one mosque with twenty domes instead of twenty different mosques.
Codes Of The Great Mosque
One of the Great Mosque’s many mysteries lies concealed in its pulpit. This pulpit, which exhibits some of the most perfect and magnificent examples of wood carving, is an artistic wonder in its own right. The figures arranged among the geometric motifs worked into its surface are just one aspect of the cloak of mystery that surrounds the pulpit.
For this entire monumental pulpit harbors in its every interstice images representing the Universe. The Solar System, for example, has been carved at the very center of the pulpit’s central geometric design.
If a list were to be made of cities that appeal to the five senses, Bursa would be at the top. Like an elderly person eager to share his life story, the city awaits visitors keen to explore its nooks and crannies. With its unsolved enigmas, its natural beauty, its history and its cultural treasures, this city, which harbors all the mysteries of the East, is a different world.
Unlike the usual mosque, the Great Mosque of Bursa is distinguished by having a şadırvan, or pool cum fountain, not in its courtyard but inside the building itself. The open dome directly over the şadırvan is an ingenious solution that allows the mosque to receive continuous light, and the great temple owes its light and airy atmosphere to a window in that dome. Bursa at the same time radiates a sense of peace thanks to its coasts and the charming settlements that grace them.
Another feature that has given Bursa pride down the centuries is its greenness. The elder brother, Ekrem Bey, of renowned Turkish composer Cemal Reşit Rey probably described it best when he said: “… It literally sparkles, presenting a miraculous blend of greens from the lightest to the darkest. And this river of vegetation that ripples with the slightest breeze is more sensitive than a real river.”
Known for its multifaceted nature, Bursa also boasts agricultural development in proportion with its greenness. Famous for its peach, chestnut and mulberry trees, Bursa contributes substantially to the country’s agriculture.
The first capital of the Ottoman Empire, Bursa has always preserved its identity as the ‘Ottoman homeland’ even though the capital changed more than once. As the empire’s spiritual capital even in subsequent centuries, Bursa is also one of the regions at the core of Ottoman Cuisine.
Having given the world countless varieties of kebab and kofta, as well as numerous desserts, Bursa’s greatest gift to gastronomy is without a doubt İskender kebab.
Bursa’s climate too is unique. This old city, where every season exhibits a beauty all its own, welcomes visitors with its abundance the year round, as if specially blessed by mother earth and the sea. A city where you will witness nature’s munificence in spades, Bursa greets visitors confident of its treasures.
The History Of Christianity
During the reign of the Emperor Constantine the Great, Bursa hosted one of the biggest events in the history of Christianity. The First Council of Nicaea, which took place at İznik in 325 A.D., was one of the most important meetings in history, where the basic principles of the Christian faith were discussed and an attempt was made to define Christian creed.
Twenty kilometers from Bursa, Mudanya is one of the province’s oldest port cities, and the fates of the two cities are inextricably intertwined in mutual need, as the sea takes Bursa by the hand from Mudanya and opens it up to the world.
Bursa’s gift to the arts meanwhile is the Turkish shadow theater, named for the characters Hadjivat and Karageuz, who are said to have lived during the reign of Orhan Gazi. The bickering between these two inimitable figures was such a cause of mirth for spectators that the tradition lived on in the form of puppets even after they died.
Bursa’s historic castle bears witness to the city’s founder, Prusias, who built it in the 2nd century B.C. in honor of King Hannibal of Carthage, whose memory it preserves. The district with the great commercial khans has special meaning for Bursa as well. As elements of a living architectural tradition, these cultural legacies have succeeded in preserving the city’s texture even today.
İskender Kebab is Bursa’s most important contribution to world cuisine.
Bursa offers a rich array of accommodation alternatives that will satisfy visitors of every stripe.
Tasting Bursa’s contributions to world cuisine is a another pleasure, and İskender kebab is the most special of all.
The city’s many pleasurable venues offer visitors a chance not only to relax but to take in its extraordinary landscapes.
There are several transportation alternatives in Bursa. The ‘Bukart’ is for short distances and is valid on all lines.
Bursa is a city where the traditional arts are alive and well. Busmek in Bursa Municipality does its part to keep those arts alive by offering courses.
‘Tahinli pide’ (flat bread with sesame) is one of Bursa’s little known must-try tastes. Unique to the city, this pide is also extremely nourishing.
If you return from Bursa without shopping, you will have missed a lot. The city’s covered market has gift items to fit every budget.
Time In Bursa
If your desire is to make a journey through time in Bursa, you have two choices: You can either read ‘Time in Bursa’ by the great novelist Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, or you can sit down in the courtyard of the historic Koza Silk Khan and sip your tea with closed eyes. Both will give you a sense of the unique spirit of the old Ottoman capital.
İznik tiles are one of the best examples of Turkish handicrafts, and traditional production continues today. The finest examples of this tradition, which started in the 14th century, are to be seen in Bursa’s Green Mosque and Green Tomb.
There are venues where you can hear live music 24/7 in Bursa, where the strains of an instrument could lure you any time as you stroll through its streets.
Lake Uluabat and the variety of wild life it harbor leaves visitors in awe. A Stork Festival is held every year May 12-14 in the village of Eskikaraağaç on the lake’s northern shore.
The Anatolian Cars Museum in Bursa lays the history of the automobile industry before visitors’ eyes. Expanded to include non-motorized vehicles collected from around Anatolia, the collection is Turkey’s first comprehensive exhibition of Anatolian cars.
Bursaspor is an institution in the city, and the enthusiasm of the fans around Ataturk Stadium on days when there is a match is something to behold. Champion of the 2010-2011 season, Bursa looks like chalking up a lot more successes in the future.