Bursa: Cultural Capital of the Turkish World 2022
Did you know that the northwest of Turkey, Bursa, one of the former capitals of the Ottoman Empire, is also the 2022 Culture Capital of the Turkish World?
Much of the prestige of this former spa town comes from the fact that it became the first Ottoman capital in 1326. Bursa has since developed into a vibrant commercial center which today thrives on automobiles, food and textiles, as was the case with the silk trade in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The beautiful and prestigious city of Bursa has been a provincial capital since 1841 and, despite its commercial center, has retained its pious dignity. No city in Turkey has more mosques and tombs.
The Romans also developed the potential of Bursa’s mineral springs, and it is estimated that there are around 3,000 baths in the city today.
Want to know more? Take a break and read this article written by Ernest Whitman Piper.
Eat, pray and love in Bursa: the former Ottoman capital keeps pace with modernity
Forests. Silk. Peaches. History, comedy, ski resort and candied chestnuts. What foggy metropolis a few hours south of Istanbul can I think of? Is it this relaxing natural city on the Sea of Marmara? This industry powerhouse? The former and first Ottoman capital? Yes, that’s right, the Seattle of Turkey – Bursa.
Reasons to visit Bursa
There are a few good reasons to visit Burseattle. It is green with growth and life. All that haze promotes a healthy biosphere! Before the sprawl of concrete suffocated the life of Istanbul, I’m sure it was as green a region by the Sea of Marmara as “Green Bursa” is today. Ironically, “Green Bursa” produces almost all of Turkey’s automobiles, which in turn produce most of Turkey’s smog. This is how Bursa earned its other nickname, “Turkey’s Detroit”.
Beyond the fantastic parks, Bursa has some great old stuff left over from the Ottomans who wanted their city to rival all other ancient capitals. It is full of old-style houses, castles and magnificent mosques. It has natural hot springs for some of the oldest hammams in the former Ottoman Empire. Bursa’s two traditional products, silk and fruit, are still sold in its covered bazaars. In addition, a great comedy tradition was born in Bursa – shadow puppets.
But forget all that. Forget history, forget silk, forget peaches. As soon as you get off the boat at Mudanya from Yenikapı, you’re going to want to take the bus to downtown Bursa and find the first İskender Kebab restaurant you lay eyes on.
In the mid-1800s, İskender Usta sat next to his hearth of Cağ Kebab – a heap of garlic-greased lamb steaks cut through the middle and roasted on a spit for hours.
He watched the savory melted fat drip into the ashes and sizzle to nothingness, and felt a great despair squeeze in his heart. So much delicious gooey cholesterol was disappearing before his Usta’s eyes. He ponders: How could he squeeze every last drop of artery-clogging joy out of those lamb steaks? İskender found he could tilt the whole thing vertically, and as the meat cooked, the fat drizzled on its own. Then, as it wasn’t fat enough, he decided to serve the thin slices of roast lamb with hot liquid butter and whole milk yoghurt. Add tomato sauce, old chopped bread, and he had created it: a dish that can induce heart disease in otherwise healthy twenty-somethings. İskender Kebab is a miracle.
Maybe you didn’t know that the whole idea of doner kebab was invented in Bursa, and even though it is widely used all over Turkey, Europe and really the rest of the world, it has achieved heroic status in Bursa. You can go to several traditional İskender places in downtown Bursa, where they use İskender made from premium lamb and butter, and feast like the inhuman freak that you are. Although it’s served with a roasted pepper or two as a token nod to veggies, you don’t really need to eat them and can safely move on to the glorious water-soaking roast meat. the mouth. İskender Kebab is the perfect food.
A city steeped in history
You’ll probably be euphoric after getting drunk, so maybe take a leisurely stroll through the city center. Bursa has been the capital for nearly 200 years and is home to incredible architecture within its walls. Yes, yes, it has real walls and there are real tombs of the first Ottoman sultans. The Külliye – the social complex comprising a mosque, school, bath and market – flourished here and provided the rest of the empire with a ready model for its urban plans.
In the city center, the obvious first stops are the Ulu Camii (the Grand Mosque) and the Kapalı Çarşı (the Grand Bazaar).
Bursa’s Grand Mosque was built to overwhelm. Unlike the gigantic mosques of Istanbul, the Ulu Cami was built as a rumble of smaller domes and columns, its roof undulating in waves.
Outside, your eyes will follow the thud and bellow of each dome; inside you will see the many names of God in large Arabic letters on all the otherwise blank walls. It is famous for its calligraphy, and the talent of calligraphers shows itself in a more bare style – fewer tiles or ornaments get in the way.
Immediately outside the gates of the mosque you will find the huge bazaar. Like most other bazaars in Turkey, you’ll be shoved from every angle under a patchwork of colorful tarpaulins, as shopkeepers try to squeeze you with Turkish delights, baklava and, most importantly, silk. Bursa was a center of silk production in its heyday, and a great procession of silk weavers still lurks in the Koza Han.
The koza (“cocoon” in Turkish) is the origin of silk. A silkworm worker will let the silkworms get to just the point of metamorphosis, then boil them alive. They grab a silk thread from the cocoons in the bucket of water, then thread them all through a hoop, then weave the strands into thread. The Koza Han always displays a wide variety of silk products – scarves, shirts, slippers, pajama pants.
From the Koza Han, slip deeper into the Covered Bazaar until you find the Aynalı Carşı, the Mirror Market. It used to be a hammam until it was converted into stores and warehouses hundreds of years ago. This is where you can buy the best shadow puppets. During the construction of the Ulu Camii, two incredibly lazy guys started a comedy routine instead of working and drew a crowd. They became so unwittingly popular that no one was working on the mosque and, according to legend, the sultan had them executed. Their names were probably not Karagöz and Hacivat, but these are the nicknames given to the shadow puppets bearing their personalities. At Karagöz Antikci in Aynalı Çarşı, you’ll find a smiling shopkeeper ready to perform the same impromptu routines with poseable shadow puppets behind a sheet. But if you wanted to see a real spectacle, you should head to the Karagöz Museum in Çekirge every Saturday at noon for a large-scale shadow theater and detailed displays of puppets through the ages.
In the Hisar district, you can stroll through the streets to discover the old noble houses in the Ottoman style. Two- or three-story white plaster houses with brown trim give the streets a tidy and tidy appearance. Amidst the houses, be sure to visit some of the Külliyes for dead sultans. The Muradiye Complex is a must-see, as is the Emir Sultan Mosque.
more than history
You’re all out of the story now, and probably more than a little sick of walking around with a full stomach. The only sane choice is to step into a bath. How about a real hot spring straight from hell? The Eski Kaplıca Hammam in Çekirge has your back – and your arms and legs, and the friendly workers of the Hammam will scrape all the dying skin cells from each of them. This marble fortress of domes and glass draws its heat directly from the Horhor spring, which shoots water at a chilling 90 degrees Fahrenheit. But hey, that means it’s extra healthy and mineral, and probably better for your skin, right?
If you don’t like being scalded and skinned, you can always punish your muscles with a hike. And you really should do that before trudging back to the ferry and heading back to Istanbul. Bursa still has a huge botanical park and an extensive zoo, and of course, Uludağ – the big mountain.
Although it was revered as Olympus, the home of the Greek gods, modern locals and visitors have had the sacrilegious audacity to build a huge cable car up the side of the mountain and go skiing on it.
In the fall, you’re bound to have foggy swamps and the last green lushness of the season near the base, with alternating rains and frosts closer to the top. But in the dead of winter, you’ll probably be slamming Zeus down the slopes. Just don’t go skiing after eating an İskender Kebab, unless you expect your friends to run you down the mountain.