WHETHER YOU ARE A HISTORY AFICIONADO OR A NATURE LOVER; YOU’LL FIND EVERYTHING YOU LOOK FOR, IN BURSA.
With the past in your mind, try to picture yourself in the early days of the silk trade. The hustle and the dust cloud, the inviting flavours, the richness of scents – they are all essential components of this picture, but can the twenty-first-century Bursa still capture them and keep them alive?
‘The first Ottoman capital’ or ‘Green Bursa’ are nicknames that may ring a bell. What about the other feasts that the fourth-largest city in Turkey boasts and is ready to offer its visitors?
Silk, you already know it and there’s Kozahan -silk cocoon hall- built in 1451 revamped into a tea garden, which will keep reminding you of silk with its shops and stalls. But one thing that definitely comes into mind when talking about Bursa is İskender kebap together with its chef. And every single tour guide you consult in Bursa will let you know that this dish – roasted and sliced lamb spread atop diced pita bread pieces, topped with tomato sauce and served with yoghurt – has originated here, being named after its inventor İskender Efendi (who lived in Bursa during the late nineteenth century) and become popular worldwide. However, the legend goes that there is no better taste for this dish than the original one in Bursa (at Kebapçı İskender).
Beside the peaches of Bursa, which are claimed to be unique, there is a dessert that might tempt those with a sweet tooth: Kestane şekeri. Chestnuts boiled in a vanilla sugar syrup... That must surely be a treat. Here’s a reason not to leave the city without tasting at least one chestnut candy.
THE FIRST CAPITAL OF OTTOMAN
You can find all of these in Bursa’s Kapalı Çarşı (Covered Market), much smaller than Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and its web of 4,000 shops, but still a pleasant place. Unquestionably, silk is the most important product in many shops. Eski Aynalı Çarşı (The Old Mirrored Market), initially built as a hamam (Turkish bath), but later converted into shops, in Middle Eastern fashion is quite a special place. These Turkish baths abound in the city and are not to be missed for a visit/a time that you're sure to remember for the rest of your life. Are we anywhere near discussing history here? Well, in terms of architecture, Bursa’s mosques are mainly Ottoman in style. Good examples to feast your eyes on are Muradiye Cami (The Mosque of Sultan Murat II, 1426) and Yeşil Cami (The Green Mosque, 1424), with a very unusual fountain inside the prayer area. Opposite the latter, you can find Yeşil Türbe, the mausoleum of Mehmed I, the fifth Ottoman Sultan. The ancient Seljuk style can be retraced in Ulu Cami (The Great Mosque, 1399), adorned with 20 domes and 2 minarets. Another tomb worth to be mentioned to the explorer is Orhan Gazi Türbesi, final resting place of the second Ottoman Sultan – Orhan, the son of Osman I.
Whether you tend to have a great passion for bridges and their history or not, Irgandi Bridge will surprise you. It stands as another example of Ottoman architecture. Restored, it now houses shops, handicraftsmen, and-of course cafés.
If you wish to get out of the city and explore the great outdoors, you are in for a pleasant surprise. Mainly because Uludağ (The Great Mountain), the Mount Olympus of the ancient province of Bithynia, northwestern Turkey’s highest peak and most acclaimed winter resort, is only one cable car ride away from Bursa’s upper neighbourhood of Teferrüç. You'll feel great when you witness the joy of skiers, snowboarders, and hikers or of those in bad need of a breath of fresh air.
There is a very special village at the foot of Uludağ and it is called Cumalıkızık. Whether you ride in a minibus or in a car, you will still feel the bumps and wonder if you are indeed in the right place. And then there are the villagers with fresh fruit, exotic jams (do make sure you try the pomegranate one out!), and even handmade jewellery and home decorations. The winding and narrow alleys will take you along small orchards and old houses, most of which are still used as dwellings. And then, if you are truly lucky, you might be invited by one of the villagers for a traditional cheese gözleme (pastry dish) and some tea.
THE SEASONLESS CITY
What about water lovers? There’s always Gölyazı for you. A small fishing village just outside Bursa, waiting with tranquillity and many unforgettable sights. Old buildings, a seemingly old way of life, and nature at one’s fingertips: these are probably the prominent features of Gölyazı, located around Lake Uluabat. If you are indeed in love with nature, do not forget to pay a visit to Tarihi Çınar – a 600- year old sycamore tree, in the Village of İnkaya. Just imagine how much it has witnessed for so many years...
At the end of every day spent in Bursa, you should savour a cup of Turkish coffee thinking back at the moments you most enjoyed and plan yoour next visit. Think of the people you met and how much they helped you, smiled at you, and made you feel truly welcome. And even if you are away in Istanbul or somewhere Anatolia, you should always remember that Bursa is one ride away. Over the bumpy hills with the Turkish flag proudly flaunting in the wind.