Kulliyyahs (complexes) home to madrasas, mosques, hospitals, hospices, and bathhouses; the streets where Karagöz's and Hacivat’s shadows once intermingled; tombstones leaning on trees that strive to narrate their centuries-long fatigue; antique dealers selling vintage objects discovered in somebody's chests and inns that keep trade alive; the savory İskender kebab served with melted butter; and hot spring hotels with steaming chimneys… In short, I’m in the city center of Bursa.
I’m walking down the slope that hosts Emir Sultan Mosque. I pass by colorful houses with bay windows, imagining the flutter of activity they hide behind their blinds, and arrive at Yeşil Türbe (Green Tomb) covered with turquoise tiles. I stand at the head of the stairs and gaze at the beauty of its tiled door seen between two cypress trees. I walk inside the mausoleum and realize the tiles on the walls become even more striking with the sunlight filtered through the windows. As I leave and head for Yeşil Cami (Green Mosque), I think of the painting The Tortoise Trainer by Osman Hamdi Bey, which features the upper floor of this mosque in the background.
On my way out, as I walk towards Tophane, I change my mind and head for Irgandı Bridge over Gökdere River that meanders through the city. Yielding myself to the winter sun which encourages me to explore Bursa on foot, I wander around the handcraft workshops on the bridge, which was built in 1442 and has been renovated a few times. The bridge was last restored in 2004 according to its original planning and hosts an Ottoman bazaar (arasta in Turkish) where workshops create beautiful paintings, marbling, and glassware.
After walking around the shops and stalls, I arrive at Tophane Park, which hosts the mausoleums of two great personalities of Ottoman history. One belongs to Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman state that quickly became an empire, and the other to Orhan, his son, who conquered Bursa in 1326. The city served as the Ottoman capital until the conquest of Edirne and thereafter remained an important city for the empire. The Ottoman mosques, bazaar, and inns are all symbols of its past prominence.
The Clock Tower, one of the last Ottoman structures, tells me to gather speed. Time really flies by! I climb down the stairs of the park and arrive at the square in front of Koza Inn. After visiting felt makers, duvet sellers, cotton fluffers, and grain stores hidden between the İpek, Emir, and Fidan Inns dating back to the 15th century, I sit at one of the tables in the courtyard of Koza Inn offering a view of the 600-year-long history of the inns in Bursa. I treat myself to roasted chestnuts, which are hot enough to burn my hand even inside a paper bag, and a cup of fragrant tea. Koza Inn is synonymous with silk. While it’s hard to choose from many products at the upstairs stores that sell everything silk from scarves to blouses, shawls to fabrics, I finally find what I’ve actually been looking for: a reproduction of The Tortoise Trainer woven in silk and colored with dyer’s madder.
The Grand Mosque, one of the landmarks of the city, is as magnificent as the name implies. Featuring 20 domes, the mosque is one of the finest examples of Ottoman architecture from the Beylic period. Inside I am impressed by the dimly lit atmosphere. I admire the columns and walls decorated with verses and prayers written by 40 master calligraphers. People are performing ablution for the prayer around the hexadecagon marble water tank with a fountain in the center of the mosque. As I gaze at the beautiful mihrab, I think of Karagöz and Hacivat. The lead characters of traditional Turkish shadow theater, Karagöz and Hacivat are rumored to have been two master blacksmiths who worked during the construction of the mosque. Another story tells us about the mihrab. The floral motifs on this magnificent work of art, which was constructed in 1399, symbolize the solar system.
After visiting the halls at Karagöz House in the district of Çekirge that are reserved for puppet masters and shadow theater plays in the late evening, I decide to polish off my first day in Bursa with İskender kebab, a dish which has become almost synonymous with the city. I opt for the kebab restaurant Köşe Mavi Dükkân, right next to Tayyare Culture Center. Just like everyone else, I join the queue to try this delicacy that has been served since 1867. After the meal, I head back to the hotel and relax at one of the facility’s hot spring pools. The hot springs in Bursa spread from the district of Oylat to the city of Yalova. The healing waters help you relax both in mind and body.
Next day, I leave the city center and take the cable car up to Mount Uludağ. Forests greet me as I pass the last few houses on the slopes of Bursa. Snow on dry branches adorns the trees like fine lacework. There’s no wind, and the forest is almost in slumber. Gradually, the snow on the branches gets thicker; below our feet is a paper-white carpet. The view makes us feel like children again, and we joyfully cheer along with the tourists. Yet, we also fear that if we were to raise our voices slightly higher, we might move the snow on the branches! As the cable car climbs higher and the snow becomes thicker, we see new trees and the hill is slowly covered with pines.
The cable car takes off from the neighborhood of Teferrüç and reaches Sarıalan in 20 minutes. Next, I hop on to a minibus and travel for nearly seven kilometers to arrive to the hotels’ area. Snow is everywhere, the sun is shining, and the sky is bright blue. If you prefer to drive along this road, you will also be able to visit villages that offer beautiful views of Mount Uludağ. Thanks to the renewed cable lift and stations, it takes only an hour from when you leave Bursa to find yourself skiing down the slopes. Moreover, you don’t have to bring any skiing equipment because you can rent them at the surrounding hotels. I take the chair lift to arrive at the tracks, trying to protect my face from the bitter cold, but the scenery is definitely worth it. I’m very impressed by what I see among the pines on my way up and the view spreading before me as I make my way down. Bursa lies underneath a sea of clouds. Skiers enjoy themselves on tracks with many levels of difficulty at Turkey’s biggest winter and nature sports center at 2,543 meters. Skiing is not a prerequisite to visit Mount Uludağ. If you’re after snowy views, warm fireplaces, and illuminated photographs, Uludağ has many beauties to offer that can be enjoyed year round.