Bursa: First capital of the Ottoman Empire

SENA ALKAN @senaalkan
Published 05.04.2014 17:14
Bursa: First capital of the Ottoman Empire

Bursa, a 'mini Istanbul' on the coastline of the Marmara Sea, offers its visitors a fascinating sight-seeing adventure while discovering how the past and present mesh perfectly

Based on its close proximity to Istanbul and similar Ottoman and Byzantine history, Turkey's northwestern city Bursa, on the coastline of Marmara Sea, is like the megacity's little sister.

Situated opposite to Istanbul across the sea Marmara, Bursa is Turkey's fourth-largest city and Ottoman Empire's first capital. Once a backwater of the Byzantine Empire, this city has witnessed the fall and establishment of states having significance throughout history. Being on the Silk Road, which is the main trade destination that linked the East to the West, Bursa is at the core of the automotive industry in Turkey and not to mention the silk center of excellence.

With its exquisite places dotted with history and also its modern buildings, Bursa is the living proof of the diverse cultures that existed on these soils. What makes Bursa so attractive is perhaps that it actually has no specific intention of being one of your everyday touristic destinations as all historical buildings and monuments are simply preserved at the center of the hustle and bustle of modern city life. Hence, while you roam the city's streets, you are taking walk through history at the same time.

My journey to Bursa began with a ferry ride from Istanbul. It took around two hours to cross the Sea of Marmara with a mesmerizing view of Istanbul. I suggest you hop on a ferry, rather than taking a bus, because watching the landscape of Istanbul and Bursa through sea is priceless. The ferry will take you to Bursa's little seaside town Mudanya and from there you can take the subway to the city center.

Every journey in Bursa starts at the Bursa Grand Mosque - built in the 14th century to resemble Seljuk architecture by the order of Ottoman Sultan Bayezid I - because this massive historical site is considered the heart of the city. When you see the splendid mosque, you try to comprehend how such a monument was built in those times, and thus you will understand that Bursa was of great importance to the Ottoman Empire.

The historic-looking bazaars surrounding the mosque with Bursa's renowned textiles, including silk and specially embellished towels are ready to attract your attention. Walking through the old-style bazaars, I felt as though I was living in early Ottoman times and looking for a silk outfit sold by merchants while passing through the silk route.

Another Turkish tradition that visitors in Bursa should not skip is the hammam, Turkish baths. Bursa has many renowned hammams offering you the unique Ottoman bathing experience.

A journey in Bursa is not complete without trying one of Turkey's most popular dishes, the Iskender. Iskender Efendi, who gave his name to this traditional delight, first came up with the recipe in 19th century Bursa. First, the platter is lined with a layer of diced Turkish pide bread. Then, thinly sliced layers of succulent doner kebab prepared from lamb meat is placed evenly over the bread. The already appetizing dish is then flavored with a drizzle of hot tomato sauce over the meat and then topped off with hot, melted, aromatic butter. The dish is usually served with plain yoghurt on the side. Once you take your first bite, your taste buds will start a happy dance to thank you. This flavor bomb, unfortunately not for vegetarians, is however one of the best options for those who look for meaty Turkish cuisine. When eaten in its hometown Bursa, double satisfaction is guaranteed. The good news is, Iskender Efendi's descendants are still running a small restaurant near the city to make sure you are not deprived from experiencing the Iskender the way it is meant to be.

Another alternative to the Iskender is the "Pideli Köfte." The slight difference between the two dishes is that while doner kebab is used as the main ingredient for the Iskender, mini meatballs are used for the Pideli Köfte. The Turkish pide bread at the base, the sauces are all the same. You may find that this alternative dish is also referred to as "Kayhan Köfte" since it was first made in a town of Bursa named Kayhan.

No visit to Bursa is complete without a trip to Uludag (Turkish for "Sublime Mountain"), especially if you want a breath of fresh air and to oversee the beauty of Bursa lying along the skirts of this mountain. Uludag is a popular center both for winter and for summer activities such as trekking, camping, skiing. Watching the sunset while caught in a sweet breeze and warm coffee in hand shouldn't be missed. The national parks and cafes on the mountain awaiting those who are looking for a breathtaking panoramic view of the city. While you are at Uludag, you should definitely visit the "Tarihi Ulu Çınar" (Historical Sublime Sycamore) which dates back 600 years. The cafes and restaurants around this extraordinary tree - almost 40 meters tall, its trunk nearly 10 meters thick - offers a lovely atmosphere for visitors to sit and relax.

With every step you take in Bursa, you will see that history has survived throughout the centuries to be witnessed by all today. A fusion of civilizations and cultures of the past, Bursa embraces its visitors with the modern-within-the-historic landscape.

Before returning to Istanbul by a ferry, you need to head to where your Bursa journey first started: Mudanya. This little seaside town is also a must-see. With its small, wellpreserved historical houses and hidden nature, Mudanya can be regarded as the last escape point before you go back to Istanbul. It is a nice option for those looking some calm and tranquility. You can sit at the cafes and watch the Marmara Sea while puffing away on your shisha (water pipe).

Tips & Suggestions

Getting there: You can take the Yenikapı-Bursa ferry or Kabatas-Mudanya/Bursa ferry to get to Bursa. The ferries operated by Istanbul Fast Ferries Co. Inc. (IDO) leave from Kabatas, Kadıköy and Yenikapı. One alternative is the Bursa Fast Ferries (BUDO) which goes directly to Mudanya.

Getting Around: There is an extended subway line linking the city center to suburbs in the northwestern Bursa. The extensive bus and dolmus (minibus) network can also be used.

Where to stay: The Tiara Termal Hotel, located at the heart of Bursa, offers a comfortable and spacious place to stay with its stylish and modern rooms. You can also experience high-quality traditional Turkish bath and spa at this luxury hotel.

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