Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Bursa, the first capital of the Ottoman Empire

Tuesday Turkification
  • Episode 1-Bursa

Click here for a larger image.

Of course this adventure took place almost two weeks ago, but I must still tell you all about it. Ever since we came to Turkey we have had it in our plans to go and visit Bursa. It is definitely not one of the main attractions in your Lonely Planet guide and your average tourist will not go home saying, "Well, we went to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, but Bursa was better!" Personally, I think Bursa is better, but hey, I'm not you. The people are really friendly, the mountains are gorgeous, and the city holds a very rich history that is lamentably overshadowed by it's neighboring city, Istanbul.

We rented a car for this weekend trip. We raced down to the ferry boat dock in Pendik and managed to get ourselves on the 4:45 ferry crossing the Sea of Marmara. Pendik-Yalova. Here's our view from the upper deck. You can just barely see the other side.

It took about an hour. It wasn't long before Atticus and Sherms were at eachother's throats. Fortunately, I had purchased some sustenance in the form of corn nuts before our departure. Here's a picture before the unveiling of the sustenance.

Once we got off the ferry our drive from Yalova to Bursa took us a mere 30 minutes. The countryside was beautiful. Getting out of the chaos of Istanbul is always nice. The hills were green. We passed a pretty lake. The road was smooth and big. We weaved through the valleys and in the distance we could see snow capped peaks. I felt like I was in Europe. Anywhere but Turkey. The freeway led us into an open valley and there was Bursa. You could see the heart of the city nestling up onto the mountains. I like to compare it to Spain's Granada. It has all the modern conveniences of Istanbul, but it's smaller, colder, has a snow loving population, and has a very rich history despite it's small size. The air wasn't so great though. Apparently Istanbul got natural gas just in the last 10 years, so I think all the haziness in the air in Bursa is from all the coal burning. Can you believe it? A city dependent on coal for something simple like cooking dinner? (This was one of my American moments, where it donned on me that not everyone lives as I do.)
First stop the next morning: The Ulu Cami. Cami means mosque in Turkish. Ulu means great, high, or exalted. I've seen a lot of mosques in Turkey and what stands out about this one is it's heavy dutiness. It's very thick, and everything is sturdy, which is interesting considering how old it is. I know nothing about architecture but most of the other mosques I've seen don't seem so thick. Like a massive elephant foot smashing down from space onto the earth. 1399. It's an old one. When you walk in you can hear the sound of water. It sounded like a bubbling brook. Living waters. Like in most buildings that are large and made of stone, this one was cold too. You can see they closed off the water. Just like in almost every famous cathedral in Europe. Under construction.Our kids are used to going in mosques. Usually they're empty, thank goodness. The kids love to take off their shoes and run around, something we try to discourage with no avail. In this particular mosque they had a table covered with prayer beads. Atticus and Cinci had a lot of fun trying them on. Shermy on the other hand was in a more meditative state, and actually preferred praying. (He hasn't been taught properly though. See the direction of the carpet. He's not facing Mecca.)Bursa was conquered by Osman, the founder of the Ottoman Empire, in the early 1300's. Before becoming the 1st capital of the Ottoman Empire it was a Greek city, Prussa, capital of the region of Bythinia. Prussa-Bursa. I see the resemblance. Here's the tomb of the great Osman himself.Here's Shermy in front of a restaurant in Bursa. We didn't eat here. He just used the bathroom here. Bursa is famous for Iskender. It's a delicious meal. Sliced doner meat over a bed of soft bread cubes with a special tomato sauce poured over it. After your plate of Iskender is served to you, the cook will come out with a sauce pan of sizzling butter and top your meal with it. I know it sounds like a Cardiac special, but oh boy is it good. Jonathan has it all the time, in fact check out his blog post about it here at his blog In Between the Cheeks.Here's a picture of the kids. I know. Where are they? They're way up at the top in that little nook. These are the old city walls of Bursa. What's left of them. They look like they're in pretty good shape for being 700 years old, don't you think?

Here is a river we passed on one of our walks around town. These waters come from the peaks of Uludag, the highest mountain in Bursa. There's a ski resort there and there are a couple of drinks named after it. I don't like the Uludag Gazoz so much. If you come here, go for the Camlica or the Fruko.Here is the inside of the Yesil Cami. Green Mosque. It's a really small mosque but very intricate and green. Lots of tiles and set in a very pretty neighborhood. Be sure to go here because it's near the part of Bursa that everyone should see. You know, the streets with the cute cafe's, the trees that really give a street it's charm, and the candy shops full of candied chestnuts. We bought two boxes since they're famous from Bursa. One plain and one chocolate covered.

Bursa was only the capital of the Ottoman Empire for about 50 years. Once the Ottomans conquered Edirne up in Thrace, it moved to that city instead. So just remember, if you go to Bursa, here are the things you must experience:

  • Ulu Cami
  • Iskender
  • Candied chestnuts
  • Yesil Cami
  • The awe of being in the founding city of the Ottoman Empire
  • Osman's tomb

On our drive back we passed through Bilecik and Iznik. Worth the drive. Here's why:Bilecik is somewhere you never really need to go, but it's a nice stop off the beaten path. We found this old mosque, you can't see it from the picture but it had large grounds around it and it was nestled in this green valley. Very secluded, but right behind the bustling city. It was kind of like a monestary where people would go to study and meditate. I'm no expert in Islam but it really was nice to know that Islam does provide instruction to it's believers. I guess I'm just tired of the people in Istanbul not knowing anything about what they believe (or don't believe.)Behind me are the walls of Iznik. Nicea. You know, the Nicene Creed? Ever since I found out that Nicaea was in Turkey, I've wanted to come here. The First Ecumenical Council in 325 was held in a church that is now in the depths of the lake that you see behind Jonathan in the picture below.

The Second one was held in this church, the Sancta Sophia in 787. Sorry it's not such a great photo. We were driving at the time.

Iznik is somewhere I would have liked to stay longer. It was really cute and quiet. Don't drive in the city. Just park on the outskirts and walk in. It's not big at all. You'll hate yourself if you do drive in there.

And remember! Don't travel to northwestern Turkey in the winter unless you're going to ski.


Sonja said...

Ok! I'm so ready to go! I love that you saw Nicea and Osman's tomb. Those are the places I want to visit when I come!

What I love particularly is that the historical significance of those places is juxtaposed with the everyday living of a modern family in your pictures and words. Corn nuts on the way, boys playing with beads, Jonathan holding Shermie in the car with the lake in the background.

You guys are the best! :)

DaNiElLe said...

I have to admit... I need to go to school because I knew not one single thing you were talking about. :( But it sounds so neat so not only does this remind me that I NEED to go to school but that I also WANT to go to school. Your kids look beautiful.