Balkanesque & Asia Minoresque: In between the silvery lines of the new and the pastel shades of the old across Bursa

 With the old on your mind, try and picture yourself in the early days of the silk trade. The hustle and the dust, the inviting flavours, the richness of scents – they are all lingering features, but can the twenty-first-century Bursa still capture them and keep them alive?

‘The first Ottoman capital’ [back in 1326] 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?

Across the Sea of Marmara: from Istanbul to Bursa

Silk, you are already aware of it, and there’s Kozahan [silk cocoon hall, revamped into a tea garden with shops and stalls and fortune tellers to read your coffee cup], built in 1451, that will not let you forget about it. 

One thing that comes into mind when talking with connoisseurs about Bursa is İskender kebap. And every single guide on Bursa that you consult 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 becoming popular worldwide. However, the legend goes that no dish tastes better than the original one in Bursa [@Kebapçı İskender].

Apart from the peaches of Bursa, allegedly unique, there is another dessert that might tempt those with a sweet tooth: Kestane şekeri. Chestnuts boiled in vanilla sugar syrup... that must surely be a treat. Here’s a reason not to leave the city without trying at least one chestnut candy.

You can find all of these in Bursa’s Kapalı Çarşı (Covered Market), much smaller than Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and its web of 4000 shops, but still pleasant. Unquestionably, silk is a strong element of many shops. A special venue is Eski Aynalı Çarşı (‘The Old Mirrored Market’), initially built as a hamam, but later converted into shops, in Middle Eastern fashion. These Turkish baths abound in the city and are not to be missed for a visit/soak time 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 (based on Byzantine and Persian models, which explains the colours used). 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. However, the ancient Seljuk style can be retraced in Ulu Cami (The Great Mosque, 1399), adorning 20 domes and 2 minarets. Another tomb worth mentioning to the explorer is Orhan Gazi Türbesi, the 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, Irgandı Köprüsü (1442) 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 (Teleferik) ride away from Bursa’s upper neighbourhood of Teferrüç. To the joy of skiers, snowboarders, and hikers. Or of those in bad need of a breath of fresh air.

The kakis of Turkey in December

There is a very special place [read: ‘village’] at the foot of Uludağ and it is called Cumalıkızık. Whether you ride in a dolmuş (minibus) or a car, you will still feel the bumps and wonder if you are in the right place. And then there are the villagers with fresh fruit, exotic jams (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 very old houses, most of which are still inhabited. And then, if you are truly lucky, you might be invited by one of the villagers for a traditional cheese gözleme and some tea.   

Cumalıkızık, Turkey

What about water lovers? There’s always Gölyazı for you. A small fishing village just outside Bursa, waiting to fill you with tranquillity and many unforgettable sights. Old buildings, a seemingly old way of life, and nature at one’s fingertips: these are probably Gölyazı’s strengths, all of them focused 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 wonder how much it has witnessed...

At the end of every day spent in Bursa, you should savour a cup of Turkish coffee and think back at the moments you most enjoyed while you envision your return. Think of the people you met and how much they helped you, smiled at you, and made you feel welcome. And even if you are away in Istanbul or anywhere else in Anatolia, you should always remember that Bursa is one ride away. Over the bumpy hills with the Turkish flag proudly flaunting in the wind.  

Istanbul, Turkey

/The piece was first published in January 2015 on – Turkish Airlines’ in-flight magazine –, which ceased to exist; not included in social media posts and the weekly newsletter/

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