Elegant early Ottoman mosques, spectacular hammams, a sprawling covered bazaar and a great little street full of meyhaneler (taverns)… This is Bursa, the thriving, self-confident city that sits opposite Istanbul across the Marmara Sea, and was Sultan Osman’s original capital as of 1326. Today, tourism is something of an add-on to the serious business of manufacturing, but for those in less of a hurry, Bursa makes a great place to get a feel for the real Turkey while ticking off some excellent sightseeing spots.
The obvious starting point for exploration of this sprawling city is immediately north of busy Atatürk Caddesi, where the Ulu Camii mosque, with its 20 domes, makes a landmark you can’t miss. Dating back to 1396, it was built for Sultan Beyazıt Yıldırım (‘the Thunderbolt’) as a thank you offering after he managed to defeat the Crusaders. The Ulu Camii has an appealing austere splendour, but many people fall more easily in love with the famous Yes¸il Camii (Green Mosque) in the Emirsultan suburb on the eastern side of town, which comes paired with the Yes¸il Türbe (Green Tomb) housing the remains of the mosque’s founder, Sultan Mehmed I. Actually, ‘yes¸il’ is a bit misleading, because the tiles on the tomb’s façade are actually a rich shade of turquoise. You should also try to squeeze in a visit to the Muradiye complex on the western side of town. Here, a mosque paid for in 1426 by Sultan Murad II is set in a lovely garden, where imperial tombs mingle with sweet smelling box hedges. It’s a great place for a stroll, and makes the perfect escape from
the city hubbub.
Hit the museums
Of course, Bursa is much more than just its mosques. In the part of the town centre marked by a statue of Atatürk and known universally as Heykel (Statue), the Bursa City Museum, housed in an old courthouse, is a state-of-the-art history museum with lots of bells and whistles and some wonderful recreations of old shops, as well as a great film clip showing local men using the upper parts of their bodies to beat felt into submission inside a local hammam.
A short walk away, the Tofas¸ Museum of Anatolian Carriages housed inside an old silk factory is a great one for the kids. It houses examples of everything that has ever rolled on wheels, from old ox carts through to the latest limos. Then you’ll need to head across town to Muradiye to visit the Ulumay Museum of Ottoman Folk Costumes and Jewellery, housed in an old medrese. As for what you’ll find inside, its name says it all.
Shop ’til you drop
For shopaholics, Bursa can certainly give Dubai a run for its money. The most atmospheric place to unload your spare lira is the bazaar that spins off in all directions from around the Ulu Camii. What makes this such a magical place to shop is that you’ll find yourself wandering in and out of a series of delightful arcades, which used to provide accommodation for traders and their animals. The finest of the arcades is the Koza, which dates back to 1490 and was formerly the focal point of the local silk industry; even today most of the shops on the upper level sell silk scarves in every conceivable colour combination.
Amid the meandering bazaar streets is one area called Kapalı Çars¸ı (Covered Market), like its better-known counterpart in Istanbul. Come here to stock up on the bath towels for which the city is famous, or to buy a Karagöz shadow puppet in the Aynalı Çars¸ı (Mirrored Market) corner, which is housed inside an old hammam. Like Dubai, Bursa is rapidly acquiring the shopping-mall habit and, in an effort to fight back and keep the market alive, the city authorities recently roofed over some of the streets that used to be open to the elements. The authorities were also responsible for the recent renovation of the picturesque Irgandı Bridge at Setbas¸ı , which, like the Ponte Vecchio over the River Arno in Florence, is lined with small handicrafts shops.
Bursa is one of those wonderful Turkish towns that developed around mineral springs that gush from the ground at temperatures perfect for bathing. No visit to the city would be complete without a trip out to the suburb of Çekirge (Grasshopper) to relish in the Eski Kaplıca (Old Spa) beside the Kervansaray Hotel, or in the Yeni Kaplıca (New Spa, which, in this case, means it dates back to 1522) beside the Kültür Parkı. Better still, book into one of the Çekirge hotels, most of which boast private spa baths.
Sample a kebab
Fresh from a good scrub, round off the day at Sakarya Caddesi, Bursa’s meze-andrakı-dispensing answer to Istanbul’s buzzing Nevizade Sokak, albeit on a smaller scale. Of course, you’ll first have to sample an Iskender kebab in the city where it was invented. The place to try it is Kebapcı Iskender in Ünlü Caddesi.
The view from afar
Up in Timurtas¸ Pas¸a Park you can inspect the tombs of Osman, the first chief of the Ottoman empire, and his son Orhan – the tombs were rebuilt in the 19th century after an earthquake. Across the road, a gate leads into the Hisar area, where restoration of the old houses and mosques is ongoing. You may also like to take the Teleferik (cable car) up the slopes of nearby Uluda˜g, the Great Mountain, which, at a height of 2,543 metres, offers not just trekking possibilities but also wonderful 360-degree views of the surrounding countryside. What’s more, during the winter months the who’s who of Istanbul frequent this hot ski destination.
Karagöz & Hacivat
The story of the traditional Turkish shadow puppets, Hacivat & Karagöz, is loosely modelled around the tale of two labourers working on the construction site of a mosque (supposedly Ulu Camii in Bursa), whose witty banter entertained their colleagues. Karagöz represents the illiterate public, whereas Hacivat belongs to the educated class, using more poetic, literary language.
Need to know
Turkish Airlines flies direct from Dubai to Istanbul from Dhs1,950 return (www.turkishairlines.com). From Istanbul, take a three-hour bus to Yalova for Dhs26, then the IDO ferry (Dhs50) to Yenikapı docks
(www.ido.com.tr, +90 212 444 4436).
Where to stay
This is a good budget option in the centre of town with friendly owners. The Bazaar and cultural sites are walk-able from here.
firstname.lastname@example.org (+90 224 223 0166)
For something less basic, try this smaller guest house, a converted residence with bright, clean rooms and breakfast included. Be warned, though – the rooms facing the street can be noisy, so request one of the others.
email@example.com (+90 224 224 7216)
What to eat
You must try some of the local cuisine, including Iskender kebab, which originated in Bursa. Expect bread bits slathered with tomato sauce and lamb chunks – it should come with dipping yoghurt. Alternatively, hunt out a tasty Pideli Köfte with meatballs rather than lamb. There may also be street vendors selling ‘candies chestnut’. Grab a bag – it’s delicious.
It’s a basic setting, but the food speaks for itself and is cooked fresh in a huge open oven.
Bozkurt Caddesi, just off Altiparmak Caddesi, near Bursaspor stadium
Set on a bustling high street, this offers decent local grub at affordable prices. The owners claim the place is named after the dish because they are related to its inventors.
Ünlü Cadde, near Heykel
History and geography
• Located in northwest Turkey, Bursa is the country’s fourth largest city.
• Set amid mountains, there are ample ski opportunities in the surrounding area.
• The city and its environs are a haven for Ottoman architecture.
• Settlers have lived in the region since 202 BC.
• The city is situated at the end of the Silk Road.
• The automotive industry is one of the main industries here. The area also produces a significant amount of textiles for the country.