Museum City: Bursa
The first time I ever visited a Kent Müzesi (City Museum) in Turkey — as opposed to an archaeological museum with an ethnographic add-on — it was in Bursa. Since then, City museums have become a boom business with new ones opening all over the country but especially along the Aegean coast.
In the meantime, Bursa has capitalized on having been ahead of the game by opening several more impressive museums. If you’re the sort of person who likes nothing more than to while away a few hours admiring the contents of glass cases, then this will be the perfect city for you. And of course when the weather’s not of the best there are few better places to take refuge from the cold outdoors than a museum.
Bursa City Museum
Kent Müzesi (City Museum)
First stop on a trip to Bursa — and ideally on a trip to Turkey — should be the City Museum, a state-of-the-art affair that gives a quick rundown on the life of the early sultans on the ground floor. If that sounds a little too wordy for you then the basement will offer the instant antidote. Down there you will find installed replicas of the sort of shops that used to grace all of Turkey’s towns before the age of the shopping mall. Come here to see what the saddle maker’s shop used to look like as well as to watch a short clip of felt makers in action, pounding the wool with their knees in a way that one assumes would be guaranteed to induce arthritis.
Kılıç Kalkan Evi (Sword and Shield House)
Tucked up in Setbaşı within easy walking distance of the town center is this replica Ottoman house, which exists to tell the story of an unexpected local dance form, the kılıç kalkan oyunu (sword and shield dance). Step inside and you will be able to see famous locals who have learnt the dance, including the current vali (governor). The caretaker will be keen to explain everything to you and will invite you to come and watch the dance being performed with much clashing of swords and shields in the town-center square in front of the Koza Hanı every Saturday afternoon. Won’t be there on Saturday? Never mind, as you will be able to watch the dancers on video in the museum instead.
TOFAŞ Bursa Anadolu Arabaları Müzesi (TOFAŞ Bursa Museum of Anatolian Carriages)
Even if you’ve never thought the history of transport would rock your boat it’s well worth following the signs from Setbaşı in search of this excellent small museum, housed in a redundant silk-processing factory, which shows off a variety of the sort of old carts that used to be used not just to move people from place to place but also to carry logs and other industrial produce. Like the City Museum, it’s a state-of-the-art museum, beautifully presented and with all sorts of information and old photographs to put the exhibits in context. Right at the end it comes right up to date by showing off a few old cars and one brand-new one that has been completely covered in graffiti — an art exhibit on wheels.
Afterwards it is well worth taking a turn around the lovely grounds, then rounding off your visit with a meal in the stylish Fayton Cafe in the grounds.
Cuckoo clocks – Bursa Clock Museum
Saat Müzesi (Clock Museum)
Newly opened in the grounds right beside the carriage museum (and accessible on the same admission ticket) is a stunning Clock Museum, housed in what was originally the Umurbey Hamamı (Turkish bath). Once again, the subject matter might seem of very niche interest. However, once you’ve stepped over the threshold you’ll probably be knocked sideways by the quality of the display and by the information provided on the huge variety of forms that time-keeping devices have taken over the years. Best of all must be the room full of cuckoo clocks, an astonishing thing to find in a hamam. If only they could have arranged for them all to work again just imagine what a wonderful sight — and sound — it would have made.
Afterwards you should take a quick look at the early 15th-century Umurbey Cami (mosque) to which the hamam once belonged. Its portico incorporates many pieces of old Roman masonry, testifying to how long this part of town has been settled.
Türk ve İslam Eserleri Müzesi (Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts)
For what seemed like forever the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts housed in the medrese (school) of the Yeşil Cami had been closed for restoration, and I doubt that I was the only person who assumed it would never open again. So hoorah that it has actually done so even though the layout of the exhibits inside (mainly the sort of ethnographic bits and bobs that would have been housed upstairs in the Archeology Museum elsewhere) show no sign of having been upgraded to meet modern expectations in terms of display or information. No matter — the early 15th-century building itself is very fine, with turquoise tiles around most of the windows, which was not something that it had been possible to appreciate for some years either.
Osmanlı Evi (Ottoman House Museum)
The main reason to visit the Muradiye suburb of Bursa is the Muradiye complex from which it takes its name, which has a fine mosque surrounded by the tombs of early Ottoman princes. Ringing the small park in front of the mosque there are, however, a number of other minor attractions, amongst them a restored Ottoman house that is open without much fanfare to the public. It’s worth a quick look to admire its open-sided verandahs and lovely painted rooms, although absolutely no information is provided to help you get more out of a visit.
Bursa Arkeoloji Müzesi (Bursa Archeological Museum)
In sharp contrast to the City Museum is the much older and more traditional Archeological Museum, which occupies a lovely location in the Kültür Park off the road to Çekirge but suffers from the same failings as its equals all around Turkey, namely a paucity of hard facts about the exhibits on show, many of them from the days when Bursa was the Roman Prusa ad Olympum. As is so often the case, some of the finest artifacts are the ones on display not inside the building but in the grounds outside.
If you’re heading out to the hotels and hamams of the Çekirge suburb your eyes will be drawn to a colorful building on the left-hand side of the road that houses the Karagöz Museum. Karagöz is the Turkish take on shadow puppetry and Bursa lays claim to it as its own, hence this museum, which started life as a private collection before becoming a municipality-run celebration of the leather puppets and the men who made them. It’s of rather specialist interest although those with children might find it a godsend. Admission is free, which is always a plus.
Orman Müzesi (Forestry Museum)
If you’re stopping to take a look at the Karagöz Museum you might also want to pause at another much-overlooked collection on the same side of the road. The Forestry Museum is once again of rather specialist interest although it does tell the sad story of a bear called Yumak who was orphaned as a cub by hunters, then reared as a pet on Uludağ until the sad day that he injured a child and had to be put to sleep. But the main reason to come here really is to appreciate the fine 19th-century wooden mansion, the Saatçı Köskü, that houses it. Better even than the interior, which boasts some fine painted ceilings and wooden details, is the little summerhouse in the grounds. Although you can’t go inside it, you can peer in through the windows to appreciate its own magnificent painted ceiling.
Merinos Tekstil Sanayi Müzesi (Merinos Textile Industry Museum)
Until recently Bursa was home to the huge state-owned Merinos textile factory, which had opened in 1938. In 2004, the factory closed, leaving the buildings redundant. In a sign that Turkey is belatedly catching on to the appeal of industrial-heritage tourism this has now been reopened as a museum that traces the production of textiles right through from the rearing of the sheep that provided the wool to the production of the final items. There is a certain poignancy about a visit, as it’s impossible not to notice the way in which sheds that once provided work for up to 17,500 people can now be supervised as visitor attractions by perhaps half a dozen individuals. A new museum celebrating the role of immigration to the story of Bursa was about to open upstairs when I visited.
Afterwards you can stroll in the lovely park that surrounds the museum and appreciate the beauty of the new Merinos Atatürk Conference Center, which opened here in 2009.