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Round Bursa İn Search Of The Early Ottomans

A few months ago, the news came through that Bursa had been added to Turkeys list of world heritage sites. My initial response was surprise since that rather suggested that it was more impressive than non-world-heritage-site-listed Ephesus.

Still, once Id had to time to think about it, I began to decide that it wasnt quite such an unlikely choice. Bursa was, after all, the first Ottoman capital, and even today when its a big, bustling city grown fat on the proceeds of the textile and automobile businesses, much more still survives of its early Ottoman past than you might anticipate. Indeed, early Ottoman buildings are so intricately woven into the fabric of the city center that its easy to rush past some of them without even noticing them.

So nows the time to take a deep breath and think yourself all the way back in time to the early 14th century when Osman, the son of Ertuğrul Gazi from nearby Söğüt, laid siege to what was at that time still a solidly Byzantine city. It took almost two years for his efforts to bear fruit and its thought that Osman himself died in 1326 just days before his army finally breached the city walls from the south side of Bursa where locals now drink tea and picnic oblivious to the past in the plane-tree-shaded Pınarbaşı Park. It was his son, Orhan Gazi, who rode, victorious, into the city and established it as his new capital.

Bursa did not remain the capital for very long since Edirne took on that status in 1365. However, it continued to be both a commercially and an administratively important place, and the early Ottoman sultans retained great affection for it; six of them are actually buried here. According to the City Museum, of 198 buildings erected in Bursa between 1326 and 1453, 119 still survive today.

Sultan Osman I (1258-1326)

Following a famous dream in which he saw a tree growing from his navel to encompass the world, Osman first laid siege to Bursa, building two castles from which to pursue the two-year battle. Such was his affection for Bursa that he expressed a wish to be buried beneath the silver dome of the Monastery of St. Elias inside the walled part of the city (todays Hisar). His son Orhan fulfilled those wishes, having his father reburied there once he had secured the city.

Today the best place to start an exploration of early Ottoman Bursa is Tophane Park where two grand mausolea house the remains of Osman and Orhan. The existing buildings are certainly not early Ottoman structures, though. Until 1855, the two first Ottoman sultans were buried side by side. Then came 1855 and the Kücük Kıyamet (Mini Doomsday) when an earthquake wreaked havoc on Bursa, bringing down the shrine and many other buildings. The new separate models were built in 1863 during the reign of Sultan Abdülaziz. Of the glorious monastery that had so fascinated Osman, only the battered but lovely mosaic floor survives.

Sultan Orhan (1281-1362)

The earliest Ottoman buildings to survive in Bursa date from the reign of Sultan Orhan and one of them is right in the busy town-center shopping area where people routinely use its shady courtyard as a short cut. Pause in the grounds of the Orhangazi Cami built in 1339, however, and youll immediately notice the distinctive style of architecture that was to take root here. Conspicuously, these buildings made use of a mixture of stone and tiles, with each row of cut stones nestling between layers of tiles two or three deep. It was a style with clear echoes of Byzantium, although the occasional outbreaks of decorative stonework are more original.

Inside, the mosque quickly established what was to become the model for those to come. Designed to what is called an inverted T plan, the mosque features a portico that opens onto the bar part of the T, with rooms on either side that could be used for a variety of functions. Steps up lead to the highly decorative mihrab and the prayer area.

The Orhangazi Cami was originally part of a large külliye, a complex of buildings with important social functions including a school, a hamam (Turkish bath), a dervish lodge, a soup kitchen and a han or caravanserai providing accommodation for traveling merchants. Its easy to assume that the Koza Han immediately beside the mosque must have been part of the complex. In fact, you need to walk a little further towards the Ulu Cami to find the Emirhan, which formed part of the Orhangazi Külliyesi. Near it is the Eski Aynalı Çarşı, once the külliyes hamam.

Other survivors from the reign of Sultan Orhan are to be found in the Hisar part of Bursa where, just inside the rebuilt Saltanat Kapı (Gate of the Rulers), the Lala Şahin Paşa Medresesi was also built in 1339, becoming the first enclosed seminary of the ottomans. Like the Orhangazi Cami, it reused pillars and capitals taken from lost Byzantine buildings. Theres nothing to show for it now but the tiny Nilüfer Mescid, also near the gate, stands on the site of the Darphane where silver coins were minted from 1329.

Sultan Murad I Hüdavendigar (1326-89)

It takes a bit more effort to find the külliye built for the third Ottoman sultan between 1363 and 1366 in the Çekirge part of town. That effort is amply rewarded, however, when you see the extraordinary mosque looking more like a fortified palace that is its centerpiece. As in the Orhangazi Cami, here youll see fine mixed brick-and-stone building work with the odd Byzantine capital reused in the portico. But here that portico has been built on two stories, and when you step inside, youll find a marble fountain placed at the center of the T-bar.

To the left of the mosque, the Cık Cık (Gir Gir) Hamamı still survives, as does the imaret (soup kitchen) to the right. Across the road, the sultan is buried inside a lovely türbe (tomb), which, like those of Osman and Orhan, had to be rebuilt after the 1855 earthquake.

Sultan Yıldırım Beyazıt I (1354-1403)

Sultan Murad Is tomb is beautifully sited to scoop a panoramic view over Bursa. The same is true of the külliye built by his son to the northeast of the city between 1390 and 1395. Here on a high stone platform stands a magnificent mosque whose façade is no longer brick but faced with marble, its soaring portal paying home to Selçuk architecture. Inside, two rooms opening off the T-bar section have elaborate niches for books and other items carved into one wall.

Beneath the platform the long brick-and-stone medrese has been turned into a clinic while the hamam across the road continues in use for both men and women. In 1406, Sultan Beyazıts son, Şuleyman Çelebi, had a tomb built to house his fathers remains just in front of the medrese.

Back in the town center, Sultan Beyazıt was also responsible for the magnificent Ulu Cami, built in 1399 with a grand 20 domes and two minarets. Few things in Bursa could be more impressive than this mosque, which has abandoned the inverted T plan but retained the indoor fountain, here used as a busy şadırvan (ablutions fountain). The mosque was built to commemorate the Ottoman victory at Nicopolis in 1396, a battle that is sometimes seen as the final act of the Crusades. The lovely Koza Han formed part of its külliye.

Sultan Mehmed I Çelebi (1390-1421)

The fifth Ottoman sultan, Mehmed I, reigned for a mere eight years, but it is the külliye he built east of the center in the Yeşil (Green) area that has come to be seen as the symbol of Bursa. Frequently overshadowed by the more famous Yeşil Türbe, the Yeşil Cami, was built in 1419. Like the Yıldırım Beyazıt Cami, it is faced with marble, and inside it reverts to the familiar inverted T shape with steps up to a prayer area whose walls are tiled in turquoise and green. Its a glorious sight, as is the famous tomb where tiles cover the outside walls too. Also surviving from the complex are the imaret (soup kitchen) and the medrese (seminary), now a Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts set around a pretty central garden.

Sultan Murad II (1404-51)

The Muradiye quarter is one of the loveliest parts of Bursa, its centerpiece the newly restored Muradiye külliye, its medrese now being reused as a cancer research center. Built in 1425-26, the mosque features a portico whose marble pillars are topped with a reversion to patterned brick-and-stone work, while inside the inverted T plan continues to rule the roost. The Muradiye is in some ways the early Ottoman version of İstanbuls Şehzade Cami since the grounds contain the neatly domed tombs of many princes, now currently under restoration.

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