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A visit to Bursa, unforgotten Ottoman capital: Travel tips from locals

Turkey’s Bursa is one of the cities that left a mark on Turkish writer and poet Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar’s soul. Bursa is, in a way, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar himself. After the relocation of the Ottoman Empire’s capital to Istanbul, his contemplations on Bursa as a city pushed into solitude correlates with the loneliness he experienced throughout his life.

Undoubtedly, it is a unique city that can be much-admired with its historical texture, even though it is slightly disrupted due to increasing tourism in the area.

The courtyard of Koza Han, Bursa, Turkey. (Shutterstock photo)

Generally, when I set out to embark on a new journey in a new city, I want to explore every corner and its famous dishes. However, the recommended places on the internet are the ones popular on social media and somehow lack quality and authenticity. For this reason, my friend from Bursa was my tour guide during my short but colorful journey.

Located on the slopes of Mount Uludağ (meaning Great Mountain in Turkish) and witness to the birth of the Ottoman Empire, Bursa is very difficult to explore in two days – one week may be required at least. However, for those who do not have the opportunity to take a long vacation, this quick tour will help you get to know the most iconic spots of the city and experience the most beautiful flavors.

Take your time in serene courts of inns

A Turkish coffee master brews coffee on embers in Koza Han, Bursa, Turkey, May 2, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Buse Keskin)

A Turkish coffee master brews coffee on embers in Koza Han, Bursa, Turkey, May 2, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Buse Keskin)

Bursa, as an important trade city throughout history, is home to numerous inns and bazaars that maintain the pulse of the economy. Especially for traders who had to pass through the trade routes of Anatolia, inns were old versions of today’s hotels, an ideal place to have a night’s stay. The bazaars, consisting of narrow and long streets with shops, developed alongside the inns in new quarters of the city during the reign of Orhan Ghazi, or Sultan Orhan.

Since every inn in the Ottoman period monopolized the task of being a covered marketplace for a certain type of material, the trade item that was sold to retailers and artisans also lent its name to that inn. For example, if the item was cotton, it was called “cotton inn.”

You can find almost everything you are looking for in this area, which is very similar to Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and narrow shopping streets of Eminönü. If you want to take a breath after a long shopping tour, you can drink coffee on embers in the peaceful courtyard of Koza Han (Chrysalis Inn), where you are greeted with birds chirping and products made of high-quality silk, or you can enjoy a quiet moment with the indispensable Turkish tea-simit duo.

Kayhan Bazaar in the inn area is where the “meatballs with pita” (pideli köfte) restaurants are concentrated. The smell of melted butter tantalizing your nostrils when you enter the bazaar is one of the spot’s trademarks. Meatballs with pita are very similar in taste to the Iskender kebab, which is another Bursa special. This unique flavor is also called “gariban kebab,” especially by the local people of Bursa, because it costs less.

Pideli köfte accompanied by şıra (fermented grape juice) in Kayhan Bazaar, Bursa, Turkey, May 2, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Buse Keskin)

Pideli köfte accompanied by şıra (fermented grape juice) in Kayhan Bazaar, Bursa, Turkey, May 2, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Buse Keskin)

Along with the pita meatballs, a drink called şıra is served alongside to ensure that the butter does not disturb the stomach. Şıra is a Turkish soft drink made from slightly fermented grape juice.

Founders of Ottoman Empire

The tombs of Osman Ghazi and Orhan Ghazi, the founding fathers of the Ottoman Empire, are located in the Tophane area. Many people who want to commemorate their ancestors show great interest in these tombs. They are located approximately 10 minutes from Bursa Ulu (Grand) Mosque by walking.

An aerial view of Gölyazı peninsula at sunset, Bursa, Turkey.  (Shutterstock photo)

An aerial view of Gölyazı peninsula at sunset, Bursa, Turkey. (Shutterstock photo)

Those who come to Tophane also have the chance to watch the city from above. The famous cannon shots heard from every district of the city during Ramadan are fired from here, as the quarter’s name bears. Also, the first building that comes to mind in this area is the Clock Tower. There are three different Turkish flags on the top of the tower.

700-year-old village: Cumalıkızık

The historic character of the village with its cobblestones has been very well preserved and is a great example of the rural civil architecture of the early Ottoman period. Due to this feature, the village has been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The villages located between the slopes of Uludağ are called “kızık.” One assumes that either the villagers used to gather for Friday prayers or the village was founded on a Friday, Cuma in Turkish, lending it the name Cumalıkızık.

Ottoman houses in the village of Cumalıkızık, Bursa, Turkey, March 6, 2021. (Shutterstock Photo)

Ottoman houses in the village of Cumalıkızık, Bursa, Turkey, March 6, 2021. (Shutterstock Photo)

Local women of the village sell many handmade sundried foods made of curd, tomatoes and flour, noodles and delicious black mulberry juice.

Deep history of Gölyazı pennisula

Turkey's famous stork 'Yaren,' meaning 'close friend' in Turkish, poses for Daily Sabah, Bursa, Turkey, May 2, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Buse Keskin)

Turkey’s famous stork “Yaren,” meaning “close friend” in Turkish, poses for Daily Sabah, Bursa, Turkey, May 2, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Buse Keskin)

Gölyazı is also known as Apollonia, the name of an ancient sun god, and is one of the richest settlements in Bursa. There are two peninsulas in the north of Lake Uluabat and seven islands near it. Gölyazı is connected to the island in the middle of this lake by a bridge. The village had been home to Turks and Greeks who lived peacefully for centuries.

One of the monuments of the village is the “weeping plane tree” because of the red liquid that flows from its trunk. There are also many legends attributed to the tree, including lovers who were unable to reunite. The island can be toured via fishing boats accompanied by sunset.

I had a chance to encounter the island’s, and even Turkey’s, famous stork “Yaren,” which means “close friend” in Turkish. It was on the shore, catching a few rays on a mild spring day.

Mouth-watering candied chestnuts

This candies flavor is attributed to Bursa’s special formula. Made with chestnuts collected from trees on the foothills of Uludağ, there are many local shops where candied chestnuts can be bought in several varieties, such as filled with pistachio or covered in chocolate.

Candied chestnuts.  (Shutterstock photo)

Candied chestnuts. (Shutterstock photo)

This sweet treat is so popular it has received geographical indication from the Turkish Patent and Trademark Office.

It is quite easy to visit Bursa from Istanbul since a one to two-hour motorway drive, depending on your location in the megalopolis, will get you there. Bursa Metropolitan Municipality also operates shuttle buses to Istanbul’s airports. There are also frequent intercity bus links from all over Turkey to Bursa, the capital of the Turkish automotive industry and longtime hub of coach bus companies.

If you want to skirt the traffic, which can be notorious during rush hours and holidays, you can take passenger ferries operated by IDO and BUDO from several locations in Istanbul to Marmara Sea port town of Mudanya, which is easily accessible from downtown Bursa. During your expedition, you can enjoy the blues of the Marmara Sea during your 1 1/2 hour trip.

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