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

Bursa Turkey is one of the cities that left a mark in the soul of the Turkish writer and poet Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar. Bursa, in a way, is Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar himself. After moving the capital of the Ottoman Empire to Istanbul, his musings of Bursa as a city were linked to its push into isolation with the loneliness he experienced all his life.

It is undoubtedly a unique city that can be admired for its historical fabric, although it has been disrupted a bit due to increased tourism in the area.

Koza Han Square, Bursa, Turkey. (Shutterstock Pictures)

In general, when I start a new journey in a new city, I like to explore every corner and its famous dishes. However, the recommended places on the internet are those that are popular on social media and somewhat lack quality and authenticity. For this reason, my friend from Bursa was my tour guide during my short but colorful trip.

Located on the edge of Mount Uludag (meaning the great mountain in Turkish) and witnessing the birth of the Ottoman Empire, Bursa is very difficult to explore in a couple of days – it might take at least one week. 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 famous sites in the city and experience the most beautiful flavours.

Take your time in the quiet inn courts

A Turkish coffee connoisseur prepares coffee on a hot coal in Koza Han, Bursa, Turkey, May 2, 2022 (Image via Boss Keskin)

A Turkish coffee connoisseur prepares coffee on a hot coal in Koza Han, Bursa, Turkey, May 2, 2022 (Image via Boss Keskin)

Bursa, as an important trading city throughout history, is home to many hotels and bazaars that have kept the economy on the pulse. Especially for the merchants who had to pass through the trade routes of Anatolia, the inns were old copies of today’s hotels, an ideal place to spend a night. Bazaars, made up of long, narrow streets with shops, developed along with inns in the new quarters of the city during the reign of Orhan Gazi, or Sultan Orhan.

Since every inn in the Ottoman era had a monopoly on the task of being a covered market for a certain type of item, the commercial element that was sold to retailers and artisans also gave its name to this inn. For example, if the item is cotton, it is called “cotton hostel”.

You can find almost everything you are looking for in this area, which is very similar to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul and the narrow shopping streets of Eminonu. If you want to take a breath after a long shopping spree, you can sip coffee over coals in the quiet Koza Han Square (Chrysalis Inn), where you are greeted with chirping birds and high-quality silk products, or you can. Enjoy a quiet moment with this indispensable Turkish tea duo.

Keihan bazaar in the hostel area where pideli köfte restaurants are concentrated. The smell of melted butter on your nose when you enter the bazaar is one of the trademarks of the area. Meatballs with pita are similar in taste to Iskender kebab, another specialty dish in Bursa. This unique flavor is also called “Gariban Kebab”, especially by locals in Bursa, because it is less expensive.

Meatballs with pita accompanied by wine (fermented grape juice) in Kayhan Bazaar, Bursa, Turkey, May 2, 2022. (Photo by Buse Keskin)

Meatballs with pita accompanied by wine (fermented grape juice) in Kayhan Bazaar, Bursa, Turkey, May 2, 2022. (Photo by Buse Keskin)

Along with the pita meatballs, a drink called şıra is served alongside to make sure the butter doesn’t irritate the stomach. Şıra is a Turkish soft drink made from slightly fermented grape juice.

The founders of the Ottoman Empire

The tombs of Osman Gazi and Orhan Gazi, the founding fathers of the Ottoman Empire, are located in the Tophane region. Many people who wish to memorialize their ancestors show great interest in these tombs. It is located about a 10-minute walk from Bursa Ulu (Great) Mosque.

Aerial view of Gölyazı Peninsula at sunset, Bursa, Turkey.  (Shutterstock Pictures)

Aerial view of Gölyazı Peninsula at sunset, Bursa, Turkey. (Shutterstock Pictures)

Those who come to Tophane also have a chance to view the city from above. The famous cannon shots that are heard from every neighborhood of the city during the month of Ramadan start from here, as it bears the name of the neighborhood. Also, the first building that comes to mind in this area is the clock tower. There are three different Turkish flags on top of the tower.

700-year-old village: Gumali Kızık

The historic character of the village has been preserved with its well-preserved cobblestones and is a fine example of the rural civic architecture of the early Ottoman period. Because of this feature, the village was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. The villages located between the slopes of Uludag are called “Kezik”. One assumes that the villagers used to gather for Friday prayers or that the village was founded on Friday, Jum’ah in Turkish, and called it Gumali Kızık.

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 in the village sell various handcrafted dried foods made with yoghurt, tomatoes, flour, pasta and delicious blackberry juice.

The deep history of Gölyazı Pennisula

The famous Turkish stork

The famous Turkish stork “Yarin”, which means “close friend” in Turkish, stands in the Daily Sabah, Bursa, Turkey, May 2, 2022. (Photo by Buse Keskin)

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

A landmark of the village is the “crying plane tree” because of the red liquid that flows from its trunk. There are also many legends attributed to the tree, including lovers who could not be reunited. The island can be toured via fishing boats which are accompanied by sunset.

I had the chance to meet the famous stork “Yarin” on the island, and even in Turkey, which means “close friend” in Turkish. She was on the beach, catching a few rays on a mild spring day.

Mouth-watering intoxicating chestnut

This candy flavor is attributed to Bursa’s special formula. Made from chestnuts collected from trees on the slopes of Uludag Mountain, there are many local shops where you can buy chestnuts that are sweetened in several varieties, such as stuffed with pistachios or covered in chocolate.

Candied chestnut.  (Shutterstock Pictures)

Candied chestnut. (Shutterstock Pictures)

This delicious dessert is so popular that it has received a geographical indication from the Turkish Patent and Trademark Office.

It is very easy to visit Bursa from Istanbul since the 1-2 hour highway, depending on your location in the big city, will get you there. Bursa City Municipality also runs shuttle buses to Istanbul airports. There are also frequent intercity bus links from all over Turkey to Bursa, the capital of the Turkish automobile industry and the old hub of coach bus companies.

If you want to get around the traffic, which can be notorious during rush hours and holidays, you can take the passenger ferries operated by IDO and BUDO from several locations in Istanbul to the Marmara seaside city of Mudanya, which is easily accessible from the city center Market. During your excursion, you can enjoy the blues of the Marmara Sea during your one and a half hour trip.

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