When I started planning my Turkey visit and started searching for information and reading reviews and blogs about must do places in Turkey, I read about Bursa for the first time. As I gathered more information, I decided that it’s going to be on my itinerary. It was a decision well made as I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Bursa.
It was capital of Ottoman Empire before the capture of Constantinople in 1453. Bursa is the fourth most populous Turkish city lying on the foothills of Mount Uludag in the Marmara region of Turkey. It is about 150 kilometers from Istanbul. It’s a city well known for its mosques and buildings from early Ottoman Empire and hence holds a special place in Turkish history. It is also called Yesil Bursa i.e. Green Bursa due to presence of lots of trees in the city and the magnificent background of Mount Uludag which is covered with lush green trees. Bursa was first major Ottoman Capital and hence the presence of Ottoman buildings and mosques from that era. During Ottoman times, the city was called Hudavendigar or “god’s gift”.
There are various methods of reaching Bursa from Istanbul. However, I preferred a private tour which was arranged by my tour agency. Although a bit costly it allowed me complete control over the day’s itinerary. It also allowed us to explore whatever we wanted at leisure. It was our luck that the driver was not well and the tour agency gave us a trained tour guide, Mr. Yilmaz Ozluk, as a driver which really made the day tour to Bursa much more interesting. Yilmaz was right on time. We left our hotel at 8 a.m. It took almost 1 hour from Hotel to Pendik (Asian Side of Istanbul). Our hotel was in the European Side of Istanbul as all the important Istanbul landmarks are there.
Once in Yalova, it took another 10 minutes to take the car out of ferry. In Yalova, we stopped at a famous shop called Safranbolu Lokumcusu. It was a nice break and we bought some Turkish Delight, had some Turkish Apple Tea and moved on.
From Yalova it was another one hour drive to Mount Uludag in Bursa. Mount Uludag means Great Mountain. It is covered with lush green trees and has sky resort at the top. People come here for winter sport such as skiing. There is a national part also in Mount Uludag. The top of the Uludag can be reached both by car as well as Cable Car which is called Teleferik. There are two stations of the Teleferik. We decided to go to the second station with a small break at the first station. It starts at Yildirim in Bursa and goes upto Oteller as end station. Sky resort and hotels are present at Oteller. The ticket cost was 93 Turkish Lira per person for up to second station. The queue for both the ticket as well as for the cable car were quite long but because we were with a certified guide (Mr. Yilmaz), we were able to jump both the queues thus saving precious time. The total length of the cable car is 8.8 km which makes it the longest in Turkey and among the longest in the World. It was a different experience as compared to Cable Cars at Gulmarg (India) and Langkawi (Malaysia). Each has its own challenge and joy. The view of Bursa city from the Teleferik was fantastic and we could see people having picnic at higher reaches of the mountain with their families.
A short video of Teleferik ride can be seen here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQfsW558u2o
After enjoying our Teleferik ride we straight away went to Yesil Camii or Green Mosque. It is also known as the Mosque of Mehmed I. The name Green comes from the green tiles which are part of interior decoration. The Mosque is actually part of a large kulliye (complex) which consists of turbe (mausoleum), Madrasah, Bath and Kitchen. It was commissioned by Sultan Mehmed I and his turbe is part of the complex just opposite the Mosque. Yesil Camii is a fine example of early Ottoman architecture. Today it is one of the most important tourist destination not only in Bursa but in the whole of Turkey. It is also UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The entrance of the Mosque is a very fine example of Muqarna or honeycomb vaulting which is an important feature in Islamic architecture. Immediately after entrance and is the Office of the Mosque and the prayer hall is divided into two parts. One is lower part and other is upper part. One of the highlight of the lower part of the hall is the very beautifully carved Marble fountain in an octagonal pool. Today it is used as a Sebil. I also drank water from the Sebil. After climbing a few steps is the upper part. The mihrab is in the upper part of the hall. The whole hall is decorated with Arabic calligraphy depicting verses from the Qur’an. The mihrab itself is a fine example of architecture. The mihrab was constructed by experts which were called from Tabriz in Iran as clear from the inscription in Persian just above the mihrab. It reads “amal-i-ustadan-i-Tabriz” meaning the “work of the masters of Tabriz”.
However there are two incidents that are the highlight of my Green Mosque visit. First is the honour of being invited to the Office of the Mosque and given a demonstration of Azaan. Mr. Recep Uyar is the Muezzin (the person who calls for prayer) of Yesil Camii since 2002. It was the effort of our tour guide Mr. Yilmaz who introduced me to Mr. Recep Uyar. Mr. Recep was kind enough to invite me and my family to the Office of the Mosque and give a demonstration of five different styles of Azaan. He called it Makaams and told us that this is how Azaan was given in Ottoman times. He recited for us the first line of Azaan i.e. Allahu Akbar in five different styles for each of the five daily obligatory prayers. As told by Mr. Recep, the styles for various prayers are as follows:
Fajr – Suboh or Sabahi
Zuhr – Ijaaz or Ejaaz
Asr – Raast
Maghrib – Qaseer
Isha – Ushaqi
Listening to him explain with passion and reciting the Azaan with so much love really made my day. It was one of the highlight of my Bursa tours. A short video of Mr. Recep Uyar giving Azaan in five different styles can be seen here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xY7czSeQ_Z4
The second highlight of my Bursa tour was my meeting with the keeper of the washroom at the Yesil Camii Mosque. Since it was time for Zuhr (second obligatory prayer of the day prayed at noon time), we all decided to combine Zuhr and Asr (third obligatory prayer fo the day prayed at afternoon) and pray at Yesil Camii itself before moving to our next stop in the city. I made wudhu (ablution) outside the Mosque. However my wife and daughter went to the washroom to make wudhu. Washrooms in Turkey are mostly paid. The same was true for the washroom outside the Mosque. I paid the required amount to the person sitting outside the washroom and my family went inside to make wudhu. In the meantime I realized that the person collecting money outside the washroom knew English (he was reading a book in English at that time). I struck conversation with him. The moment he knew that I am from India he asked me whether I know Safiur Rahman Mubarakpuri or not. Safiur Rahman Mubarakpuri has written a Sirah (Biography) of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him) by the name of Al-Rahiq-Al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar). Fortunately I had read the book so I replied in affirmative. Safiur Rahma Mubarakpuri was from Azamgarh district in Uttar Pradesh. His next question was how far is Azamgarh from Delhi. When I told him that I am also from Azamgarh, he became very happy and started talking about other books which he was reading at that time. During the course of our conversation I was surprised to know that he not only knew English besides Turkish but he was quite fluent in Arabic as well. More surprising was that he had a large personal library. Since we had to go back to Istanbul same day and there were other places to visit in Bursa, I took his leave. Unfortunately I have forgotten his name but this fruitful meeting made me realize that we should never judge anybody by his appearance or work. Here was a man watching over a washroom in a Mosque but was not only well read but was investing his hard earned money in buying books on various subjects and had already created a decent library. I wish I remembered his name. I wish if only we had more people like him in our community. Whenever I think about him I feel really happy.
By this time we were really hungry as we had taken our breakfast quite early in Istanbul. It was decided to go to a popular restaurant. We ordered vegetable pizza and Iskender Kebap (that’s how Kabab or Kebab is pronounced and written in Turkey). Iskender Kebap is one of the well-known dishes of Bursa and takes its name from its inventor Iskender Effendi. It is layer of various ingredients. The base is pita bread. On the top of pita bread is thinly cut grilled lamb meet. It is further layered with tomato sauce and fresh yogurt. At the top is the piping hot melted sheep butter. The melted butter is poured over the dish at the table. It just melts in the mouth. Yeah I should not forget to mention that the vegetable pizza was one of the best that I have eaten anywhere so far. We ended our lunch with nice Turkish Tea.
After lunch we straight away proceeded to our last stop in Bursa i.e. Koza Han. It is situated in the Osmangazi area of Bursa between Bursa Grand Mosque and Orhan Mosque. Koza Han is century’s old silk market built in 1491. In recent times it was in news because of Queen Elizabeth II with Prince Philip visited the Koza Han in 2008. The Ottoman architecture of the market is spectacular. In old days it was market for Silk pods. Today it is one of the well-known Silk markets in Turkey. Bursa Silk is known all over Turkey for its high quality and finesse. Koza Han is a two storey market with a rectangular courtyard. There are 95 shops, all dealing with silk products. At the center of the courtyard is a beautiful fountain with water tank. There are steps which lead to a very small Mosque above the fountain. The Mosque-cum-fountain is surrounded by small restaurant famous for Turkish Tea in the charming cobbled stoned courtyard. Like any traditional market there is fair amount bargaining involved while buying silk at the market. After visiting several shops and lots of bargaining and some purchase was the time to return back to Istanbul.
The return journey was full of fun as our guide Mr. Yilmaz started telling stories of Mulla Nasruddin to my daughter. Stories of Mulla Nasruddin are quite popular in India and we all have heard his stories in our childhood. I always thought that Mulla Nasruddin is a fictional character but I was wrong. He was born in 1208 in Anatolia, Turkey. After finishing education he became Qazi (Judge) and held the post off and on till his death. He is very popular in Turkey and known as Nasreddin Hoca (pronounced as Hodja). Hoca means teacher/master in Turkish. Over the centuries his witty tales full of satire have traveled far and wide and today he is known not only in Turkey but all over the world. All his tails look like harmless fun with wit and humor but his parables always hold some underlying lesson of abiding wisdom. It is true that all the tales attributed to Mulla Nasruddin have not originated from him but are collective wisdom and humor of not only Turkey but so many countries from around the world. So much so that year 1996 was celebrated as the Nasredin Hoca Year by UNESCO. Mr. Yilmaz is a master story teller and we enjoyed his tales of Hoca Nasreddin and we did not realize when we reached our hotel in Istanbul. Thus ended one more well spent day in our lives.
Note: My tour agency for the Turkey tour was True Blue Tour, Istanbul. They arranged the car and the driver. Their website can be visited at http://www.truebluetour.com
For more information see the following:
Daily Sabah (26 April 2019) Turkish muezzin’s adhan recitation dazzles tourists. Available at: https://www.dailysabah.com/turkey/2019/04/26/turkish-muezzins-adhan-recitation-dazzles-tourists. Accessed on 12 March 2020
Wilco van Herpen (25 April 2012) Bursa’s Koza Han: A center for silk trade. Hurriyet Daily News. Available at: https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/bursas-koza-han-a-center-for-silk-trade-19158. Accessed on 18 March 2020.
Scott Sherman & Bharati Sadasivam (22 Apr 2017) Bursa: Old is gold. Available at: https://www.livemint.com/Leisure/WnxxvqHjoVAuDTIhENhvWK/Bursa-Old-is-gold.html. Accessed on 21 March 2020.
Ugur, Ulu (17 September 2017) Turkey: Ottoman-ear silk bazaar draws visitors. Available at: https://www.livemint.com/Leisure/WnxxvqHjoVAuDTIhENhvWK/Bursa-Old-is-gold.html. Accessed on 19 March 2020.