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Bursa established itself as an important center as far back as pre-Roman times, attracting emperors and rulers for its rich, fertile soil and healing thermal waters. The arrival of the Ottomans in 1326 ensured the city's prosperity as a cultural and economic center that now represents one of the richest legacies of early Ottoman art and architecture. As the first capital of the Ottoman Empire, Bursa became the beneficiary of the finest mosques, theological schools (medreses), humanitarian centers (imarets), and social services (hans, hamams, and public fountains). The density of arched portals, undulating domes, artfully tiled minarets, and magnificently carved minbars (pulpits) could easily provide the coursework for extensive study of the Ottomans, and without a doubt, fill multiple daylong walking tours.

Today Bursa is a thriving cosmopolitan center with roots in industry and agriculture, renowned for its fine silk and cotton textiles, and the center of Turkey's automobile industry. The nearby ski resorts at Mount Uludag provide city dwellers with an easy weekend getaway, while others just make a special trip here to stock up on cotton towels. Still, many flock here for the same reasons the Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans did: the indulgence afforded by the density of rich, hot mineral springs bubbling up all over the region.

If you plan on just a quick architectural and historical pilgrimage, you could reasonably make Bursa a day trip from Istanbul. An overnight excursion is more realistic if you want to make it a short spa getaway and leave time to wander through the exquisite hans (privately owned inns or marketplaces) of the early Ottoman era.

A Look at the Past -- It was common practice for a conquering king to attach his name to the cities that he founded, so the consensus is that King Prusia of Bithynia established a kingdom on the remains of a preexisting civilization here. Prusia (say it 10 times fast and it starts to sound like Bursa) of Olympus, distinguishing it from King Prusia's other conquests, was later leagued with Rome, a colonization that is attributed to the time of Eumenes II, leader of Pergamum. Bursa thrived, thanks to Rome's influence and the introduction of Christianity by the apostle Andrew. In the 6th century A.D., Emperor Justinian constructed baths and a lavish palace in the area, taking full advantage of the region's economic and thermal resources. From 1080 to 1326, Bursa bore the brunt of more than its fair share of invasions, with Selçuks, Turks, raiding Arabs, Byzantines, and Crusaders all trying to get a hold on this prosperous center. One of the Turkic tribes broke the chain when the Osmanli tribe of Turks, led by Osman and later his son Orhan, entered Bursa in 1326 after a 10-year-long siege. Orhan established Bursa as the first permanent Ottoman capital, building a mosque and medrese on the site of a Byzantine monastery in what is now the Hisar District. The city expanded and thrived under sultans Murat I, Yildirim Beyazit, Mehmet I, and Murad II. Bursa's importance began to wane when the Ottoman capital was transferred to Adrianople (present-day Edirne).