A TIMELESS CITY: 

BURSA

Article for Anadolu Jet Airlines Magazine (Turkish Airlines), Feb 2020.

In the narratives of travelers, “Bursa the Abundant,” an inspiration for poets, was referenced in relation to the plenitude of its water. With its old houses where many stories unfold, inns where tales of caravans passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth seem to echo still, the lively crowdedness of its bazaar, and its lush, green nature, Bursa resembles a historic painting that caters to all sorts of tastes – a city for all seasons.

I’m in the city where a sky of a different color is above me at every visit, the city which preserves its unique soul, invoking in me a feeling of passing through a time tunnel. Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar describes Bursa as follows: “Besides the timeline in which we laugh and have fun, there is that other one which is not bound by either date or the hour, one massive timeline that runs deeper, seemingly winded up into the atmosphere of this city by history.” I feel the same to the hilt. The first capital of the Ottomans, Bursa’s marble fountains adorned with stone carving, the mosques in whose courtyards silver-winged birds fly, and its inns, once the stopovers of the Silk Road caravans, make me forget the concept of time. The historical depth of this city, which has hosted civilizations for thousands of years, permeates my soul from the moment I start exploring it.

I start with the Bursa Castle built by the Bithynians in the 1st century BC, whose walls are still standing. The castle, which has witnessed the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman periods, and its surrounds seem to whisper softly in my ear the past of the city. Exploring the area around the castle, referred to by the inhabitants of Bursa as “Citadel,” where historical houses are lined side by side, and the Ottoman streets where the neighborhood culture is preserved, I head over to Ortapazar Street. My few-hours long excursion on foot here is enough to imagine Bursa’s past with its bakeries, grocers, and coffee houses.

I arrive at Kapalıçarşı (Old Aynalı Bazaar) where I find a whole new façade of the city in the shop windows that have assumed an array of colors, in the souvenir shops that have red signboards in their entrances, and on the walls adorned with depictions of Karagöz & Hacivat. Built in 1339, since the day it was transformed into a bazaar, this building, which holds the first bazaar bathhouse, greets its visitors with its smiling traders and the clink of teaspoons that intermingle with the sweet small talk at the stores’ entrances. Located right beside the bazaar, Koza Han (Cocoon Inn) dates back to the 15th century and was the hub of silk traders. I explore the shops where silk shawls are sold and take a coffee break in its courtyard. You truly can’t get enough of looking at the trees which surround the fountain in the middle of the courtyard and assume a different color in every season.

When I think about Ulu Mosque built during the rule of Bayezid I, the construction of which took four years (1396-1400), I recall the “Hagia Sophia of Bursa” analogy made by the famous traveler Evliya Çelebi. It is impossible not to admire the glass dome in the middle of the mosque and the fountain right below it. Renewed as per its original, the glazed tiled fountain in the garden of the mosque is one of the works that best proves Çelebi’s words, “Bursa, in short, consists of nothing but water.”

I go up to Atatürk Street, following the scents that truly suit winter and find myself in front of a roasted chestnut seller. Standing right before the grill, the smoke of which intermingles with the cutting cold of the weather, I impatiently wait like a child to have the chestnuts filled into a small, brown paper bag. Then, the time comes to visit the historical buildings that had been harped on about by my dear uncle who served in Bursa as a teacher. The first is the municipality building which was built in 1879. The building draws attention with its front façade built of a wooden frame filled with adobe bricks, and resembles Ottoman mansions in terms of architecture. Turning my back to the crowds of the city, for a few minutes, I silently peruse this building which is a typical example of Bursa houses. Right across the street, the Neoclassical bank building with its stone façades and elegant bracket lamps dating back to the 1950s suppresses the impenitent feeling of nostalgia that arises in me.

I head towards kebab restaurant İskender Oğlu Cevat that has been engraved in memories for years for its ‘iskender kebab’ served with plenty of butter and tomato sauce. It is in a corner, decorated in blue-white colors since 1867. This kebab is served with hot butter since the 19th century and is one of the tastes that is unique to Bursa which has made it to this day. Every time I visit Bursa, at once I want to visit this historical building that usually has queues before it, and finding a corner to sit, I start dreaming of the iskender kebab with its appetizing aromas that will arrive soon. And whilst eating my meal with real pleasure, I look at the old black and white photos on the walls of the elderly family members, of old Bursa and its inhabitants who trotted the streets on their horses as if I’m seeing them for the first time.

Visiting Bursa’s Green Mosque, which was built upon the orders of Çelebi Sultan Mehmed I by Hacı İvaz Pasha in the 15th century, my soul is satiated. One of the best examples of Turkish stone engraving, this is a work of art that invokes an endless sense of peace with the depth of details of its “mihrab” (altar). The stone and marble workmanship on the arch of its gate come to life in full harmony, one that is enshrined in the heart with its blue and green tiles. Reminded of miniaturist (“nakkaş”) Ali who made the decorations of the mosque, I can’t but also recall Osman Hamdi Bey, the painter and archaeologist I admire a lot. I bring before my mind’s eye his painting “The Tortoise Trainer” in all its details, depicted in the halls of the upper floor of the Green Mosque with a “ney” (reed flute) in his hand, and a kettledrum on his back standing before the tortoises.

Before leaving Bursa, I drop by the Karagöz Museum and want to call it a day amidst the dry humor and thought-provoking depictions of Karagöz & Hacivat. Identified with this city, Karagöz shadow theater is kept alive in this museum. The museum draws attention with its gallery and puppet workshop, and hosts the International Bursa Karagöz, Puppet and Shadow Theater Festival biennially. I stride through the streets of Bursa one last time and stop beside a fountain whose waters flow with a pleasant sound. It seems as if time halts when I stop. Then and there, I remember these lines from Tanpınar’s poem “Time in Bursa”: “Cypresses and roses in the silver light / With the cool reverie of the fountains. / It feels as though I’m right at the beginning of a miracle, / Time is a crystal chandelier in Bursa / Of water’s ripple and wings’ flap.”

 

© 2023 by Deniz Yılmaz Akman

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