In 2014, Bursa and Cumalikizik were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Bursa is the fourth largest city in Turkey and has for centuries been a center of trade. It was well-established on ancient trade routes trading, especially known as a center for Chinese silk; eventually some wily tradesmen conspired to acquire some silk worms, creating their own silk industry. Silk scarves are still some of the best buys you can find in Bursa.
Cumalikizik is about a half-hour drive from Bursa. It was inscribed as a typical Turkish village which contributed to the wealth of the bigger city. Today it is mostly popular with Turkish movie producers as it is quaint and colorful with village ladies selling homemade foods, embroidery, and knitted items either in the town center or from their household doorways as you meander through the town.
As a pre-teen, I used to go to Bursa a couple of times a year because we only lived two hours away. It was a dusty town, but one with interesting sights and really delicious food. Bursa is famous for being the first to offer Iskender Kebab, and as you walk the streets, your mouth can’t help but water as you pass by the huge slabs of meat on their vertical rotisseries.
As you enter or exit the city, the first thing you notice is the statue of Osman I, the creator and first ruler of the Ottoman Empire. In 1296, he established his reign in Bursa where his father had settled after fleeing the Mongol armies. Osman, whose prophetic name means “bone breaker”, had a dream of a tree covering the world and felt that this omen gave him the right and power to rule and conquer. The Ottoman Empire lasted over six centuries; only collapsing when Mustafa Kemal Ataturk proclaimed Turkey a republic in 1923 overthrowing the stagnant Ottomans.
As you wander Bursa, you will come across many markets or bazaars which highlight the economic importance of the city. Probably the most poplular is the Kapalıçarşı, or Covered Bazaar, which is located next to the most important building in Bursa, the Ulu Cami. The covered bazaar is smaller and quieter than the one found in Istanbul. No one tries to lure you into their shop, but once you do enter an offer of çay and a good sales pitch will ensue. The most popular souvenirs are silken scarves.
Silk was the original reason that Bursa became such an economic power since it was so well situated on the caravan routes. At the Koza Han, which means Silk Caravanserai, you will find the original silk market, but today it’s mainly a place to sit in the courtyard and have a great glass of çay. The Koza Han also has a few shops around the walls, all of which will happily sell you a scarf or two. The Kapalıçarşı remains the most convenient, but not as cozy or sentimental as the Koza Han. It’s a great place to while away a few hours chatting with friends, old and new.
The Ulu Cami is a building you will not want to miss. Built during the early Ottoman period, it is famous throughout Turkey because of its Koranic calligraphy that adorns the walls. Guided tours are available, but you can also walk around inside and out on your own. It is open to the public anytime that prayers are not in session, and you will always know when it is prayer time, because the “call to prayer” is broadcast from the minarets five times a day. Women should wear a shawl and cover their shoulders, elbows, and knees when entering a mosque.
On the outskirts of the city center is the Karagöz Puppet Museum. Another facet of Ottoman culture was shadow puppet shows primarily starring two main characters, Karagöz, a member of the general public, and Hacivat who is a member of the educated class. Comedy ensues when Hacivat tries to school Karagöz. The puppets are hand-painted works of art made out of vellum. In honor of these shadow plays, Bursa holds a Karagöz festival each year in November.
When you have a couple of free hours, take the local bus to Cumalikizik. Plan a couple of hours to walk around the town, buy some fresh bread or baklava from the local ladies, and make sure to eat lunch. One thing they serve is a clay-baked trout which is delicious. Other than walking, photographing, and bargaining with the ladies there is not much else to do, but it is well worth the trip.
Getting there: Bursa is easily accessible from anywhere by bus. The Otogar is huge and the bus rides are very inexpensive and comfortable.
What to eat: Iskender Kebab
Where to stay: Bursa is known for its therapeutic waters and many hotels have spas or Turkish hamams built in. These are the best places to stay, and when you book also plan your hamam visit with or without a massage.
Have you been to Turkey? Are you interested in the Ottoman Empire? Bursa really is a hidden gem!
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