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The Birthplace of Empire

Bursa: Home of the Sultans, part one

Heath W Lowry, in the first of a series of articles this issue, pays tribute to the city that gave the Ottoman Empire its first capital

  • Yıldırım Bayezid Camii

Along the skirts of the Bithynian Mount Olympus lies what remains of the first capital of the early Ottoman state. Once home to the most flourishing silk industry of the Middle East and fabled for its 300 minarets, it was a city dedicated in equal parts to commerce and religion. From the 14th until the early 20th century, its inhabitants never numbered more than 50,000. Today, it is a sprawling metropolis of over 1,500,000 which is home to Turkey’s automotive industry and still a major centre of textile production, although the famed Bursa towels have long sinced outpaced its silks. As for its minarets, which really only numbered 300 in the writings of travellers, they are still there, though one sometimes has trouble spotting them amid the apartment blocks and stores that mar what was once a vista of dozens of graceful spires rising above the maze of two-storey lath-and-plaster dwellings.

Equally famed was its natural hot springs, known in Turkish as kaplıca, which abound in the western suburb of Çekirge, and which by the end of the 18th century had been discovered by a handful of adventurous Europeans, who build a number of small spa hotels, immediately attracting parties of hardy visitors. The meant that Bursa soon became a popular weekend retreat for Europeans living in Istanbul, who sailed for eight to twelve hours to the port town of Mudanya on the Sea of Marmara and were then transported by horse-drawn wagons over the forested hills and through 15 kilometres of mulberry and fruit orchards to Bursa and its baths.

Heath Lowry is the author of The Nature of the Early Ottoman State (Suny) and Bursa in Travel Accounts (Indiana Univ)

To read the full article, purchase Issue 38

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Issue 38, 2007 The Big Bursa Issue
£15.00 / $19.38 / €17.80
Other Highlights from Cornucopia 38
  • Whistlestop Bursa: A day out on the tiles

    John Carswell on the city that married the courtly arts of Asia to the princely aspirations of Renaissance Europe. Photographs by Jürgen Frank

  • The Beauty of the Beast

    No day passes in Turkey when horses are not racing – and when it comes to prize money the country now leads the field. Donna Landry visits Karacabey, the national stud near Bursa, with the Ottoman historian Caroline Finkel and discovers an equestrian paradise

  • The Patriot

    As Bursa lay in ruins after the earthquake of 1855, the man the Sultan sent to rescue the city was Ahmed Vefik Pasha. A brilliant man of letters, champion of Ottoman causes and very undiplomatic diplomat, he was to leave an indelible mark on Turkish culture. David Barchard reinstates a wayward hero.

  • What is a Turk?

    Christian Tyler, author of Wild West China, The Taming of Xinjiang, assesses Ergun Çağatay’s extraordinary volume of photographs of the wider Turkic world

  • Feast Food

    The çörek is full of symbolism, and its association with religious festivals reflects earlier pagan customs. All sorts of buns, loaves and çörek are eaten at Sabantoy, the colourful June festival celebrated by the Altay, Çuvaş, Tatar and Başkurt peoples of Central Asia.
    More cookery features

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Buy the issue
Issue 38, 2007 The Big Bursa Issue
£15.00 / $19.38 / 641.18 TL
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