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John Carswell on the city that married the courtly arts of Asia to the princely aspirations of Renaissance Europe. Photographs by Jürgen Frank
Bursa owes its wealth to commerce, being at the western extremity of caravan routes stretching all the way to Central Asia and China. In the other direction, it was the outlet for goods whose destination was Europe, and had particularly strong links with Italy. As a manufacturing centre it was famous for its silks and velvets, supplying not only the Ottoman court, but also vestments and altar cloths for ecclesiastical patrons which are now in treasures as far afield as Russia and Mount Athos.
Initially, Bursa’s prosperity derived from the sale and export of raw silk, and it did not come into its own as a producer of silken cloth until the late 15th century, by which time over 1,000 looms were recorded. The cultivation of the silkworm came even later, and the first mulberry plantations for the leaves to feed them in the late 16th century. The earlier dependency on raw silk from Iran was a cause for concern, pitting the Ottomans against the safavids in the effort to secure this commodity.
On a swift visit this spring, it was Tulip time when we left Istanbul. Leaving the army of scarlet tulips behind, we drove over the bridge to Asia and swung south to the ferry terminal at Eskihisar to cross the Sea of Marmara. On the road again and over the mountains, we passed a roadside stand selling model storks, then took a detour left to Iznik, through flowering orchards of apples and cherries, and vines pruned a metre high…
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
Heath W Lowry, in the first of a series of articles this issue, pays tribute to the city that gave the Ottoman state its first capital.
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
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.
Christian Tyler, author of Wild West China, The Taming of Xinjiang, assesses Ergun Çağatay’s extraordinary volume of photographs of the wider Turkic world
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