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Gazi Park and Bursa’s Covered Market

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More from Our Trip to Bursa
Introduction | The Green Mosque and Tomb | Karagöz Puppets | Muradiye and Around

Squeezed between two amazing mosques and the covered market, Gazi Park is the heart of Bursa, and was the logical place to begin our exploration of the city.

Bursa Silk Han

The Ottoman Empire is generally thought to have emerged in 1299, beginning with the ascension of Osman Gazi. Osman united a number of Turkish emirates and, just before his death in 1326, was able to capture Bursa (then the Byzantine city of Prousa). It was the first great military victory of the nascent empire, and far from the last.

Bursa enjoyed its golden years during the reign of Osman’s son, Orhan, who promoted it to capital of his young empire. So it was no surprise to find a mosque here named in his honor. The Orhan Gazi Camii was built in 1339, in the center of the city. Unfortunately, due to funerary proceedings, we weren’t able to spend more than a couple seconds inside, and instead walked a few meters over to another ancient mosque.

The Ulu Camii was built in 1399 by Orhan’s grandson Bayezid I, who went by the name of “Yıldırım” (“Thunderbolt“). He earned this nickname for his military acumen, which was especially evident during one of the greatest Ottoman victories of all time. In the 1396 Battle of Nicopolis, Bayezid’s men routed a combined force of Germans, French, Bulgarians, Italians, Romanians and Hungarians: basically the entire Christian army of Europe.

Before the battle, Beyazid had vowed to erect twenty mosques in Bursa should he emerge victorious. Perhaps he didn’t expect to win, because instead of the twenty promised mosques, he ended up building just one. But he gave it twenty domes, apparently hoping nobody would remember his exact wording… or at least dare to question him on it. The resulting Ulu Camii is one of the more architecturally interesting mosques we’ve seen. The twenty small domes are arranged in a 4×5 grid, lending the interior a sense of grandiosity.

Grand Bazaar Bursa

Just outside of the Ulu Camii is the entrance to the Koza Han, or “Cocoon Hall”. Bursa was once the final stop on the Silk Road from China and, throughout the centuries, the fine fabric has been the focus of this market. Hundreds of vendors in the beautiful old han concentrate on silk, with prices that are more than reasonable.

The Koza Han is connected to Bursa’s bewildering covered bazaar, which extends in all directions through halls, into courtyards, down underground, along tiny passages and onto upper floor terraces looking down on tea gardens. In terms of size and confusion, Bursa’s bazaar is nearly the equal of Istanbul’s. The main difference? Things are much cheaper. We picked up a coffee grinder for a third of the price we’d seen in the Grand Bazaar. In retrospect, we should have done all of our souvenir shopping during our stay in Bursa.

Locations on our Bursa Map: Orhan Gazi Camii | Ulu Camii | Koza Han

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June 17, 2013 at 7:20 am Comment (1)

Çengelköy and the Beylerbeyi Palace

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There’s no shortage of charming neighborhoods lining the shores of the Bosphorus, but lovely little Çengelköy is among the very best of them. We had breakfast here on a Sunday morning, before walking along the coast to the incredible Beylerbeyi Palace.

Beylerbeyi Palace

Çengelköy literally means “Hook Village”, and was so named because it occupies a section of shoreline that hooks around a bend in the Bosphorus. The layout provides a perfect view of the strait, south to the Bophorus Bridge and into the Sea of Marmara beyond it. On the Sunday we visited, there was a market selling custom-made clothing and jewelry, and a pleasant, unhurried atmosphere in the cafes and restaurants.

After eating, we made a leisurely stroll to Beylerbeyi: another neighborhood about fifteen minutes down the Bosphorus. (You might be noticing an overuse of terms like “leisurely”, “unhurried”, and “relaxed”. But this it’s simply the frame of mind which the area inspires! Everything about it is peaceful and calming. The sound of lapping water, the fishermen focused quietly on their lines, the shade-giving plane trees, the old men drinking tea and playing okey (a Rummikub-like game). It’s a welcome change of pace from the normal mayhem of the city.)

Beylerbeyi is almost as cute as Çengelköy, and known for its amazing palace. Built in 1832 as a summer residence for Sultan Abdulaziz II, the Beylerbeyi Palace sits almost directly underneath the Bosphorus Bridge. Having arrived a little late (our stroll was leisurely, after all), we were compelled to join a Turkish-language tour of the palace. The English tours were done for the day. So, I spent the tour inventing imaginary translations of what our guide might be saying. Such as:

“This vase alone is worth more than your puny lives put together! Bow before it, you filthy swine!”

“Look at this golden mirror. It once reflected the image of a Sultan, but now it shows only an unwashed peasant! That’s you I’m referring to, by the way.”

The palace, of course, was astounding. It was similar to the Dolmabahçe Palace, which we had visited just a few days before. But the fact that this was just meant to be a “summer residence” really hammered home how wealthy the sultans of the late Ottoman Empire truly were. In the reception hall, for example, there’s a fountain and pool — inside the palace! Visiting a place like this can really make a guy feel inferior.

Locations on our Istanbul Map: Çengelköy | Beylerbeyi Palace

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June 15, 2013 at 10:11 am Comments (0)

Lost in the Grand Bazaar

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With over three thousand stores and 61 streets, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is unlike any place I’ve ever been. It’s one of the world’s largest covered markets, and a visit is guaranteed to leave you exhilarated, frustrated and, above all, disoriented.

Main Entrance Grand Bazaar

In the Grand Bazaar, it’s not so much “whether” you become lost but “when”. The jam-packed streets curve confusingly and the shops all look the same. There’s no sky or sun to point the way, and the mad jumble of people, whether they’re shoving by or trying to win your business, will spin you around until you’ve lost your bearings. Enter a store, engage in a bit of haggling, spend too long admiring an oil lamp, and it’s already too late. Good luck trying to remember the direction you came from, or where you were going.

Immediately after the Conquest of Constantinople, the victorious Ottomans set about Turkifying their new capital. The Hippodrome was razed, churches became mosques, and the Grand Bazaar was established near the newly established university in Beyazit. Despite recurrent earthquakes and fires, the bazaar grew and thrived, and was soon famous across Europe as the Mecca of shopping.

Today, an estimated 400,000 people visit the market daily. Over 27,000 people are employed within its walls. The bazaar, in almost every meaningful sense of the word, is a city unto itself. There are restaurants, barbers, banks, a police station, even a mosque — everything a decent-sized town of nearly 30,000 might need to sustain itself.

Souvenir Shopping Grand Bazaar

We love the Grand Bazaar, and invent an excuse to dart inside anytime we find ourselves nearby. Of course, in the wrong mood, or on a Saturday when the number of visitors increases dramatically, it can be stressful. And though the great majority of vendors are respectful, a few are unbearably pushy. True bargains are very hard to find, if they exist at all; we found identical nargiles in nearby Tahtakale for less than half the price as in the Grand Bazaar. And if you’re not proficient in the art of haggling, you’ll leave with either empty hands or an empty wallet.

But somehow, none of that subtracts from the experience of visiting. You don’t have to buy anything to have fun, and we almost never entered the gates with the intention of shopping. We’d go to explore the hans, have lunch, watch gold-makers and silver-smiths ply their trades, and lose ourselves in the maze. Photo opportunities are everywhere, and many of the shopkeepers are happy to chat even if you’re clearly not planning on buying. We were once invited to try some çiğ köfte one guy’s wife had made for his lunch. And a carpet seller took us to the top floor of his shop for a view of the roof. Turkish people, in general, are friendly and welcoming to strangers, and this seems to be even more the case within the Grand Bazaar.

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June 9, 2013 at 8:37 am Comments (7)

Karaköy

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Found at the northern end of the Galata Bridge, the rough and tumble neighborhood of Karaköy is mainly visited for the purpose of transiting to other, more desirable areas. But with some nice spots to eat and a boisterous local atmosphere, there’s good reason to spend a little time here.

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Karaköy welcomes visitors who are (a) arriving by ferry, (b) tram, (c) exiting the Tünel funicular, and (d) walking over the Galata Bridge. So its normal state of being is commuter chaos, with plenty of street vendors and charlatans on hand to capitalize on the confused pedestrian traffic. We had been through Karaköy a hundred times, but never paid it much attention until one of spring’s first sunny days.

There aren’t many famous attractions in Karaköy, so we were forced to be a bit creative in our sight-seeing. To view a mosque, for example, we ventured below the surface. The Yeraltı Camii, or Underground Mosque, is thought to occupy the cellar of the long-gone Galata Castle. Packed with pillars, neon lights and tombs, this morbid little mosque is among the strangest places we encountered in Istanbul, and we weren’t sure whether to be impressed or creeped out.

Emerging from the underground, we were swept back into Karaköy’s frantic pace. The area east of the Galata Bridge is increasingly popular, and boasts a couple excellent places to indulge your sweet tooth. At Karaköy Özsüt, we were introduced to kaymak: a thick, almost butter-like cream covered in honey. (The waiter accidentally short-changed me, and was so horrified upon realizing his mistake, I thought he might start crying). And at Karaköy Güllüoğlu, one of the most popular pastanes in Istanbul, we gorged ourselves on various sorts of baklava.

Yes, that’s right. Two dessert shops in one afternoon. What, are you keeping track?

On the western side of the bridge, Karaköy becomes a totally different neighborhood. We walked through a lively fish market, and sat down in a large garden. A kid materialized at our side with a tray of tea, as though from a magical oil lamp. I have no idea where he came from or where he went to. He was just suddenly there with tea… and then gone. He appeared again when it came time to pay. With great views of the Galata Bridge and Eminönü across the Golden Horn, this is a popular hangout in the summer.

On the way back toward the Tünel entrance, we walked down streets populated by cats and hardware stores. It was all very picturesque and, by the end of the day, Karaköy had won our approval. Though it’s a difficult neighborhood to recommend for sight-seeing, it definitely has its charms.

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June 6, 2013 at 11:44 am Comments (3)

A Day in Zeyrek

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The lively neighborhood of Zeyrek, just north of the Aqueduct of Valens, was one of our favorite spots in Istanbul. It’s difficult to reach with public transportation, and lacks any well-known sights, so very few tourists bother to visit. Not that we mind; it just leaves more Zeyrek for us!

Hoca-G%c4%b1yasettin-Cami

Zeyrek is one of the four spots designated by UNESCO as “Historic Areas of Istanbul” (the others are Sultanahmet’s Archaeology Park, the Suleymaniye Complex and the Theodosian Walls). This ancient neighborhood still conserves some original wooden housing, and its mosque has a wonderful location overlooking the Golden Horn. Unfortunately, though, the Zeyrek Mosque has been added to another, less desirable UNESCO list: “Endangered Monuments”.

Which perhaps explains why it was closed for restoration during our visit. Originally built in the 12th century as the Church of Christ Pantokrator, this is the second-largest Byzantine-era religious complex in the city, after the Hagia Sophia. It was frustrating to be locked out, but that gave us more time to lounge on the terrace of Zeyrekhane: an upscale restaurant in the shadow of the mosque, which boasts a fantastic view over the neighborhood.

Me-And-My-Lamb-Leg

Walking from the mosque to the Roman aqueduct, you enter the heart of the neighborhood. Life in Zeyrek seems to be lived on the streets, with markets opened out onto the sidewalks and people going busily about their days. This is a boisterous place, and there’s no escaping the pull of local life. One minute we’re passing a meat shop, and the next thing I know, I’m on my knees with a baby lamb suckling my fingertip. Meanwhile, Jürgen is taking portraits of butchers, and then we’re both shaking their bloody, carcass-encrusted hands.

And now the peanut-seller wants to chat. Really, you lived in Germany? Auf wiedersehen! Çiğköfte sounds good for lunch. And then tea. Yes, Mr. Baklava Seller, of course we’ll sit down! Oh, look at this group of kids, who want to practice their English. “Huh-low! Bye-bye!” Now, more tea and a round of backgammon, and then… wait. Where have the last three hours gone?! And that’s how trips to Zeyrek tend to go.

Not quite in Zeyrek, but nearby, is the Yavuz Selim Mosque. This is one of the oldest imperial mosques in the city, commissioned by Suleyman the Magnificent in honor of his father Selim the Grim. The interior is simple but lovely, decorated with Iznik tiles and crowned with a shallow dome. But the Yavuz Selim’s main draw is outdoors. Like the Zeyrek Camii, this mosque offers an incredible view of the Golden Horn. A wooded courtyard faces out towards the river, complete with benches allowing people to relax and take in the panorama.

Locations on our Istanbul Map: Zeyrek Camii | Yavuz Selim Camii

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May 18, 2013 at 2:22 pm Comment (1)

The Çarşamba Market and the Fatih Camii

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Çarşamba is a neighborhood in Istanbul, and also the Turkish word for “Wednesday”. Now, what do you suspect might be the best day to visit Çarşamba? You get one guess!

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Held since Byzantine times, the Wednesday Market (Çarşamba Pazarı) was already woven so immutably into the neighborhood’s fabric, that the conquering Turks just named the entire area after it. Today, Çarşamba is a highly devout section of Istanbul. The market occupies the narrow streets surrounding the Fatih Mosque, and brings the locals out in droves, the great majority of them covered women going about their weekly shopping.

The market concentrates on cheap clothing, household wares and food; nothing of touristic interest, besides the sheer spectacle of so many people. Jostling through the jam-packed streets, and getting mercilessly shoulder-checked by the no-nonsense, and surprisingly solid, local ladies, Jürgen and I were equally exhilarated and exhausted by the market. It was with a sigh of relief that we finally emerged into the courtyard of the Fatih Mosque.

Fatih-Courtyard

This massive complex is one of the great mosques of Istanbul, built on the destroyed remains of the Church of the Holy Apostles. It was raised 30 years after the conquest of Istanbul on the orders of Mehmet the Conqueror, who was less than satisfied with the result. Angry that the mosque’s dome was smaller than that of the Hagia Sophia, he had the architect put to death. You don’t want to disappoint the Conqueror!

We think Mehmet over-reacted. His mosque is a marvel, with gorgeous interior calligraphy and design, and a pleasant courtyard. We sat down inside to listen to a little preaching, and take in the atmosphere. The mosque was surprisingly crowded. A few kids were laughing and chasing each other around the carpeted room, while their fathers looked on in annoyance. There was a lighter, more frivolous atmosphere in this mosque than others we’ve visited, probably thanks to the shopping-festival just outside.

Walking around the grounds of the mosque, we found the mausoleum of Mehmet the Conqueror himself, his turban atop an absurdly large coffin. Many people were seated inside, reading from the Koran, and praying for the former Sultan. We were tempted to sit down, ourselves, if just for the excuse to spend some extra time in this beautifully-tiled mausoleum.

Location of the Fatih Mosque on our Istanbul Map

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May 14, 2013 at 7:59 am Comments (9)
Gazi Park and Bursa's Covered Market Squeezed between two amazing mosques and the covered market, Gazi Park is the heart of Bursa, and was the logical place to begin our exploration of the city.
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