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An Excursion to Bursa

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More from Our Trip to Bursa
The Green Mosque and Tomb | Gazi Plaza and the Market | Karagöz Puppets | Muradiye and Around

Bursa is Turkey’s fourth-largest city, and was capital of the Ottoman Empire a hundred years before Constantinople had even been conquered. It makes for a great excursion from Istanbul, almost directly across the Sea of Marmara.

Bursa Ferry Istanbul

“Excursion”, I say. “Day Trip”. We planned for about a day and a half in Bursa. This is a city of 1.7 million people. That’s more than the entire state of Idaho, to which we devoted a full 91 days! It was ridiculous to think that we could comfortably see this huge city in such a short amount time, but we put in a good effort. Luckily, most of Bursa’s sights are clustered closely together and, by the end of our trip, we had accomplished more than expected.

Bursa had long been a Byzantine backwater, and only rose to prominence in 1326 after the arrival of the Ottoman Turks. With its strategic (and beautiful) location along Mount Uludağ and within range of the Marmara, Bursa was made capital and grew steadily over the centuries. It was at the western end of the Silk Route, and has long been a major center of trade. Today it’s a sprawling metropolis, and home to Turkey’s auto industry.

It took us about three hours to reach Bursa from Istanbul. We hopped on a speed ferry leaving from Kabataş (2 hrs), and then had to employ both bus (40 mins) and metro (20 mins) to reach the city center. This was the first Turkish city we’ve visited, apart from Istanbul, and we noticed immediately how different it is. Very few tourists. Cheaper. Less English spoken among locals who are far less willing to have their pictures taken. More religious, and with far fewer places to grab a beer.

As you’ll see in our pictures, the weather was not our ally during our short time in Bursa. It was consistently overcast, and the city’s famous mountain views almost completely obscured. But that didn’t detract too much from the experience. Bursa was a lot of fun, and there are plenty of reasons to make the journey to Istanbul’s little sister across the sea.

Location on our Map

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June 16, 2013 at 2:23 pm Comments (0)

The Rüstem Paşa Camii

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Built on a steep hill in the middle of a busy market area, the Rüstem Paşa mosque is yet another masterpiece from the ubiquitous master architect Mimar Sinan. If you weren’t carefully looking for the entrance, you would almost certainly miss it: just a narrow set of nondescript stairs leading up from the street. So ascending these steps and emerging into the mosque’s spacious courtyard is quite a surprise.

Istanbul-Mosques

The surprises continue as you enter the mosque. The Rüstem Paşa is famed for its magnificent use of Iznik tiles, which cover every conceivable inch of the interior. Considering their age (the mosque was completed in 1563), the tiles are unbelievably colorful and the generous number of windows shows them in the best possible light. We loved this mosque — not only was it the most beautiful we had yet seen, but it’s also among the most welcoming to visitors. They even pass out free copies of the Koran… in English! I’ll probably never get around to reading it, but you never know when a Koran is going to come in handy.

On an unfortunate side note, we saw some abhorrent tourist behavior here. I can’t fathom what gets into people’s heads, but mosques are active places of worship which graciously welcome visitors. But an outrageous number of tourists in the Rüstem Paşa were gleefully breaking every rule: stepping over the ropes signed with “Please Stay Behind”, shouting to each other, wearing horribly inappropriate clothing, and groping everything they could get their hands on. And when I saw a couple sneak past the protective curtain up onto the pulpit, I came perilously close to scolding complete strangers. Tourists behaving badly damage the reputation of us all.

Location of the Rüstem Paşa Camii

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April 6, 2013 at 5:58 pm Comments (15)

Sunday Morning in Kumkapı

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The neighborhood south of the Grand Bazaar, bordering the Sea of Marmara, goes by the entertaining name of Kumkapı. Although it doesn’t lay claim to any major sights or fabulous mosques, we enjoyed the quiet Sunday morning we spent here. And now, we can finally strike “Attend an Armenian Apostolic Mass” from our bucket lists. Another childhood dream accomplished!

Aile-Shopping-istanbul

Despite the rocky historical relationship between Turkey and its landlocked neighbor to the east, Istanbul has always been home to a sizable population of Armenians; today the number is around 60,000, and many of them live in Kumkapı. Armenians are a strongly Christian people, and part of the reason we chose a Sunday morning to explore the neighborhood was to sit in on mass at the church of Surp Asdvadzadzin.

Armenia is one of the world’s oldest Christian nations; the first country in the world, in fact, to have made Christianity its official state religion. Despite the moderate number of worshipers at the large church, originally built in 1641, we enjoyed the atmosphere: the heavy use of incense, the small choir in front of the altar, and the priest almost yelling at his congregation in a language that sounds a bit like Greek.

After sneaking out of the church, we wandered through a maze of streets packed with fish restaurants. This is one of the most popular evening hangout zones for Istanbullus, who spend their nights eating fish, drinking rakı, listening to music, and having impromptu dance parties around their tables. We swore to return on a Saturday night, because if the mess on Sunday morning is any indication, it must be a good time.

We found a couple other churches in Kumkapı, including the massive Greek Orthodox church of Panaya Elpeda. Built in the 15th century, this looked incredible, but was unfortunately closed to visitors. There was a woman at the gate, but she wasn’t about to consider letting us in. We had to lay on the sweet talk pretty thick, before she would even allow us to snap a quick photo.

Location of the Surp Asdvadzadzin

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April 4, 2013 at 3:16 pm Comments (5)
An Excursion to Bursa Bursa is Turkey's fourth-largest city, and was capital of the Ottoman Empire a hundred years before Constantinople had even been conquered. It makes for a great excursion from Istanbul, almost directly across the Sea of Marmara.
For 91 Days