Green Bursa: God’s Gift and Sultans Legacy
After a recent and very budget-friendly trip to Türkiye in November 2021, I returned soon after, in January 2022. This time, I would explore green Bursa, an hours ride from Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport – my to-go airport with sometimes very cheap flights.
The plan was a totally different one: I had booked a very cheap flight to Tel Aviv some months back, but the uncertainties about vaccination passes, the sky-high infection numbers in Israel and the somewhat draconic isolation regime for those poor infected tourists, paired with the extreme prices of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem hotels let me reconsider. Along with that came the somewhat shaky security situation in the West Bank, where I planned to travel.
And let’s say, I was very biased following my recent Türkiye trip. I had just loved it! So, another cheap flight was found, and did I feel some kind of groundhog-like experience when I pitched up at Berlin Airport, about three hours early, to hear over the tannoy that my flight would be two hours delayed, due to “weather in Istanbul”. Thankfully, this time, I did not have a connection flight to catch, so I just emailed my hotel and hoped for the best.
So, my choice fell on Bursa, the fourth-largest city of Turkiye, and somewhat under the international tourist radar. It served as the capital of the Ottoman Empire for a short period in the 14th Century and was referred to as “Hüdavendigar”, meaning “God’s gift in Turkish, although its contemporary nickname is “Yesil Bursa”, meaning “Green Bursa” for its beautiful surroundings and plethora of parks and last not least its famous landmark, the Yesil Complex of Sultan Mehmet I.
And rightly, this time, the flight was really only two hours late. Time to hop out of the terminal, now a familiar place to me, purchase a ticket for the bus to Bursa, and go for tea and a bun at Simit Saray. As the coach left the airport, I marveled at how much snow there was. Turns out I narrowly escaped chaotic conditions on the road, and the only hazard when arriving in a nocturnal Bursa, the bus station with its juice stalls and tea houses still in full swing, was narrowly landing on my butt when I left the bus. I skidded to my hotel, still very much open and welcoming a bunch of stragglers to their warm and cosy old caravanserai, made tea and went to sleep.
Table of Contents
Muradiye II Complex
The next morning, I was greeted by a white city. The breakfast room had a wood stove burning, yet it was freezing cold. I was just glad I had not gone to Cappadocia! I gathered my stuff and noticed my passport wasn’t there. I asked the receptionist if perhaps we had left it in the photocopier, prompting him to go through 20 minutes of CCTV footage where it became very clear that I had put my passport in my pocket. I turned my room upside down, and then, lying on the floor in despair, spotted it… it had fallen behind a sideboard and was lurking in the dark, barely visible.
But now… after that shock, it was time to go. I though I go see the most “remote” place first, which would be the Muradiye Complex. Built by Ottoman Sultan Murad II from 1426 onwards, this is the most recent complex built in Bursa before the capital was transferred to Constantinople. I had wisely bought the little plastic card without which you’re not getting anywhere in Turkish cities, caught a bus, and got off in a snow-covered park. Peaceful and untouristy it certainly is, I thought, as some fluffy, well-fed cats ran towards me and accompanied me to the first building, the medresa.
The Medresa is the only building partially destroyed, and it has been quite sympathetically restored, with a lot of steel and glass, and now houses a museum.
The Mosque was the first building to be completed and suffered some earthquake damage, common in Turkey, and has a pleasing blue-and white interior reminiscent of rococo style. It was also super quiet and empty. And very cold! The cats scampered ahead through the snow as I went further into the small groomed park, in order to see the mausoleum of Murad II.
I was at first a little disappointed by the un-Ottoman simplicity of the tomb, and almost did not walk further through the snow to see the other mausoleums dotted throughout the gardens. Now, that would have been a huge mistake!
I do not recall the exact names of those buried there, but along with the family of the sultan, there were tombs of the Sultans midwife, court officials and some later generations such as Sehzade Mustafa, the latter distinctly different in style and clad with blue, white and red Iznik tiles, in fact, quite jolly for a mausoleum.
Being there alone, in this quiet gardens covered in snow, was a very special moment – I had the gardens nearly to myself, save for a few cleaners and security people.
Ulu Cami and the Bursa Bazaar
Somewhat cold and hungry, I took a bus back into the centre, snug in a long valley, and went looking for lunch. “I just get a bit of cash out” I thought, before my credit card got refused at the first ATM. I tried another one, it got refused. I tried the bank across the road, both credit cards got refused. I checked my wallet and patted the 200 Euro emergency cash. My Bursa hotel was paid for, just another three nights to pay. There would be just simple hotels, simple meals, and no shopping. Somewhat startled, I went into Ulu Cami to calm down and consider my options.
Ulu Cami would be the best place to feel calm and peaceful, religious or not. It is huge , airy and filled with Arabic calligraphy. I put on one of the modest coats in order to fully cover myself and sat in the mosque for ages, admiring the colours, the elegant swirls of calligraphy and listened to the babbling fountain inside the mosque. Ulu Cami is actually one of Bursa’s oldest buildings but like many historic structures, got repeatedly damaged in earthquakes and rebuilt. It is one of my favourite mosques.
As I continued further into the bazaar, a mixture of open air small shops and old covered bazaars, I thought even if I cannot get money out of the ATM, there is nothing that I really need to buy here. The atmosphere is lovely, but in terms of shopping, it is a mixture of everyday goods mixed with some lavish gold jewellery. Definitely nice for a wander, not an Aladdin’s cave for the tourist. If you wish to buy gold, I would definitely wait and visit Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar “Jewellery Street” or a couple reputable shops in the Spice Bazaar for a greater variety in styles. However, for more souvenir item, especially silk, check out the very appealing Koza Han. I also chanced upon a conglomeration of fabric shops with extremely cheap cottons and more “everyday” fabrics.
Eventually I got cash out and sat down for a lunch in a nice lokanta full of local dishes – they always have some vegetable dishes, and spoke English, so I got a very hearty vegetarian lunch.
Osman and Orhan Mausoleums
After lunch, now buoyed by my ability to obtain cash, after all, I walked up a very slippery hill to a nice viewpoint overlooking modern Bursa. The little Tophane Park, covered in snow, full of jolly people in couples and small groups, playing in the snow and taking selfies, pretty much took the shine off the two Neo-Baroque mausoleums carrying the sarcophagi of the founders of the Ottoman Empire, Osman Gazi Bey and his son Orhan Gazi Bey. Both died in the 14th CEntury, but the original tombs were destroyed in the 1855 Bursa earthquake and subsequently rebuilt.
Both statesmen are revered in modern-day Turkey. Architecturally, while the tombs are quite ornately decorated, I much preferred the Muradiye II Complex, but the park was really nice and offers doem good views and is a great lace to sit with a tea of coffee in summer.
Attend a Sufi Sema “Whirling Dervish” Ceremony
Some time in the late afternoon, full of good food and a bit lame in the feed, I briefly contemplated a hammam visit, but then decided to buy a few traditional desserts and took the tram back to my hotel for a little rest. After nightfall and a pide, I walked up to the Tasavvuf Cultural Center for a pretty authentic-looking sema – the Whirling Dervish Ceremony of the Islamic Sufi sect. I will report on this in more detail as it was a fascinating experience, but isn’t for you if you are after a straightforward tourist performance that starts on time. I personally loved the sema, but having never been to one before, I do not have the comparison. It was free to attend, and people were lovely. Note that there is strict segregations, males sitting on the ground floor and women on the balcony. Ther eis no strict rules about clothing but modest clothing is appropriate, headscarf optional.
Yeşil Külliye and Yesil Cami, the name patrons for Green Bursa
So I thought, I might leave the best till last. But fact is, from my accommodation in central Bursa, most sights and the very attractive Koza Han were off in one direction and the Yesil Cami Complex in the other, plus it was a fair hike, especially in snowy conditions. I noticed that I might be annoyed about the slowness of the winter services in Germany, but here in Bursa they were on another level slow, in that only the main roads got cleared off snow, the rest was left to be trampled down and eventually be turned into an ice rink.
I walked through a snowy empty Bursa – no one seemed to be out in the streets before 9am, passed the deserted Irgandi Bridge, then hopped in a bus to take me up the hill to the Yesil Cami Complex. This area was much more touristy than Muradiye II Complex, but not overcrowded, but a neat row of cafes and souvenir shops showed that this is Bursa’s prime tourist attraction.
Sultan Mehmed I, the fifth Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, had the Yesil Cami built and decorated with ornate green blue tiles, hence its name “Green Mosque” . It predates the Muradiye II Complex by a few decades, but there was certainly a lot of elaborate building going on in the first half of the 15th Century! Mehmed I only reigned seven years, whereas Murad II, who succeeded, reigned, with interruptions, for nearly three decades.
The small Yesil Türbe directly opposite is the last resting place of Mehmet I. Looking modest rom the outside, it has intricate tiled decoration in its interior. Like all royal tombs in Bursa, this one also serves as a place of worship.
Food and Shopping
As is the standard in Türkiye, Bursa was filled with small grill restaurants and tea houses – especially strong on the tea houses. I remember arriving late in the evening at the main bus station outside town and finding at least ten “cay evi” , literally “tea houses” by the platforms.
Food and Drink
Especially in the centre around the bazaar, there was no shortage of simple restaurants. If you love meat, then there is absolutely no shortage of places to eat, as Iskender Kebab, a grilled lamb dish smothered with tomato and cream, is a traditional Bursa dish many places specialize in. Kayhan Caddesi is a great place for meat and barbecue lovers. I had a very tasty lunch at Karis Lokantasi and snacked on cheese pastries and pide here and there, plus stopped in plenty tea houses, but I felt as a vegetarian, I somehow missed out – something I don’t normally experience in Türkiye.
I was fairly excited about this one as Bursa is an ancient silk centre- producing silk since the Roman Empire times and trading with Europe through the ports of Byzantium and Smyrna. One of Bursa’s surviving old trading inss, Koza Han, is actually the “Inn of the silk cocoons” where locally produced cocoons were sold since the 15th Century. It is remarkable well preserved and a major tourist attraction, full of small shops selling silk accessories, mostly scarves. This is really the place to come for silk scarves in all price ranges starting from a 5 Euro thin silk bandana to luxurious foulards and pashmina and silk shawls.
Where I stayed
BUrsa is the fourth largest city in Türkiye after istanbul, Izmir and Ankara and an important industrial centre so it has its fair share of modern upmarket hotels. But I am not a new corporate hotel person – so I give them a wide berth usually, and picked a small hotel in the centre, easy to walk everywhere.
I stayed at the Bursa Ipekyolu Hotel, an old converted Caravanserai. Having paid around 22 Euro per room per night for a really comfy nicely decorated room with a super comfortable bed and good heating, I ahve absolutely no complaints, other than the breakfast room being a little cold. I don’t get why it gets some unfavourable review.
In the same area, you can find the small four-star Kayhan City Hotel done out in typical modern Turkish glitz in tehe public area but clean modern style in its bedrooms. Another option, in similar style at a similar price level, is B-Loft on the main road. Expect to pay about 50 to 70 Euros for a double in one of these. I like the area as it is walking distance to pretty much any central Bursa sights, there are plenty restaurants nearby and bus stop and trams less than 3 minutes walk away, yet it is fairly quiet area with not too much traffic.
Another lovely option, halfway up the hill to Tophane PArk is the Kitap Evi the “House of Books” a small Boutique Hotel in an old mansion. Expect to pay 100-120 Euro per night and enjoy some lovely individually decorated suites.
How to get to Bursa
The transport infrastructure in the MArmara region is constantly changing with the Turkish rail system seeing massive upgrades in the area.
When I visited in 2022, I landed at Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen Airport which is ideal for moving on to Bursa. Just as you walk outside the Arrivals Terminal you see a small bus office for “BB Bus” aka “Bus Bursa” . Buses run every 30 minutes or so, just walk up and buy a ticket and you will be put on the next coach for a pleasant one-hour journey – or longer in heavy traffic that metropolitan Istanbul is notorious for.
You arrive at the out of town Bursa bus station. From here you can either take a taxi (they should use a meter) or follow the locals to the local bus stop, purchase a Bursakart at the vending machine and touch in and out of buses and trams – very convenient. The city shuttle loops around the city centre before returning back to the bus station. There is no train station, so buses and minibuses, who also depart from the Bus Station, are the best public transport.
Between Bursa and Istanbul, you now have many options. The classic route is a short minibus ride to Mudanya and a ferry to Istanbul from Mudanya. You can also go to Yalova instead for the ferry, which has an interesting little thermal resort and might be nice for a nights stopover. There are also direct buses to Istanbul Esenler Otogar (Metro is 500m away) or get a minibus to Gebze, use the new MArmaray Commuter trains rom there directly to Sirkeci Station, pretty much as central as you can get. Public transport in Turkey is super cheap, and usually there will be someone who speaks some English or is willing to help.
Inside the centre there are two very useful tram lines connecting the bazaar with the central low-lying suburbs in the east. To get to the thermal resort of Cekirge, you will need a bus or taxi. Bursa also has a Metro system Bursaray, but this is of little touristic interest as it does not serve the touristic attractions.
What else is there to see and do in Bursa?
I think I managed to see and do a lot in two days in Bursa, and given the weather conditions (clear and beautiful but somewhat slippery), and my excitement about fabric shopping, something had to give. But here are some other great ways to get to know Bursa
Visit the thermal baths and hamams of Cekirge
A hoort bus ride from central BUrsa, you will find the Ottoman spa resort of Cekirge. It is basically a higher-lying suburb of Bursa, and pretty modern save for a few ancient traditional hamams. Now, there are plenty of thermal resorts in the area (Yalova is another) since there is a lot of geothermal activity in the Marmara region.
Visit Uludag Mountain
Again, this one is very easy to do. Go to Tophane PArk and look out for the minibuses showing “Uludag” which, for a fixed price, will take you to the base station for the Mount Uludag cable car. At over 2500metres high, it is often snow capped and a is a popular ski resort in winter
Here is a little map of all places I visited or recommend as well as familiar landmarks.
The Small Print
I visited Bursa in January 2022. I paid for the entire trip, there is no sponsorship. This post contains affiliate links to Booking.com, meaning if you use one of the links to book your accommodation, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Please note that although I am aware that the official name of Turkey is now Türkiye and, I try my best to accommodate this in future posts.
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