Some architectural delights in Bursa, Turkey

Bursa is an industrial center of about two million inhabitants, one of whom is a former student of mine who now works for a cookie and candy manufacturer. It is famed for its hot springs, glazed chestnuts, and karagöz shadow puppet theater. Mostly though, Bursa has many great works of early Ottoman architecture. Like other heritage sites across Turkey, these monuments are scrupulously well maintained and open to the public. What follows is a photo and map write-up based on a two-day visit in March 2010. By downloading this Google Earth (kmz) file, the reader will be able to view the sites discussed in this post from 200 km up.

Calligraphy panel developing an architectural motif in the Ulu Cami, Bursa. “Mash Allâh” is configured as a mosque. (ph. Eric Ross)

Bursa was the first capital of the Ottomans. Even after the capital was officially moved to Edirne, on the European side of the straits, the sultans continued to invest in the city… and to be buried there. Only when its attention turned to rebuilding Istanbul as the imperial capital did Bursa stop receiving the adornments of the Ottoman court. Since that time, Bursa has been rock by more than its fair share of destructive earthquakes. Consequently, its various 14th and 15th century monuments have been more or less extensively rebuilt and they exhibit some architectural styles and techniques of later eras. Nonetheless, Bursa remains the best open-air museum of Ottoman architecture before the empire.

At the time of its capture by the Ottomans in 1326, ancient “Prusa” was a small hillside fortress, the hisar, built on a spur on the lower slope of the Ulu Dağ. Upon capturing the city, Orhan Gazi (reigned 1326-1359) moved his court into its existing citadel and transformed its church into a mosque. He and his father Osman (reigned 1288-1326) were both buried next to the mosque. This first dynastic complex was destroyed by the 1855 earthquake. Only the two royal türbes (mausolea) were rebuilt. The rest of the site is now a public park and affords views over the city below.

Map of Bursa locating the mosque complexes discussed below.

The bazaar district

After moving to Bursa, Orhan Gazi began construction of a new city center outside the walls of the hisar, at the foot of its eastern gate. The new center consisted of his mosque complex—only the Orhan Camii survives—the Emir Hani (wholesaling center/hostels for merchants) and pazars (covered retail shopping streets).

Map of center of Bursa, showing mosques and commercial buildings.

View of the porch of the Orhan Camii (built 1339). An ancient çinar, still alive beneath its protective plaster cast, stands in front of it. (ph. Eric Ross)

Interior of the Ulu Cami (built 1400).  19th-century calligraphy panels hang from every wall and pillar. The art of “hurufiye” (esoteric and symbolic use of calligraphy) flourished in Ottoman lands in the second half of the 19th century. (ph. Jeremy Gunn)

One of two old çinars standing on a terrace in front of the Ulu Cami, Bursa. (ph. John Shoup)

The early sultans were successful in boosting Bursa’s commerce. Many hans were specialized in the wholesaling of silk, both in its raw form and as fine manufactures.

An ancient çinar, some life still in it, stands in front of a gate to a bazaar. The dead parts of the trunk, subject to cavities, have been sealed with cement. Metal braces help support the dead weight. (ph. Jeremy Gunn)

Beautifully restored, the Koza Han (built 1492) is a great place to buy silk garments and accessories, and to have a coffee. The octagonal mosque in the center is built above the şardivan (ablution fountain). (ph. Eric Ross)

Calligraphy panel in the Ulu Cami, Bursa (ph. Eric Ross)

The early Ottoman sultans also expanded the city by building mosque complexes (külliye) on spurs and hilltops both east and west of the hisar. Whereas the later imperial mosque complexes of Istanbul are enormous, their prototypes in Bursa are much smaller and are configured in a far less formal manner. I propose to visit them here in chronological order.

The Hüdavendigar complex

The westernmost külliye in Bursa is the Hüdavendigar complex, built by Murad I (reigned 1361-1389).

Plan of the Hüdavendigar complex, Bursa.

The complex is unique in that the mosque and the medrese (law school) consist of a single building, with the medrese arranged around the Mosque’s second floor rather than standing as a separate building. The medrese floor is not open to visitors.

Front façade of the Hüdavendigar Mosque (built 1385). The medrese gallery is above the porch. (ph. Eric Ross)

Next to the mosque-medrese are the imaret (kitchen-dinning hall), the hamam (bath house) and Murat’s türbe. The spur on which Murat I built his complex is very narrow. Major streets skirt it closely on three sides. Yet the yard in front of the mosque and türbe manages to retain peace and dignity despite the hubbub of traffic below.

The Yıldırım complex

The Yıldırım complex was built by “Yıldırım” (“Thunder & Lightning”) Beyazit I (reigned 1389-1402).

Plan of Yıldırım complex, Bursa (built 1399-1406)

The mosque is built on the crest of the spur. The medrese and Beyazit’s türbe share a terrace below it. The medrese now serves as a local health center. It has a very pretty garden court which is open to visitors.

View of the türbe and the medrese on the terrace below the mosque. (ph. Eric Ross)

Roofscape of the medrese. (ph. Eric Ross)

Courtyard of the medrese. (ph. Eric Ross)

A çinar and benches on the terrace of the mosque, above the türbe. (ph. John Shoup)

The Yıldırım complex originally stood in front of Beyazit’s palace, though he ruled mostly from Edirne. Only one gate to the palace compound, north of the Yıldırım complex, survives. The small hamam attached to the Yıldırım endowment lies on a side street just off the southern limit of the map (Sorry for this omission. I goofed while selecting the area of the satellite image to be digitized).

The Emir Sultan complex

Western approach to the Emir Sultan Mosque and cemetery complex. The cyprus trees compliment the minarets. (ph. Eric Ross)

The Emir Sultan complex was built by Şemseddin Mehmed Ali. He was an advisor to Yıldırım Beyazit and married one of his daughters, Hundi Hatun. Strictly speaking then, it is not a royal complex, yet Şemseddin Mehmed’s closeness to the sultan meant that his endowment was built on a grand scale. Subsequent Ottoman in-law grandees would do likewise in Istanbul.

Plan of the Emir Sultan complex, Bursa.

The Emir Sultan complex consists of a mosque and a medrese which share a single courtyard. These were completely rebuilt in the baroque style following the complex’s destruction in the 1766 earthquake.

The çinar next to the east minaret of the Emir Sultan Camii is surely a survivor of the 1766 earthquake. Which is more baroque? The mosque or the tree? (ph. John Shoup)

A large cemetery occupies the slopes of the spur below the medrese. The complex’s large hamam was built across the square from the mosque. Vehicular traffic has been routed under this square, a brilliant 20th century urban design device quite appropriate to this hilltop sit.

The Yeşil complex

Tile-work on the portal of the Yeşil türbe. (ph. John Shoup)

The Yeşil complex, Bursa’s most famous, was built by Mehmet I (reigned 1413-1421). The complex gets its name from the green tiles used to decorate the outer walls of the türbe as well as the interiors of both the türbe and the mosque. Turkey at this time did not yet produce fine architectural ceramics, so Mehmet I had the tiles imported from Tabriz, in Iran, along with the master masons necessary for their installation.

Plan of the Yeşil complex, Bursa (built 1419-1421)

In the Yeşil complex it is the green tile-clad türbe that dominates. It stands on an artificial mound above the plateau where the mosque and imaret (recently rehabilitated but not yet open) were built. Beyond these the terrain slopes steeply.

The Yeşil Türbe rises above the other buildings of the complex. (ph. Eric Ross)

Other components of the Yeşil complex include the hamam and the medrese. The medrese stands at a lower level than the mosque. It now houses the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art (there are some gorgeous manuscripts in its collection). As in Emir Sultan, traffic has been routed beneath and around the Yeşil complex.

Calligraphy engraved marble on the Yeşil Cami. (ph. Eric Ross)

Craftsmanship at the Yeşil complex is excellent throughout. The white marble outer surfacing of the mosque has sculpted calligraphy and green tile inlay, while the octagonal türbe reverses the scheme; there, white marble trims the window openings against the background of green tile walls.

Green ceramic trims white marble on the window panels of the Yeşil Cami. (ph. Eric Ross)

White marble window panels are set against the green tile surfacing of the türbe. The türbe’s exterior tiles are not original. They date from the restoration following the 1855 earthquake. (ph. Eric Ross)

The calligraphy-covered cenotaph of Mehmet I, inside his türbe, is a masterpiece of 14th-century “cuerda seca” ceramic work.  Like those on the walls and mihrab behind it, the tiles were imported from Tabriz. (ph. John Shoup)

Calligraphy panels in the Ulu Cami, Bursa. (ph. Eric Ross)

The Muradiye complex

The last and largest of Bursa’s royal complexes, the Muradiye, was built by Murad II (reigned 1421-1451).

Plan of the Muradiye complex, Bursa (built 1425-1451)

The Muradiye complex consists of a mosque (completed in 1426) and a medrese aligned on one side of a street. The medrese now houses a sanatorium and is not open to the public.

The Muradiye Camii is surrounded on three sides by the cemetery. (ph. Eric Ross)

Mausolea in the Muradiye cemetery. (ph. Eric Ross)

The cemetery behind the mosque and medrese contains some large türbes, including that of Murad II and that of his son Şehzade Mustafa (d. 1473) and grandson Cem (Cem died in exile in Naples in 1495 but his body was repatriated to Bursa for burial here). The cemetery is also home many mature çinar trees (see previous post for a discussion of these trees).

The trunk of a great çinar lies, protected, where it fell. Muradiye cemetery. (ph. John Shoup)

The Muradiye endowment includes a hamam and an imaret. The latter has been restored to its original function and serves culinary delights every evening.

Connected to the Muradiye complex, though not part of its endowment, is the Ahmet Paşa Medrese. Originally a müderris (professor of law), Ahmet Paşa (d. 1497) served Mehmet II first as kadiasker (chief justice of the army) and then as vizir (minister of state). His türbe stands next to his recently restored medrerse. The little complex now houses a museum of costumes and household items.

Adjacent to the Muradiye complex and Ahmet Paşa’s medrese is a 17th -century house  that has been turned into a museum (“müse” on the plan above). The multi-storey bourgeois house has a small garden and exhibits a kind of sober avant la lettre modernity I have always associated with traditional Japanese domestic architecture. Inside, you will find typical 17th-19th  century domestic furnishings.

Exterior of the Ottoman house museum, Bursa (ph. Eric Ross)

Garden façade of the Ottoman house museum, Bursa (ph. Eric Ross)

Once again, I wish to acknowledge, and to praise, the care that the Turkish authorities, national and municipal, take of heritage sites and the resources they allocate to their maintenance and management. In may 2012 I hope to return to Bursa with Professor John Shoup, who will be leading an AUI class on a field seminar to the imperial capitals of Turkey. More delights on the way! (Done! See this post about the imperial capitals of Turkey field seminar)

A covered bridge spans the stream that separates the Yeşil neighborhood (to the right) from the center of the city (left). (ph. Eric Ross)

Calligraphy panel based on the terminal letter “sîn” in the Ulu Cami, Bursa (ph. Eric Ross)

Recommended reading

The best guide to early Ottoman architecture is Gönül Öney’s Genése de l’art ottoman: l’héritage des émirs, part of a Spanish series on the Islamic architecture of the Mediterranean basin (Musée sans frontières: L’art islamique en Méditerranée) published in numerous languages. The French version I have is published by Edisud (2002). I don’t know who published the English version. While the photographs and architectural plans in this guide are very effective, the site plans and city plans are not. The plans posted above are intended to complement the book.

About ericrossacademic

Professor of Geography at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco
This entry was posted in architecture, cities, field trips, map work, trees and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Some architectural delights in Bursa, Turkey

  1. Santa says:

    Amazing blog, amazing article – excellent work ! I just found your blog through browsing Bursa on Google Earth. I mean what is the chance of that, finding small icon and your link, and now I find your blog extremely exciting. I am close to architecture through my own education as hydro engineer, but real reason is my fascination with Islamic civilization (though I am atheist of Christan-chatolic background and provenience) – science, culture and art, and its relation with a natural environment, water, desert.
    Thanks and cheers from Sarajevo, Bosnia

  2. Pingback: Some architectural delights in Bursa, Turkey | Eric Ross, academic « turkischland

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