Cities of Islam

Cities of Islam: Bursa

Today, we will be your guides through the city of Bursa, a historical meeting point of various civilizations, the first capital of the Ottoman Empire, the starting point of Evliya Çelebi’s travels, a land of saints, a hub of silk, the Green Bursa. We wish you an enjoyable reading experience.

The Story Behind the Name of Bursa City

In ancient times, when a city was founded, it was often named after its founder. King I. Prusias of Bithynia constructed the city now known as the Hisar Region. This place was named Prusa in honor of the king. When the Ottomans conquered the city, its name changed from Brusa to Bursa. Another tale suggests that the name Bursa is a combination of the words Pura (Fortress) and İssa (City). After the passing of Sultan I. Murat, the city was also referred to as the Hüdavendigar Province.

The First Ottoman Capital

Orhangazi Turbesi Bursa

Having hosted the Bitinians, Romans, and Byzantines for many years, Bursa was conquered by Orhan Gazi in 1326. Orhan Gazi attached great significance to Bursa and, through the conquest, Turkified the region and settled Muslim communities there. Over time, Bursa became a densely populated settlement and, in 1335, it became the first capital of the Ottoman Empire. During his 35-year reign, Orhan Gazi encouraged urban growth by constructing buildings such as mosques, inns, and baths. As a result, he not only shaped and cultivated the history of this land but also accelerated its intellectual, architectural, and cultural development.

The Heart of Bursa: The Grand Mosque

Bursa Ulu Cami

After his victory at the Battle of Niğbolu, Yıldırım Bayezid promised to build 20 mosques. Upon returning triumphant, he decided, upon the advice of his son-in-law Emir Sultan Hazretleri, to construct this exquisite structure with 20 domes. Between 1396 and 1400, the Grand Mosque, whose architecture was designed by Ali Neccar, was built. The mosque’s first imam was Süleyman Çelebi, who also wrote the Mevlid-i Şerif (the epic poem on the birth of the Prophet Muhammad) here.

When the duty of delivering the first sermon was given to him, Emir Sultan Hazretleri indicated Somuncu Baba, a spiritual leader of the time, to recite the sermon. Following Emir Sultan’s request, Somuncu Baba delivered the inaugural sermon at the Grand Mosque and provided interpretations of the Fatiha Surah from seven different perspectives.

Bursa Ulu Cami Iceriden Gorunusu

Bursa’s Grand Mosque is the 5th in line after the Kaaba, the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Great Umayyad Mosque. With an inner area of 3,795 square meters, it stands as the largest among historical mosques. Its minbar (pulpit) showcases a representation of the solar system consisting of the Sun and nine planets on the eastern façade, while galaxies adorn the western façade.

The intricate depiction of the sky’s details on wood during a century when the roundness of the Earth was debated is truly awe-inspiring. With a total of 192 calligraphic artworks featuring verses, hadiths, and prayers displayed on large plates, the Grand Mosque encompasses both tranquility and magnificence. “Bursa is the heart of the earth,” as Âşık Çelebi said, and the Grand Mosque is indeed its spiritual core.

Bursa’s Spiritual Giant: Emir Sultan Hazretleri

Bursa Emir Sultan Cami

Evliya Çelebi referred to this place as a “city illuminated by radiant spirits” in his travelogue. Bursa has been a host to numerous friends of Allah, such as Üftâde Hazretleri, Somuncu Baba, Süleyman Çelebi, Molla Fenârî, İsmail Hakkı Bursevî, to the extent that this heavenly atmosphere has permeated the entire city. One of Bursa’s scholars of knowledge, wisdom, and virtue is Emir Sultan.

Emir Sultan, born in Buhara, was a 14th-century Sufi mystic who was a master of exegesis, theology, and hadith. As he saw a sign from the Prophet Muhammad in a dream, he settled in Bursa and spent the rest of his life there. Upon Emir Sultan’s passing, his wife, Hundi Fatma Sultan, had the Emir Sultan Mosque built. Among Bursa’s mosques, the Emir Sultan Mosque, with its grand dome, stands as one of the city’s most significant spiritual treasures.

The Final Stop on the Silk Road Route

Bursa Kozahan

According to legend, silk reached Bursa through the cocoons and silk caterpillars preserved in the hollows of reed staffs carried by Byzantine priests. Within the Ottoman Empire, Bursa quickly became renowned as both a city of weaving and a hub for silk trade. It served as the final destination along the Silk Road trade route in Asia. For centuries, Bursa was a crucial center for producing silk cocoons, spinning silk fabric on hand looms, and exporting it to European cities.

While it might have lost some of its significance today, when thinking of silk, the mind inevitably conjures images of Kozahan, a rectangular courtyard with two stories and 95 rooms nestled between the Great Mosque and the Orhan Mosque. Built in 1492 by Sultan Bayezid II, this inn is the location where many shops sold silk scarves, shawls, and clothing.

Bursa through the Eyes of Ibn Battuta and Evliya Çelebi

Evliya Celebi Bursada

The renowned 14th-century traveler Ibn Battuta visited Bursa after Balıkesir and recorded his initial impressions as follows: “This is a great city of the Turks with incredibly vast and open streets, as well as rich markets. The city is adorned with vineyards, gardens, and rivers.” In his notes, he described the thermal baths, recounted his visit to the zaviye (dervish lodge) of Ahi Şemseddin, which he described as “the most beautiful night I’ve experienced in the lands of the Turks,” and spoke of Orhan Gazi, whom he praised as the greatest of the Turkish rulers.

Another prominent traveler who ventured to Bursa was Evliya Çelebi. He began his journey here in 1640. He started by narrating the legend of Bursa’s castle and Keşiş Dağı (Priest’s Mountain). He mentioned that aside from the 23,000 households, there were an additional 2060 fountains in Bursa. There are 17 springs originating from Keşiş Dağı (Priest’s Mountain). Concluding this section, he said, “In short, saying Bursa is saying water.” He then elaborated extensively on Bursa’s mosques, mausoleums, inns, bridges, bazaars, madrasas, and scholars.

2022: Cultural Capital of the Turkish World

During a meeting organized by the International Organization of Turkic Culture (TÜRKSOY) in Hive, Uzbekistan, Bursa was selected as the Cultural Capital of the Turkish World for 2022. Moreover, 2022, which marks the 600th anniversary of the passing of the great mystic, author of Mevlid, and the first imam of the Grand Mosque, Süleyman Çelebi, has been declared as the Year of Commemoration of Süleyman Çelebi.”

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