A Tale in Red: On the Trail of the Ottoman Empire

27 February 2011

The scenery was beautiful, a painting made of green and grey. The cold morning in February drove us to a city that one day was the centre of the Ottoman Empire. The city wasn’t only a historic centre and a place where nature was prominent; it was understandable why Bursa was called Green Bursa. While listening to Trance and looking at the landscape passing by my window, I wondered what I knew about the Ottoman Empire. 

Ottoman Empire, Osmanli Devlet Yuce or Osmanli İmparatorluğu initiated in 1299 and climaxed in 1923. It’s lost in legends and heroes who did not fear to conquer and rule. I learned nothing about them at school; no book had crossed my path telling me their history.

The stay in Bursa will be spread over three days. When we arrived in the city, the first was the only time to see a museum, have hot chocolate, and drop into bed. I was tired and physically exhausted and needed time to recollect all I had seen and, most importantly, contact my son in Brazil. I was missing him.

The next day our first stop wasn’t in the Bursa city, but in a place where a tomb and a legend wait for people like me. The tomb of Şeyh Edebalı, who was born in 1206, the place where he was born, is cause for speculation. He is supposed to be taken in Karaman, an essential city of the Seljuk Empire or Khorasan, a town in Central Asia, today’s Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and Iran. After finishing his studies of Islamic law in Karaman, Edebali went to Damascus, where he studied with renowned scholars of religion and Islamic law. He returned to Anatolia and settled in a village near Eskişehir. There he founded several religious schools, fed people experiencing poverty and taught the Turks of Anatolia the principles of Islam. Therefore, he is considered the spiritual founder of the Ottoman Empire.

Ertuğrul Gazi called Edebali to become the mentor of his son, Osman Gazi. The legend says that one day, Osman dreamed that a moon was getting off Eebali’s chest to get into his chest. After that, the tree grew on Osman’s chest. Osman awoke self-absorbed in the dream and was running to find Edebali and tell him all about it. The wise man said the moon in the dream represented his daughter, Malhun Hatun. She was destined to become Osman’s wife, and they will build a dynasty and an empire.  In fact, Osman married  Malhun Hatun. One of their offspring, Orhan Gazi, became the second leader of the Ottoman Empire, putting its foundation deep in Anatolia. An Empire that lasted 600 years and controlled much of South-eastern Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa between the 14th and early 20th centuries. 

The tomb was in Bilecik, standing on a hill with a beautiful view of the mountainous neighbourhood. The place is full of references to Edebali’s teachings and achievements. Nearby, a mosque and one of the essential pieces of advices Edebali made to Osman Ghazi is preserved in marble. It says:

O, my son!
Now you are king!
From now on, wrath is for us;
For you, calmness!
For us to be offended;
For you to please!
For us to accuse;
For you to endure!
For us, helplessness and error;
For you, tolerance!
For us, quarrel;
For you, justice!
For us, envy, rumour, slander;
For you, forgiveness!
O, my son!
From now on, it is for us to divide;
For you to unite!
For us, sloth;
For you, warning and encouragement!
O, my son!
Be patient; a flower does not bloom before its time.
Never forget: Let man flourish, and the state will also grow!
O, my son!
Your burden is heavy, your task challenging, and your power hangs on a hair!
May God be your helper!

After visiting the tombs, we stopped in an open cafe nearby for a çay. It was a picturesque place full of colour, warm and curious. 

The next visit would be to a cemetery in Söğüt where the tomb of the father of Osman, Ertuğrul Gazi, was inside a small construction in the middle of a park. The tomb was impressive not by its luxury but the historical meaning; it is simple with elements present in all tombs of rules of the empire. Full of symbols; for example, you have all flags from the realm, and around the grave, you could find soil from each territory the Ottomans conquered. 

A woman responsible for receiving the visitor asked me to sign a visit book and gave some material about Ertuğrul and the empire. 

The guide told me his intention to go to another famous Ottoman city. We began to go up in the mountains, and suddenly a dense mist covered the way. The drive became a bit more dangerous, which made us decide to stop when at the top to see impressive natural sculptures made from trees and ice. After the short pit stop, we find a place to buy sandwiches. Firat was famished, so I was driving while he was eating. It was challenging to face an unknown one-way road, covered by misty with nobody near us for me to tail. In the end, we reached Cumalıkızık, a village in Yıldırım District at the foot of Mount Uludağ.  The village’s history goes back to the Ottoman Empire foundation and still preserves much of the atmosphere and construction from that time. However, when we arrived, Firat gave up visiting the place; he said we would turn the village attraction, and he was not prone to that. We drove around a little and left, passing by the central plaza. All eyes turned to our car, which proved Fırat’s impression about being the centre of attention right.


It was 7:30 when we entered the hotel breakfast room. There wasn’t time for the usual ritual; the breakfast that day should be fast and straightforward. Leaving the hotel for the next destination took much work, mainly because of the morning traffic. Before leaving Bursa, I had many places to see and needed help seeing Iznik. So, there we were on the road to Iznik.

The name of the city, Iznik, did not ring any bell. Only when we left the main road and passed by a lake did the place fit into my historical knowledge.  Iznik, or Nicaea, was a crucial Byzantine city. In Nicaea, two councils of Christianity happened: the first and the seventh. The place where the first council happened is under Lake Iznik. In this council, many of the rituals, appearance and other relevant issues about Christianity were settled. Things like what colour Maria’s mantle should be, the position in the paintings, the physical characteristics of Jesus and all the other essential attributes of the Christian religion.
The region was settled by a Macedonian tribe and then destroyed by barbarians. Antigonus, one of Alexander the Great generals, rebuilt the city and named it Antigonela. With the fall of Antigonas, the region was given to Lysimakhos general, who gave him a new name: Nicaea, in honour of his wife. 
Our first visit was to the Hagia Sophia church, built by Justinian I, a famous pilgrimage centre in Byzantine times. Here came the seventh canon of Christianity. An earthquake in 1065 destroyed the original church, and a new church was rebuilt; this new church has reached our days. When the Ottomans conquered the region, Hagia Sophia became a mosque. Destroyed by fire in the 15th century and sacked by the Mongols, the church was renewed by Mimar Sinan, and by orders of Süleyman, I Sinan made some changes to its structure.
Still growing and healthy, Iznik became a famous centre for excellence in ceramics, particularly ceramic tiles. When the city fell into decay, Hagia Sophia was abandoned, and only in the period of the Republic was it turned into a museum and was restored.
Next stop: Lefke Gate, one of the city entrances gates. From there, we went to the Green Mosque or Yesil Cami, built by the vizier Hayreddin Pasa and completed by his son Ali. We could see the most beautiful tiles there, especially in the minaret. Looking at a certain angle gives you the impression that they are three-dimensional.
We left the Mosque and followed to Iznik Museum. Parts of the ancient ceramic produced there and how it was manufactured were exposed. Despite being a city famous for its ceramics, Fırat did not give me any time to buy any exemplary of those beautiful ceramics.
We left Iznik toward Bursa. What awaited me were tombs and mosques, but also a ‘lovely’ discussion in the middle of a trade show in the centre of Bursa.


As I said, Fırat obtained his driver’s license one week before starting our trip; he had been driving for just over a month – and already managed to have two penalties – his anxiety and nervousness too hindered, and that day, the rush completed the issue. We arrived in Bursa and headed to the place where there was a vital mosque – over there was the tomb of Murad II, the side street was full of cars parked – especially in forbidden places – because there was a ‘Pazar’ – fair. Besides all, it was lunchtime, and Fırat wanted to go to a particular restaurant. I had no idea what was happening, and I told him it was impossible to pass with the car to where he wanted; I heard a ‘shut up’ and immediately the car was scratched. I sighed. He decided I was guilty and started yelling at me, losing his temper. I got off the vehicle, absolutely stressed, and told him I would find another way to continue the journey; then, I began walking away in the opposite direction he wanted. All this is in the middle of people buying tomatoes, fruits, and other products. Living with a person you barely knew for so long was coming to catch me. I wonder if the proximity gives the other part of the team rights over shouting or transferring blame. I wouldn’t say I liked that.
I continued following in the opposite direction until I heard he was calling me – he was very close – an apology was said. Finally, I decided to follow him to the restaurant, of course, in absolute silence. The restaurant was beautifully decorated and was in the old Mosque complex cuisine, exactly the Mosque we will visit. He ordered his favourite dish – Hunker beğendi or Sultan Delights – and we ate silently. I felt sorry for his behaviour and worried about the damage to the car that I would have to pay for. Finally, the dish’s flavour calmed me down, as the çay was served at the end. Nothing better than delicious food and tea to make things look better. 

Now it was time to visit the Muradiye Cami or Mosque of Murad II; it is a complex compound of the Mosque itself, madrassa, baths, hospital, fountain and the tombs of Sultan Murat II, Sehzade Ahmed, Sultan Cem, Sehzade Mahmud, Sehzade Mustafa, Sultan Gülşah of Ebe Hatun, Huna Hatun, of Mukrime Hatun, of Saraylilar, Sultan Gülrah and Sirin Hatun. The Mosque was completed in 1426. Its design is a flat “T” simple; it seems that simplicity drove Murad.

The Mosque impacts transmitting certain warmth, especially when we look at the mihrab, richly working with arabesque painting. It is impossible not to be charmed by it. This Mosque is different as if he had some unique energy. Fırat says he appreciates simple mosques; the simpler, the better. This may not be as simple as some we’ve seen, but it was not over-decorated. Tiles, blue tones covering the walls, and some intricated arabesques left space to rest your eyes and admire the silence inside the tomb.

The Murad II tomb draws the visitor’s attention to the complex. It’s unknown if it was built while Murad was alive or if his son Mehmet, under the restricted indications, gave Murad himself how to do it, but again, this is where you can appreciate the kind of man he was. The tomb is square, built of stone and bricks, and extremely simple. Murad’s grave is in the centre of the construction. A skiff marks the place; a marble indicates where it is buried, Murad. The dome under which the tomb is partially open. Fırat told me Murad desired to receive the rain and the sun in his grave. It was one of the places that thrilled me, and of course, I cried in Bursa. Impossible not to try to see the man who preferred simplicity in death.

While we were at the tomb of Murad II, Fırat told me that not only Osman and Orhan have vaults in Bursa. Mehmet, I had his grave there as well.

Mehmet I, the father of Murat II, built a complex in Bursa, one of the last before the capital was moved to İstanbul. Its construction ended in 1420. The complex consists of a mosque, madrassa, bathroom, kitchen – serving soup to the poor – and the tomb of Mehmet I.

Yeşil troubled, or Green Tomb, was built in a hexagonal plan, and the dome is a hemispherical shape. Its name comes from the outer coat made of blue-green tiles of İznik. However, most were replaced after the 1855 earthquake with tiles made in Kütahya.

The tomb interior is magnificent; the place where Mehmet is buried is on an elevation beautifully decorated with İznik tiles. The tomb is a real work of art with tiles, carvings, and paintings.

We visited the Yeşil Cami or Green Mosque in the Mosque of Mehmet I complex. At the entrance, we have two banks with places to put our shoes. Banks indicate the material in this Mosque: marble, marble, and İznik tiles. The interior decor has an octagonal pool where, in the middle, rests a fountain. All decoration is intricate, consisting of arabesques and painted flowers on the tiles covering much of the Mosque’s interior. We could see a finely furnished hall with no particular use; the architecture clearly showed Seljuk features. The Green Mosque in Bursa is the beginning of Ottoman architecture; we began to see the mixture between Seljuk styles and innovations proposed by Ottoman architects.

During the visit to the Green Mosque, my patience with Fırat’s behaviour found its limit. I waited when he entered the Mosque for the shooting, and I walked away aimlessly through Bursa. Sometimes, we need to be alone to decide what action to take. Fırat called me a few times, wondering where I was; I had no idea, so I told him I would return to the hotel after I had calmed down. 

I walked alone for nearly three hours, watching people, stores, cars and pedestrians; I  walked so much that I reached the city outskirts; it was at that time that I decided I needed to go back to the hotel, I found a taxi driver – who spoke no English, but he understood me completely – and I returned to the hotel to find Firat waiting in the lobby. “I was concerned you would be lost forever.” I gave him a cold smile and just went to my room. He was, as usual, underestimating a woman.

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