Certainly, the best place to see the Ottoman heritage is Istanbul. It was the Ottoman capital for 470 years and evidently the Ottoman rulers and other dignitaries of the empire left the mark on the city. The vast heritage is represented with numerous imperial and other mosques, bazaars and markets, fountains and hans. But, the Ottoman history in Istanbul starts only after Fatih Sultan Mehmed conquered it in 1453, while the Ottoman Empire had already existed for over 150 years prior to the conquest. If you want to go back to the birth of the Ottoman Empire, you have to go to Bursa. That’s where you can find historical sites that relate to the early days of the nascent empire.
BIRTH OF THE EMPIRE
Equally, the Ottoman legacy in Bursa goes as far back as the conquest of Bursa in 1326. The Ottomans conquered Bursa 127 years before they conquered Istanbul. Bursa was the second capital city of the rapidly expanding empire.
But, Bursa was the capital city for 37 years only. Sultan Murad I conquered Adrianople in 1363, renamed it in Edirne and moved the capital there. However, Bursa remained an important commercial and spiritual centre. Numerous historical monuments from a period after it had ceased to be the capital city demonstrate Bursa’s continuous importance. In fact, the most magnificent structures that you can see in Bursa today are from the period when it was no longer the Ottoman capital.
Although Sultan Osman I started his reign over the Ottoman territories in 1281, we can really talk about the birth of the Ottoman empire from the conquest in Bursa, in the early 14th century. The 15th century oversaw the rapid rise and expansion of the empire.
It all really started with this person. Osman Gazi or Sultan Osman I was the founder and the first ruler of the Ottoman Beylik, that would eventually become one of the most successful and the greatest empires that has ever existed. But, he ruled over a very small principality. The capital city was a small town Söğüt.
Osman gave the name to the empire. In Turkish, the name of the empire is – Osmanlı İmparatorluğu.
His name may have actually been Atman or Ataman, which he later changed to the more prestigious Arabic name Osman. This is interesting because Ataman is very similar to Ottoman, which is the English name for the empire.
He died in either 1323 or 1324, which means that he did not participate in the conquest of Bursa, although his mausoleum is in the city’s Tophane Park.
I have seen a lot of imperial mausoleums both in Istanbul and Bursa, but probably Osman Gazi’s tomb is one of the most magnificent.
Undoubtedly, the mausoleum reflects his supreme importance as the founder of the Ottoman Empire.
You would probably be able to find some historical Ottoman monuments from the earliest period, when Osman Gazi became the ruler of his small principality, until the conquest of Bursa. However, in my opinion this mausoleum of the founder of the Ottoman dynasty really marks the birth of the Ottoman empire. Everything else came after him.
After Osman’s death, his son Orhan Gazi became the new sultan. His mausoleum is also in Tophane Park, next to Osman’s. If you go to Bursa you would certainly want to visit Tophane Park, as apart from these two historical sites, there is also the Tophane Clock Tower, plus beautiful views of the city.
Orhan expanded the initial Ottoman territory. He conquered Bursa and most of northwestern Anatolia. At the time of his death, the Ottoman principality was already much bigger.
There are several interesting historical facts about Orhan. When Osman Gazi died, Orhan offered to his brother Alaeddin to share the nascent empire, but Alaeddin refused. Had he accepted, the territory would have been divided and perhaps the course of history would have been altered. However, Alaeddin remained active in the government. Interestingly, at that time the custom of fratricide did not exist. Royal brothers started killing each other slightly later.
The second historical fact that I want to mention is even more interesting.
At the time of the initial Ottoman expansion, the Kingdom of Serbia was the biggest and the strongest power in the Balkans. In 1351, Orhan and King Stefan Uroš IV Dušan of Serbia discussed the potential alliance. The idea was for Dušan’s daughter Theodora to marry either Orhan or one of his sons, but that didn’t happen. Immediately after Orhan’s death in 1362, the Ottomans moved into the Balkans. Orhan’s son Sultan Murad I successfully conquered cities of Edirne, Sofia and Niš and also parts of Serbia.
Had the marriage alliance happened, perhaps the Ottomans would have never ventured into the Balkans. Serbia would have remained independent and its history would have certainly been different.
Both, Osman and Orhan are symbols of the birth of the Ottoman Empire. In that respect, if you go to Bursa and if you want to explore the early history of the Ottoman Empire, these two mausoleums are unmissable.
ALAEDDIN PASHA MOSQUE (1326)
I said earlier that you have to go to Bursa to explore the birth of the Ottoman Empire, so it’s when you see the Alaeddin Pasha Mosque that you understand what I am talking about. The mosque was built in 1362, the year in which the Ottomans conquered Bursa. Probably, it is the first mosque built after the conquest and also one of the oldest historical sites in the city. Everything else that I saw in Bursa appeared later.
Of course, after nearly 700 years the mosque is not completely authentic, as they reconstructed it and changed some of the original features in the 19th century.
Alaeddin Pasha was Orhan’s brother who took active role in the running of the empire. He improved its efficiency and legitimacy by introducing the monetary system, establishing the official Ottoman costume and reorganising the army.
This small mosque is slightly away from the centre. Unfortunately, the mosque was closed when I arrived. In fact, I noticed that small mosques are only open at prayer times. That’s probably because people in charge do other things in the meantime. That’s not the case with big imperial mosques which you can visit throughout the day. Additionally I didn’t see anyone there, otherwise I would have asked them to open the mosque for me, the same as I did in Istanbul when I visited the Sokollu Mehmed Pasha Mosque.
The mosque has an unusual metal door.
Şehzade Alaeddin is buried in the Osman Gazi mausoleum, next to his father.
ORHAN GAZI MOSQUE (1339)
The second oldest early Ottoman construction in Bursa is the Orhan Gazi Mosque.
The mosque is in Bursa’s historical centre, surrounded by many other historical sites. The Grand Mosque is only a short walk away.
It’s a small imperial mosque and for the first time in the Ottoman history, they also built the surrounding complex.
Big imperial mosques started to arrive a bit later and culminated with the monumental Grand Mosque.
I noticed two interesting things about this mosque.
The first one is that architecturally it resembles the Seljuk era mosques that I saw in Konya. Certainly, it is the prime example of the early Ottoman architecture, so different from what you can see in Istanbul. All mosques in Istanbul resemble Hagia Sophia. At the time when this mosque was built, Constantinople was the capital city of the still existing Byzantine Empire.
Secondly, the interior decoration is very different from what you can see in later imperial mosques. There are no tiles, just plain white walls, the same as in the Seljuk era mosques. Regardless, I think that the mosque is beautiful and it certainly has great historical value. It also symbolises birth of the Ottoman Empire, in addition to the sites that I have already mentioned.
You can see the surrounding complex and also one of the minarets of the Grand Mosque in a photo below.
EMIR HAN (1339)
To secure the financing for the maintenance and running of his mosque, Orhan Gazi constructed the Emir Han in its vicinity. The Turkish word han means inn in English. But, hans were more than ordinary inns. People would stay there to spend the night, the same as we do in modern hotels. Additionally, they were also commercial places.
I saw several hans in Istanbul. But, they are nowhere near the way they are in Bursa. In fact, Bursa is special because in addition to monumental imperial mosques, its rich Ottoman legacy also includes numerous hans, literally lined one after the other.
The Emir Han is just one of them and the oldest of all of them.
It’s only when you enter that you get an idea of what it is and how they used the space in the past.
There are 73 rooms in the Emir Han, which are shops and various other commercial businesses now.
What I particularly liked about this and all other hans in Bursa is that, the same as in the past, you can go there and enjoy a moment of tranquility, away from the busy modern-day city. As you can see below, there are many restaurants and coffee-shops where you can easily spend several hours.
The inevitable fountain adorns the centre of the han.
YILDIRIM MOSQUE (1395)
Unfortunately, the same as many historical sites in Istanbul, they were renovating the Yildirim Mosque and I couldn’t visit it. I don’t really mind about the sites that I missed in Istanbul, because I will go back and will visit everything that I missed last time, plus I will see many new things. But, in order to see the Yildirim Mosque, I would have to go back to Bursa and I don’t know if I will ever go back again. This mosque was built by Sultan Bayezid I.
Sultan Bayezid I was the fourth Ottoman sultan. Osman was the first one and Orhan the second. But, while I was doing the research for this post, I realised that I didn’t have any reference about the third sultan – Murad I. So, I dug a bit deeper and to my astonishment I discovered the Hüdavendigar Mosque, also in Bursa, that Sultan Murad I built and that I missed.
There is so much Ottoman history and it’s easy to get lost. Although, I could’ve prepared myself better, especially because I had plenty of time to visit this historical site. The Hüdavendigar Mosque is far from the centre, so perhaps that’s also the reason why I missed it. I couldn’t suddenly bump into it. It would have been very interesting for me to see this mosque and also Murad’s mausoleum next to it. The Serbian knight Miloš Obilić killed Sultan Murad I in the Battle of Kosovo in 1389.
ERTUĞRUL BEY MOSQUE
The Ertuğrul Bey Mosque is one more historical site that I visited in Bursa, that also marks the birth the Ottoman Empire. But, at the time of its construction in 1395, the empire was already much bigger.
Şehzade Ertuğrul Bey was Sultan Bayezid I’s son.
He died in a military campaign and was buried in the graveyard behind this small mosque.
What’s interesting is that this is probably the only member of the Ottoman dynasty that is not buried in a mausoleum, like the other ones. In any case, all mosques that I mention in this post are imperial mosques, dedicated either to sultans or their closest family members. Clearly, most of the Ottoman heritage in Bursa, but also in Istanbul and other places in Turkey, relate to the Ottoman dynasty as their direct legacy that we marvel today.
The end of the 14th century was the end of the period that marks the birth of the empire. It culminated with construction of one of the biggest and possibly the most beautiful of all Ottoman imperial mosques – the Grand Mosque.
As this mosque is architecturally and artistically very important, I will write about it in my next post.
This article looks at the birth of the empire through the 14th century Ottoman historical sites in Bursa.
By the end of that century, the much bigger and stronger Ottoman Empire significantly changed the map of that part of the world.
Numerous 15th century Ottoman historical sites in Bursa reflect the rise and expansion of the empire and that will be the topic for one of my future posts.