Certainly, the best place to see Ottoman heritage is Istanbul. It was the Ottoman capital for 470 years and evidently Ottoman rulers and other dignitaries of the empire left the mark on the city. The vast heritage is represented by 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 of Constantinople.
If you want to go back to the birth of the Ottoman Empire, you have to go to Bursa. That’s where you will find historical sites that relate to the early days of the nascent empire.
BIRTH OF THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE
Equally, the Ottoman legacy in Bursa goes as far back as the conquest of Bursa in 1326. 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 when it was no longer the Ottoman capital.
Although Sultan Osman I started his reign over Ottoman territories in 1281, we can really talk about the birth of the Ottoman Empire after the conquest of 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 didn’t participate in the conquest of Bursa, although his mausoleum is in the city, in Tophane Park.
I’ve seen a lot of imperial mausoleums, both in Istanbul and Bursa, probably the 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 Ottoman historical 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 that you can see there, 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’ve been divided and perhaps the course of history would’ve been altered.
However, Alaeddin remained active in the government. Interestingly, the custom of fratricide didn’t exist at that time. Royal brothers started killing each other later, in the 15th century.
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 a potential alliance.
The idea was for Dušan’s daughter Theodora to marry either Orhan or one of his sons, but that didn’t happen.
So, immediately after Orhan’s death in 1362, 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 Ottomans would’ve never ventured into the Balkans. Serbia would’ve remained independent and its history would’ve 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.
THE 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 1326, the year in which Ottomans conquered Bursa. Probably, it was 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. He introduced a monetary system, established an official Ottoman costume and reorganised the army.
This small mosque is slightly away from the centre. Unfortunately, it 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’ve asked them to open it 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.
THE ORHAN GAZI MOSQUE (1339)
The second oldest early Ottoman construction in Bursa is the Orhan Gazi Mosque.
This mosque is in Bursa’s historical centre, surrounded by many other historical buildings. 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.
Second, 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 a great historical value. It also symbolises the birth of the Ottoman Empire, in addition to what I’ve already mentioned.
You can see the surrounding complex and also one of the minarets of the Grand Mosque, in the photo below.
EMIR HAN (1339)
To secure financing for the maintenance and running of his mosque, Orhan Gazi constructed 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 a 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.
This 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 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 tranquillity, 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.
An inevitable fountain adorns the centre of the han.
THE 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, 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. 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 a 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 in it. Although, I could’ve prepared myself better, especially because I had a plenty of time to visit this historical site. The Hüdavendigar Mosque is far from the centre, so perhaps that’s also why I missed it. I couldn’t suddenly bump into it.
It would’ve been very interesting for me to see this mosque and also the Murad’s mausoleum, next to it. A Serbian knight, Miloš Obilić, killed Sultan Murad I in the Battle of Kosovo, in 1389.
THE ERTUĞRUL BEY MOSQUE (1395)
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 a 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 all the other ones.
In any case, all mosques that I mention in this post are imperial mosques, dedicated to either sultans or their closest family members. Clearly, most of Ottoman heritage in Bursa, but also in Istanbul and other places in Turkey, relates to the Ottoman dynasty as their direct legacy that we marvel today.
THE GRAND MOSQUE
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, a 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 a topic for one of my future posts.