The monumental Grand Mosque represents the culmination of the initial period in the history of the Ottoman Empire. In my previous post, I wrote about the birth of the empire that started with the Ottoman conquest of Bursa in 1326.
By 1399, when the mosque opened to the public for the first time, Bursa was no longer the capital city and the Ottoman state was much bigger.
The fact that Ottomans built such a monumental mosque in the city centre, long after it had ceased to be the capital city, underlines that Bursa continued to be spiritually significant. The city retained that status for a long time, until the capture of Istanbul.
Thus, the Ottoman history in Istanbul starts after the conquest in 1453 and it coincides with the shift of the spiritual importance to the new magnificent capital city of the rapidly expanding empire.
So, the most recently dated Ottoman historical site in Bursa is, more or less, from that transitional time. Although by then, Bursa was already full of history because various sultans had already left their mark on the city, over the previous century.
We can see that rich legacy today. Bursa’s historical centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for a good reason.
I visited the Grand Mosque the day when I arrived to Bursa. I reached my hotel around 3pm, checked in and left my stuff. Then, I went out to explore the city. The Grand Mosque, being in the city centre, is the focal point of every visit. In other words, when you are in Bursa’s historical area, you are always near the Grand Mosque.
I arrived to the mosque just after the afternoon prayer. Although many people were leaving the mosque, a lot of people were still inside at that time. So, the photos in this post are from my second visit, the day after.
I mention this because you can hardly see anyone in these photos and perhaps you could get a wrong idea that the mosque is a quiet, peaceful place. On the contrary. The first time when I was there, the mosque was completely packed. There were so many people everywhere, it was almost impossible to take one good photo.
The following day, I woke up at 8pm and already by 10am, I was in the mosque. It was almost empty. I am glad that I’ve seen it, both, busy and empty. Undoubtedly, its busy aspect reflects its immense religious importance, while during the quiet times, it’s a tranquil place.
For me, the time that I spent in this architecturally sublime structure, surrounded by magnificent examples of the Islamic calligraphic art, was like meditation. Apparently, the Grand Mosque is the best place in the whole world to see the calligraphic writings, considered to be one of the most important representations of the Islamic art.
Sultan Bayezid I commissioned and constructed this mosque. But, that’s not “his” mosque.
Bayezid’s complex is the Yilderim Mosque, which I mentioned in my previous post and which I couldn’t see because of renovation works. He built the Grand Mosque to celebrate the victory in the Battle of Nicopolis, in 1396. He originally promised to build 20 mosques, but instead, he built just this one with 20 domes.
You will probably notice that it’s not like imperial mosques that you can see in Istanbul. Rather, it’s similar to mosques constructed in Bursa throughout the 14th century, mainly in the Seljuk architectural style.
In fact, it is the prime example of the early Ottoman architecture and no mosque in Istanbul, that I’ve seen, looks like this.
Additionally, not a single mosque in Istanbul has a fountain inside.
A special feature of the Grand Mosque are the beautiful calligraphic writings, that you can see inside.
Apparently, the best calligraphers of the time worked in the mosque.
The main reason why the interior decoration of mosques is so different from churches of the Christian world, or from Hindu and Buddhist temples, is because the Qur’an doesn’t permit idolatry. Images of people or animals are forbidden, as distraction.
That’s why you can never see an image or a statue of a person in any mosque.
That’s also why they use other decorative forms to decorate religious places.
For that reason, calligraphy – the art of writing, takes central place in the Islamic art, in addition to architecture, miniature painting, glass, pottery, carpets and embroidery.
They certainly invested an immense effort in the Grand Mosque, although all other big imperial mosques in Bursa are equally impressive.
But, the building that we see today is not the completely original structure of 620 years ago.
Over the course of many centuries, fires and earthquakes damaged the original building.
Still, despite the many restoration works, the essence of the original temple remains.
The mosque is an excellent starting point to explore Bursa. As I’ve already mentioned, numerous historical buildings are in its vicinity and they all create Bursa’s magical atmosphere.
In the photo below, you can see the side entrance of the mosque. Because of its location, with many buildings and other structures immediately next to it, I couldn’t take a photo that would show the whole mosque. Perhaps, that’s only possible from above, but I couldn’t do that.
There is also the inevitable fountain, for ritual cleansing. As it was still early in the morning, you can only see several people that are preparing for prayer. Otherwise, the fountain was very busy, the same as the mosque.
Bursa’s magnificent Grand Mosque is deservedly the most famous of all historical sites that you can see in the city.
Artistically and architecturally, it represents the essence of the early Ottoman art.
The period of time after its construction and throughout all of the 15th century oversaw the rise of the Ottoman Empire, which stimulated further building works in Bursa. But, I will talk about that in my next post.