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 the 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. 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. By then, Bursa was already full of history because, over the previous century, various sultans had already left their mark on the city. We can see that rich legacy today. Bursa’s historical centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for a good reason.
I first 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 at that time, a lot of people were still inside. So, photos in this post are from my second visit, the day after. I mention this because you can see hardly anyone in the photos and perhaps you could get a wrong idea that the mosque is a quiet, peaceful place. On the contrary! The first day when I was there, the mosque was packed with so many people everywhere, it was almost impossible to take a single good photo.
The following day, I woke up at 8pm and already by 10am, I was in the mosque. It was almost empty at that time. I am glad that I have seen it both, busy and empty. Undoubtedly, its busy aspect reflects its immense religious importance, while during quiet times it is 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 he built just this one with 20 domes instead.
You will notice that it is 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 have seen looks like that.
Additionally, not a single mosque in Istanbul has a fountain inside.
The special feature of the Grand Mosque are 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 Qur’an does not 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 a completely original structure of 620 years ago.
Over the course of many centuries, fires and earthquakes damaged the original building.
Still, despite many restoration works, the essence of the original temple remains.
The mosque is an excellent starting point to explore Bursa. As I have already mentioned, numerous historical buildings are in its vicinity and they all create Bursa’s magical atmosphere.
In a 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, you can’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 preparing for the 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. In any case, that will be the topic of my next post.