Ottoman Architecture in Bursa

Ottoman Architecture in Bursa

For those whose hearts have been won over by Bursa, it is nearly impossible to discuss the city without recalling A.H. Tanpınar. Though, he was neither an architect nor an art historian, Tanpınar had the capacity to comprehend cities and the past with a profound sensitivity-seeing what most of us are unable to see-and set his intuitions within a framework of cultural history. In his well-known work titled “Five Cities,” the chapter devoted to Bursa, whose content suggests he was in love with the city opens with these lines, highlighting the fundamental character of the first Ottoman capital:

“Of all the cities I have known, I cannot recall one as closely identifiable with a certain age as Bursa. In the one-hundred thirty years between its capture and the conquest of Istanbul in 1453, Bursa was not content merely to be a Turkish city down to its very essence; it also determined its own spiritual countenance, which would be constant for all time.”  Regardless of the alterations, disasters and neglect to which Bursa has been subjected and its advances and times of gladness, it has consistently preserved the atmosphere of the early founding period and it speaks to us from its past and breathes the air of its own poetry.  One might say that, because this period was essentially miraculous and an era of heroism and spirituality, Bursa possesses in itself the purest degree of the Turkish spirit.  When Evliya Çelebi, who clearly discerned and comprehended this truth, makes mention of Bursa, he calls it a “city with saintliness.”

In truth, when the first capital of the Ottoman state-which was yet an Anatolian Turkoman principality-was seized by Turks in 1326, it represented both the starting point of a course that would lead to the change of the political entity from a principality to an empire and, at the same time, it shouldered the task of serving as a crucible that would transform our cultural and art history from portraying the Turkish identity of the Seljuk period and the era of principalities centered in Anatolia to the portraying of a multi-ethnic, multi-state Ottoman identity.  When we consider Bursa from the perspective of our architectural history, we become conscious of the research for the first Ottoman architectural style and the uncertainties they experienced; and we become aware of their acceptance of a variety of influences from different cultural geographies.  In short, we are also cognizant of the new arrangements that they discovered; for they created a kind of laboratory, with an excitement and-again, in the words of Tanpınar-with the “pure exhilaration of the days of conquest,” which is absent in further periods. Ottoman architecture produced its first important specimens in Bursa and environs during the reign of Orhan Gazi, which from perspective of time and space was the broadest stage of Turkish architectural history which constituted the joint property of a number of people living under Pax Ottomana, particularly, after the conquest of Istanbul in 1453. Moreover this city became the leading molder of the evolution of Ottoman architecture until Edirne acquired the title of capital city during the reign of Sultan Murad II in the years 1437-47. Murad had the Üç Şerefeli (Three-tier Minaret) mosque erected, which opened the door to the age of the classical style that would reach the highest level with the Selimiye mosque built by Mimar Sinan- which also was the first imperial mosque on a centralized plan in Edirne. In other words, we have, on the one hand, the body of knowledge embodied by Ottoman  architecture,  which had been  produced in the lands of Anatolia and Rumelia-with Bursa foremost-during the century that followed Bursa’s conquest in 1326; and, on the other hand, the bold and unique advances that emerged in the principalities  of  Western  Anatolia-particularly  in  the  territories  of Aydınoğlu  and Saruhanoğlu-thanks to their geographical positions and the opportunities for expansion these provided, were climaxed by the most characteristic and powerful synthesis of Turkish architecture in the Üç Şerefeli mosque at Edirne.

The intense construction activity that Orhan Gazi initiated subsequent to the conquest of the city continued with the same intensity till the erection of Muradiye complex in 1426 by Sultan Murad II. After this date-with the exception of the Emir Sultan complex, which was completely renovated in the nineteenth century, no large-scale architectural activity was executed in Bursa. Shortly after Çelebi Sultan Mehmed regathered the Ottoman state following its dissolution occasioned by the pitched battle at Ankara, the state once again began to rapidly expand in Anatolia and the Balkans under Murad II; one can now sense that the weighted center in both politics and culture had shifted from Bursa to Edirne. The Muradiye mosque erected by Murad II in Bursa and Edirne added little innovation to those that had been contributed by the Orhan Gazi mosque in Bursa dated to 1339-40. His building of the Üç Şerefeli mosque in Edirne, which opened a brand new path to the Ottoman architecture, confirmed that the torch had, by now been handed from Bursa to Edirne; and, in the near future, in the eyes of the Ottomans who would soon conquer Istanbul and make it their capital, the Istanbul road on which Edirne stood now assumed greater significance.  As a result, it is possible to identify by studying the architectural works in Bursa, the principle stages in the line of early period Ottoman architectural development and, in addition, distinguish the fundamental qualities that set Ottoman architecture-which would establish its center in Istanbul from the time of the conquest of Constantinople to the founding of the Republic-apart from other Turkish architectural styles.