Bursa from the Past to the Future

Bursa From The Past to the Future

You can trace Bursa's early days back to the legend of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, to its foundation in the name of King Prusias, (whom Hannibal, commander of Carthage, served) or if you prefer even as far back as Olympos. However it is obvious that the city of Bursa really acquired an identity of its own at the beginning of the Ottoman period; the conquest of the city by Orhan Gazi transformed Bursa from a city ruled from a castle on a hill into a lively, prosperous place. From 1071 onwards, the mosque formed the nucleus of Anatolian cities and the bazaar also influenced the fabric of the city. The group of civic buildings that spread up around the mosque, referred to as a “külliye” (complex of buildings around a mosque), evolved into a definite system. It was in the time of the Anatolian Seljuks and the Beyliks (the equivalent of principalities) that this phenomenon became a determinant factor in the general layout of the city. In centers such as Bursa, which were able to preserve the old fabric of the city until comparatively recently, the main features of town planning are now at a level that is virtually negligible. Both in Bursa and in other similar cities, the demolition of historical buildings to make way to “arteries” was the beginning of this changing process. This was rapidly followed by the building of more new "arteries", and multi-storey buildings requiring wide roads, breaking up the old fabric and surrounding it with “castles”.

The Judas Tree Festivities in Emir Sultan, described by the writer Eflatun Cem Güney, point out the fact that there must have been a large number of judas trees there in the recent past. Also, the anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of Bursa at the beginning of April must have coincided with the flowering of the judas trees at about that time. However it is not easy to see the mosque complex of Emir Sultan from the tea garden next to the Green Mosque anymore because of the buildings surrounding it, for the view is also blocked by the roofs and chimneys of a large number of structures probably erected without planning permission around the Green Mosque complex as well.

From the framed photographs of Bursa, which can be seen in nearly all public buildings, we can see that the old fabric of the city was intact until as recently as the 1930s and 1940s.

The mosque, the soup kitchen and the public baths built by Orhan Ghazi as well as the arrangement of the Emir Khan complex as a “külliye” played a major role in the formation of the Tahtakale district below the castle after the Ottoman conquest and in the development of Bursa, which extends as far as the slopes of the Uludağ Mountain in the south. The same thing happened in İznik, which the Ottomans finally managed to conquer and considered just as important as Bursa. A mosque complex was built outside the city wall, encouraging the development of a new residential neighborhood around.

Murat I (Hüdavendigâr), whose policy was to expand westwards, had his own mosque complex built on high ground at Çekirge to the west of the city. On the other hand, Yıldırım Bayezit, who was aiming to found an Anatolian Turkish Union, chose the high grounds near to the roads coming from the east of the country to found his “külliye”. Orhan Gazi's attempts to form a district around a bazaar were supported by Yıldırım Bayezit’s building of the Ulu Cami mosque but he founded his own mosque complex on high ground to the east of the city thus encouraging Bursa to expand eastwards. The addition of a hospital to the Yıldırım mosque complex was a landmark in cultural and social history. The siting of another mosque complex on high ground by Mehmet Çelebi after the interregnum period must have been a continuation of the same idea.

Thus it becomes clear that where there were castles, guaranteeing the city’s security, were built a bazaar and other structures that would encourage the expansion of the city outside the castle and that formed the foundations of Ottoman town planning, of which Bursa is an example. The Yıldırım, Hüdavendigâr and Green Mosque complexes in Bursa must have prompted the sultans to choose high ground for the building of the royal mosque complex- es in İstanbul as well.

In the present topography of the city, there is a fabric which is more or less detectable, but in the near future it will be less easy to remark it because of the high-rise structures mushrooming up around historical buildings and skyscrapers like castle walls. Even now it is almost impossible to see the Ulu Cami mosque and the bazaar district from Tophane, especially in foggy weather and the Green Mosque, which could be seen until recently is now completely invisible. It will soon be impossible, when looking from the Green Mosque complex, to see Emir Sultan and the Yıldırım mosque complex, which until recently formed a silhouette with the chestnut trees stretching as far as the Kızık villages, or the Hüdavendigâr mosque because of the hotels and other high-rise buildings that are slowly strangling them. The land at Paşaçiftliği possesses two features; there is a surviving green area inside it that stretches from Kültür Park to Merinos. However there are four factors which threaten its survival; one of these is the main road from Ankara to İzmir, the second is the approach road running along the bank of the Nilüfer river, the third is the public buildings under construction on its west side and the fourth is the unregulated building which is beginning to eat into it from the east. “Green Bursa” is under siege from the north and west (in the direction of Mudanya) from industry and unregulated building. The new bypass roads that are planned to the north and the west of the city will bring more and more buildings in their wake. As long as the efforts to prevent that phenomenon are unsuccessful, it will present an inevitable threat to the ancient fabric of the city.

I belong to a generation which once saw Bursa as a city that could be lived in. However we are hopelessly wondering what can be done now to save it, and we would like to see a glimmer of hope for the future. This is how the poet Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar saw Bursa in those days: “Wall, dome, arch, altar and tiles all pray together in the Green Mosque/ think in unison at Muradiye/ stand poised for flight like an eagle/thirsting for the depths of the heavens at Yıldırım”. The restoration of houses that are good examples of old civil architecture and the protection of the fabric of the streets in various places in the near future gives birth to hopes that steps will be taken to give buildings of historical importance some breathing space in the future. This glimmer of hope could be strengthened if new buildings developments took place outside the old parts of the city. The feature that made Bursa a royal city and the center of a whole province in the past was both due to the city itself and to its environment. The Uludağ Mountain and the conservation areas at its feet are steadily being nibbled away at; industry spreading over the plain to the north of the city and the extensions of this industry which are also creeping westwards are beginning to threaten old Ottoman centers such as Gemlik, İznik, Yenişehir and İnegöl. However meanwhile, coastal districts of the province such as Mudanya, and lakes such as the İznik Lake are also under threat. Steps must be taken to protect the İznik Lake, which is outside the scope of the protected area; the lake’s pollution caused by industrial enterprises and quarries in rapidly-developing Orhangazi must be prevented. Protection is also needed for the Karsak Creek, which links the lake to the Gulf of Gemlik. As long as no results are being achieved in order to protect the environment from pollution, the “Green Bursa” image will be transformed into the “Smoky Bursa” one and whatever we write or say, Tanpınar’s verse will remain only a sweet dream for our generation and the next generations coming: “I seem to stand next to a miracle time in Bursa, it is like a crystal chandelier/made up of the sound of water and birds’ wingbeats.”