Beyond the Marmara

This weekend we took a wonderful trip to Bursa, a city south of Istanbul across the Marmara sea. Vince deBritto and the graduate students joined us for the day, and we all met up early at Kabatas ferry station for a long ferry ride across the Marmara. After finding our seats, the majority of the students fell asleep for the ride, despite the discomfort of the ferry seats.

Get up early, go right back to sleep

Get up early, go right back to sleep

After waking up and getting off the ferry, we boarded a bus for the last leg to Bursa. The bus had comfortable reclining seats, so of course we fell asleep once again. This time instead of being surrounded by water, however, we were surrounded by gorgeous green mountains. And- unlike in Istanbul- the mountains weren’t totally covered with buildings! It was looking great before we even arrived.

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Upon arrival we visited the Ulu Cami, a mosque from the early Ottoman period. It was massive, topped with twenty domes of equal size and covered with stunning calligraphy on a grand scale. The ablution fountain was also inside the mosque, which collapsed the program of courtyard and mosque into one space and made it into more of a social space. In contrast, mosques in Istanbul tend to have separate courtyards for ablution and a hierarchy of dome and calligraphy sizes. The Ulu Cami was interesting because it helped us understand the development of the mosque archetype, and also because it was simply different from what we see every day in Istanbul.

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That sense of difference defined the day for me and made it into such a nice break. Bursa is much more relaxed than Istanbul, with less people and apparently less of a hurry. Granted, we only explored a very small portion of the city, but compared to the historic/tourist district of Istanbul Bursa’s was a walk in the park. We visited a couple beautiful hans, had a delicious lunch of iskender kebab (lamb meat on fresh bread covered with tomato sauce and butter), and then explored and sketched. During this time I got to make another firsthand comparison with Istanbul as I purchased a rug. Unlike my expedition to the Grand Bazaar a month ago, in Bursa the prices were reasonable, listed next to the rugs, and I was not hassled while I shopped. I didn’t know rug shopping could be so peaceful!

Bursa rug on the left, Grand Bazaar rug (7 times more expensive) on the right

Bursa rug on the left, Grand Bazaar rug on the right. Guess which was 7x more expensive!

Next we visited the Green Mosque, another beautiful early mosque with the fountain inside the building itself. This mosque is said to have made Le Corbusier fundamentally reconsider his ideas about spaces with multiple programs, and while I didn’t get that level of revelation, the green tiles were very pretty

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After visiting the important historic architecture in Bursa, we hopped back on the bus for a very short ride to a small Ottoman-era village on the foothills. The village was quaint, old, and filled with stalls selling the same touristy souvenirs. However, it was very nice to walk through the cobblestone streets and see life at a very slow pace- almost the opposite of the rush of Istanbul.

We're not in Istanbul anymore

We’re not in Istanbul anymore

And being among the mountains, right next to grass and trees and farms was simply amazing. A few of us walked down a rutted road out of the city and got muddy, close to nature, and a fantastic view. On one side: mountains, trees and grass.

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And directly behind us, Bursa spread throughout the valley, growing outwards and up the sides of the hills. It looked like a smaller version of Istanbul, calmer and not yet expanded so fervently. It was a great day of relaxation and contrast to the crazy city we live in, and set up a fresh new perspective for the rest of our time in Istanbul.

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