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All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to romapip@quipo.it. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page added in March 2008.

- Bursa - page one
(domes at Eski Kaplica)

Historical Background

Bursa, the ancient Prusia ad Olympium is located in the north-western corner of the Anatolian tableland. The Latin reference to Olympium is due to a nearby high mountain (8300 ft), today known as Uludag (Great Mountain) and which the Greeks called Olympos as they did with other high mountains. It was founded by Prusias I, King of Bythinia and it was named after him. According to Roman historians it was designed by Hannibal, who sought refuge at the court of Prusias.

View of the Old City and of its reconstructed southern walls; to the far right Ulu Camii (Great Mosque) and in the background modern Bursa

King Prusias was an ally of the kings of Macedonia and Syria in their wars with Rome; he tried to expand his territories at the expense of King Eumenes II of Pergamum, who supported the Romans. The following passage by Livy explains why Prusias helped Hannibal and why he eventually betrayed him.

Prusias had for some time fallen under suspicion in Rome, partly owing to his having sheltered Hannibal after the flight of Antiochus and partly because he had started a war with Eumenes. T. Quinctius Flamininus was accordingly sent on a special mission to him. He charged Prusias, amongst other things, with admitting to his court the man who of all men living was the most deadly foe to the People of Rome, who had instigated first his own countrymen and then, when their power was broken, King Antiochus to levy war on Rome. Either owing to the menacing language of Flamininus or because he wished to ingratiate himself with Flamininus and the Romans, he formed the design of either putting Hannibal to death or delivering him up to them. In any case, immediately after his first interview with Flamininus he sent soldiers to guard the house in which Hannibal was living. Hannibal had always looked forward to such a fate as this; he fully realised the implacable hatred which the Romans felt towards him, and he put no trust whatever in the good faith of monarchs. He had already had experience of Prusias' fickleness of temper and he had dreaded the arrival of Flamininus as certain to prove fatal to himself. In face of the dangers confronting him on all sides he tried to keep open some one avenue of escape. With this view he had constructed seven exits from his house, some of them concealed, so that they might not be blocked by the guard. But the tyranny of kings leaves nothing hidden which they want to explore. The guards surrounded the house so closely that no one could slip out of it. When Hannibal was informed that the king's soldiers were in the vestibule, he tried to escape through a postern gate which afforded the most secret means of exit. He found that this too was closely watched and that guards were posted all round the place. Finally he called for the poison which he had long kept in readiness for such an emergency. "Let us," he said, "relieve the Romans from the anxiety they have so long experienced, since they think it tries their patience too much to wait for an old man's death. The victory which Flamininus will win over a defenceless fugitive will be neither great nor memorable; this day will show how vastly the moral of the Roman People has changed. Their fathers warned Pyrrhus, when he had an army in Italy, to beware of poison, and now they have sent a man of consular rank to persuade Prusias to murder his guest." Then, invoking curses on Prusias and his realm and appealing to the gods who guard the rights of hospitality to punish his broken faith, he drained the cup. Such was the close of Hannibal's life.
Titus Livius - The History of Rome - Book 39.51. Translation by Rev. Canon Roberts.

(left) A section of reconstructed Byzantine walls (southern section, near Fetih Kapi, the Conqueror's Gate); (right) Saltanat Kapi (reconstructed)

Prusia was protected by deep ravines on three sides, but its defence on the southern side (towards the mountain) was rather difficult because the enemy had the advantage of a higher position. At the end of the IIIrd century AD Prusia was surrounded by walls. Later on (probably in the IXth century) these walls were strengthened by a second curtain (they look very similar to those of Constantinople). This additional protection did not prevent the Seljuk Turks from seizing Prusia in 1075; however a few years later the Crusaders forced the Seljuks out of Prusia. The city returned to Byzantine hands until 1326 when it was conquered by the Ottomans who renamed it Bursa.

(left) Reconstructed towers (northern walls); (right) an old tower (southern inner walls)

Orhan Gazi (Gazi = Warrior for the Faith/Victorious), the leader of the Ottomans who conquered Bursa made it the capital of his state; he can be regarded as the true founder of the Ottoman Empire (which is named after his father Osman). He strengthened his power by conquering Nicaea in 1331 and by marrying Theodora, a Byzantine princess, and by helping her father to usurp the throne of Constantinople and to become Emperor John VI Cantacuzenus.

(left) A section of the inner southern walls; (right) the site of a former gate (Kaplica Kapi, the Gate leading to the hot springs)

Orhan Gazi took advantage of the continuous fights between Genoese and Venetians and with the help of the former he established the first Ottoman European foothold at Gallipoli. His successor Murad I continued the expansion of the Ottomans in Europe by conquering in 1365 Adrianople, which was renamed Edirne and became the new capital of the empire. He was the first to use the title of sultan (high ruler).

(left) Yer Kapi Camii; (centre) cemetery near the mosque; (right) Byzantine decoration inside Orhan Gazi Turbe

Notwithstanding the loss of political importance due to the transfer of the capital, Bursa flourished during the Ottoman Empire and it expanded outside the walls.
In modern times all the ancient gates were pulled down for traffic reasons. In recent years a gate (Sultanat Kapi) was entirely rebuilt together with some stretches of the walls. The image used as background for this page shows Sultanat Kapi in an 1845 engraving.
Within the walls there are some small mosques (Camii) and the tombs (Turbe) of Osman Gazi and Orhan Gazi: due to an 1855 earthquake these tombs collapsed and they were rebuilt in XIXth century fashion. Very little is left of the Byzantine period.


Sultan Murad II who ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1421 to 1451 built on a hill to the west of the walls a complex of buildings which was named after him.

View of Muradiye from Kaplica Kapi

The complex consists of a mosque, twelve tombs, a medrese (school), a hammam (baths) and an imaret (a soup kitchen for the poor). Old guides describing Bursa often make reference to it as "Green Bursa" because of its parks and gardens located across its urban landscape. Unfortunately this is not entirely true any longer; even the Muradiye complex is surrounded by modern buildings and others of a gigantic size are in the process of being completed
(March 2008).

Muradiye Camii: (left) view from the back; (centre) detail of the surviving original minaret; (right) an ancient granite column of the porch; (in the inset) sketch of its T plan.

The mosque of Muradiye was built in 1425-26 and it shows the typical design of Bursa's largest mosques. Its plan is usually referred to as a "T" because the fašade/porch is larger than the rest of the building which mainly consists of two circular halls on a vertical line. The domes of these halls are almost identical and this explains the title of this page.

Muradiye Camii: details of the main entrance

The mosque main entrance and parts of its interior are decorated with tiles having different tones of blue. They were added in the XVIth century after Sultan Selim I brought a group of artisans skilled in the manufacturing of ceramics from Tabriz in Azerbajgan to Nicaea. In 1514 they started the production of the blue-greenish tiles which decorate most Ottoman mosques.

(left) The cemetery of Muradiye and Sultan Murad II Turbe (square) and Prince Ahmet Turbe (octagonal); (right) door of Sultan Cem Turbe

The tombs have almost the same size, although they vary in shape: square, hexagonal and octagonal: there is consistency also in their construction technique which is based on layers of bricks and ashlars (square stones).
The only sultan buried in the cemetery is Murad II; this title was given also to some sons of sultans who never ruled. For example the title was given to
Prince Cem, who died in Naples in 1495 and whose body was returned to his country. Some tombs are dedicated to Hatun, wives (and mothers) of sultans.

Sultan Murad II Turbe: detail of the eaves

Muslims are buried in the ground and therefore the actual tombs inside the buildings are made of four low marble panels filled with earth. The simplicity of this arrangement is in stark contrast to the elaborate decoration of some details of the buildings.

Details of (left) Sultan Murad II Turbe and (right) Sultan Cem Turbe

Columns and capitals of ancient Prusia were employed to support the ceilings of the tombs; the walls of the interior are usually decorated with blue tiles and paintings.

(left) Muradiye Hammam (which was being restored in March 2008); (right) Muradiye Cesme (the only remaining original fountain)

Move to page two.

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