Bursa was the first capitol of the Ottoman Empire, and the city still feels prosperous. We spent a long day here, arriving early in the morning on a ferry from Istanbul, visiting the Green Mosque, the Green Tombs, silk stores in the covered market, a long lunch at a famous kebap restaurant, a tour of artisan shops along a covered bridge, and an evening with the Whirling Dervishes.
But the sleeper hit of the day was a trip to the Great Mosque (Ulu Camii). Built in 1396 and renovated, restored and embellished over the centuries, the mosque is known for its tiered fountain in the center of the building and multiple domes. But what stunned us all was the calligraphy – 9 of 12 different types are represented here, created by artists and sultans over hundreds of years. The works are huge, many made with a giant brush (pictured in the slide show below) and require almost a kind of dance to execute. It is stunning, disorienting to see a place of worship decorated so richly with words, no less spectacular than the images, icons and jewels of western cathedrals.
Also warming was the community-center vibe of the mosque. A mother crouches near a pillar to feed her baby, while nearby a man kneels down to work prayer beads. A group of women tourists from the United Arab Emirates smile and show us their beautifully hennaed hands.