Despite their proximity to İstanbul, the shores and hinterland of the Sea of Marmara are neglected by most foreign travellers. This is not altogether surprising – here Turkey is at its most Balkan and, at first glance, least exotic – but there are good reasons to visit: above all the exquisite early Ottoman centres of Edirne and Bursa. If your appetite is whetted for more of the same, historic Lüleburgaz and İznik make good postscripts to the former imperial capitals.
While most of the Thracian coast is disappointing, and the Marmara islands are of little interest with scrappy beaches, there are two bright spots – the beach-and-fortress town of Kıyıköy on the Black Sea, and the Saros Gulf resort of Erikli. To cross the Sea of Marmara, the port of Tekirdağ has potentially useful ferries to the southern shore, while Gelibolu, on the eponymous peninsula, is linked by ro-ro craft to Lapseki opposite.
For evocative inland scenery in the southern Marmara, Uluabat Gölü and Manyas Gölü are shallow lakes that support a dwindling fishing community and a bird sanctuary respectively. The Uludağ range above Bursa proves popular with skiers in winter and hikers in summer, while Cumalıkızık at the base of the mountain is one of the region’s showcase villages.
Before the wars and population exchanges of the early twentieth century, much of the local population was Greek (or Bulgarian) Orthodox, with substantial Jewish and Armenian communities in all the larger towns. On the establishment of the Turkish Republic, massive immigration – both internal and from abroad – changed the mix. The result remains an ethnic stew that includes people of Çerkez (Circassian), Artvinli and Greek Muslim descent, as well as a large settled Romany population, but consists predominantly of Pomak, Bosnian and Macedonian Muslims, plus Bulgarian Turks. All these groups had, in fact, been trickling in for decades before 1923, as Austro-Hungarian or Orthodox nationalist victories in the Balkans made their previous homes inhospitable to Turks or Slavic Muslims. This trend was reinforced following the 1989 disturbances in Bulgaria, when hundreds of thousands of ethnic Turks fled to Turkey, though many of the new arrivals subsequently returned to post-Communist Bulgaria.Read More