The easy-to-find Muradiye Külliyesi is definitely the place to capture Bursa’s early Ottoman spirit – it holds a few low-key trinket-sellers, but there’s little pressure to buy and no coachloads shatter the calm. Begun in 1424 by Murat II, the complex was the last imperial foundation in Bursa. The mosque itself is similar in plan to Orhan Gazi, but more impressive with its profuse tiling low on the walls, calligraphy higher up and two domes.
The ten royal tombs for which Muradiye is famous are mostly the final resting places of Ottoman crown princes who fell victim to stronger, or smarter, relatives hell bent on power by any means. Added piecemeal during the century or so after the mosque was founded in 1424, the tombs are set in lovingly tended and fragrant gardens whose serenity belies the tragic stories of those entombed.
The first tomb you come to holds Şehzade Ahmet and his brother Şehinşah, both murdered in 1513 by their cousin Selim I. The luxury of the two-tone blue İznik tiles within contrasts sharply with the adjacent austerity of Murat II’s tomb, where Roman columns inside and a wooden canopy out front are the only superfluities. As much contemplative mystic as warrior-sultan, Murat was the only Ottoman ruler ever to abdicate voluntarily, though pressures of state forced him to leave his dervish order and return to the throne after just two years. The last sultan to be interred at Bursa, he’s one of the few here who died in his bed; both the coffin and dome were originally open to the sky “so that the rain of heaven might wash my face like any pauper’s”.
Next along is the tomb of Şehzade Mustafa, Süleyman the Magnificent’s unjustly murdered heir; perhaps indicative of his father’s remorse, the tomb is done up in extravagantly floral İznik tiles, with a top border of calligraphy. Nearby, the tomb of Cem Sultan, his brother Mustafa and two of Beyazit II’s sons is decorated with a riot of abstract, botanical and calligraphic paint strokes up to the dome, with turquoise tiles below. Cem, the cultured favourite son of Mehmet the Conqueror, was an interesting might-have-been. Following Mehmet’s death in 1481, he lost a brief dynastic struggle with the successful claimant, brother Beyazit II, and fled abroad. For fourteen years he wandered, seeking sponsorship from Christian benefactors who in all cases became his jailers: first the Knights of St John at Bodrum and Rhodes, later the papacy. At one point it seemed he would command a Crusader army to retake İstanbul, but all such plans came to nothing for the simple reason that Beyazit anticipated his opponents’ moves and each time bribed them handsomely to desist, making Cem a lucrative prisoner indeed. His usefulness as a pawn exhausted, Cem was probably poisoned in Italy by Pope Alexander VI in 1495, leaving reams of poems aching with nostalgia and homesickness.