Whether you are heading for the Aegean or for Ankara and central Anatolia, you would do well to take two or three days to explore this region near the southern shore of the Sea of Marmara. Both Bursa and Iznik have reaped the rewards of rich histories, and Termal remains a particularly Turkish spa.
Bursa, one of Turkey’s more prosperous cities -a pleasing mix of bustling modernity, old stone buildings, and wealthy suburbs with vintage wood-frame Ottoman villas -became the first capital of a nascent Ottoman Empire after the city was captured in 1326 by Orhan Gazi, the empire’s first sultan. It was here that Ottoman architecture bloomed, laying the foundation for more elaborate works to be found in the later capitals, Edirne and Istanbul. More than 125 mosques here are on the list kept by the Turkish Historical Monuments Commission, and their minarets make for a grand skyline. Among its residents, Bursa is proudly called Yeşil, or Green, Bursa, both for the green Iznik tiles decorating some of its most famous monuments and for its parks and gardens and the national forest surrounding nearby Mt. Uludağ. Uludağ, at 8300 feet, is also a popular ski resort.
İznik, known as Nicaea in ancient times, was put on the map in 316 BC when one of Alexander the Great’s generals claimed the city. Six years later it was conquered by another general, Lyimachos, who renamed it Nikaea after his wife. In AD 325 and again in 786, rejected iconoclasm, or the “breaking of images” and allowed the adoration an use of icons and religious art, resolving a hotly contested issue of the day. The Seljuks made the city their capital for a brief period in the 11th century; Byzantine emperors in exile did the same in the 13th century, while Constantinople was in the hands of Crusaders. Orhan captured it in 1331. Following the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul, Iznik became a center for the ceramics industry. To upgrade the quality of native work, Sultan Selim I, known as “The Grim,” imported 500 Persian potters form Tabriz after he conquered it. The government-owned kilns were soon turning out incredibly rich tiles with intricate motifs of circles, stars, and floral and geometric patterns, executed in lush turquoise, green, blue, red, and white. Despite their costliness, their popularity spread through the Islamic world. Today original Iznik tiles can be found in museum in Europe and the United States, as well as in Turkey.
Terman is notable for one and only one reason -its natural hot springs. A popular spa since Roman times, the springs were used by the Ottomans, refurbished in 1900 by Sultan Abdül Hamid II, and regularly visited by Atatürk during breaks from the frenzied business of running the country in the 1920’s and ’30s. It maintains something of that 1930s air, and its restored baths, shady gardens, and pinet woods are time-proven restoratives. There is little evidence today of Termal’s ancient history, but the waters continue to attract the weary.