Karagöz and Hacivat are famous Turkish shadow puppets and, as far as I can tell, the unofficial ambassadors of Bursa. Loved by all, these two entertaining characters are found everywhere in Bursa–in shops, on billboards, in books, on posters, even inlaid in tile patterns. Bursa has a nicely curated Karagöz Museum and is home to some of Turkey’s most famous master shadow puppeteers. The highly acclaimed Karagöz International Shadow Puppet Theater Festival is biennially hosted in Bursa.
According to local folklore, Karagöz and Hacivat are based on real 14th century people. As the legend goes, these two characters were workers on the construction of Bursa’s Ulu Camii (Grand Mosque), but their tendency to clown around on the job site and distract their coworkers repeatedly got them into trouble and they were ultimately executed for their comical yet misguided antics. Much loved and sorely missed by the people, Karagöz and Hacivat were memorialized as amusing puppet characters and have been entertaining people for centuries.
In the satirical shadow puppet plays, Karagöz is the bawdy, unrefined, impulsive commoner while Hacivat is the educated, well-mannered, smooth-talking aristocrat. Each character tries to persuade and influence the other in their quest to solve every day problems, Karagöz relying on his simple, earthy street wisdom and Havicat asserting his reasoned, sophisticated ideals. Together, they frequently find themselves entangled in strange and comical situations along with their eclectic cast of neighborhood friends and antagonists. Today, Karagöz shadow plays are a treat to watch. Locals of all ages—from schoolchildren to senior citizens—enjoy the humorous and zany exploits of Karagöz, Hacivat, and friends.
While you’re in Bursa, stop by Mr. Şinasi Çelikkol’s Karagöz Antique Shop in the Eski Aynalı Kapalı Çarsı or his ethnography museum in the village of Misi for a short, private show. Mr. Çelikkol is a master puppeteer and would be delighted to share with you his passion for Karagöz and Hacivat. Also, while you’re wandering around town, be sure to stop by the Karagöz Museum in Çekirge. And if you’re here in November 2015, you’ll certainly want to spend some time enjoying the biennial International Karagöz Festival.
As Bursa’s unofficial ambassadors, Karagöz and Hacivat are not only themselves among the best of Bursa, I think they would approve of The Best of Bursa!