In Bursa, the quintessential must-have gift for yourself or a friend is a piece of authentic Bursa-made silk. That’s because back in the heyday Bursa was a terminal on the famed Silk Road and a world trade center of silk cocoons and silk fabric. Well before Ottoman conquest, sericulture was an important industry in Bursa. The Ottomans spun the local silk industry to international fame, and by the 16th and 17th Centuries Bursa silk had become a highly desirable luxury throughout Europe, North Africa, and parts of Asia.
The Bursa silk trade took a heavy hit in the 20th Century as waves of cheap imported silk reduced local silk production to a slow trickle. Though there has always been a remnant of true local silk producers, the Bursa silk production machine has in recent years started to show signs of life with the opening of a number of factories and workshops. Once again, Bursa silk is becoming a sought-after luxury item.
If you’re window shopping in Bursa, keep on the lookout for silk (ipek) shops in the downtown central bazaar area, especially in Koza Han. Silk comes in all shapes, colors, and sizes, and unless you know what you’re looking for, the choices can be overwhelming. As you look, here are a few questions you can ponder to help you find the perfect piece of Bursa silk.
Do you want authentic Bursa silk?
Most silk shops in downtown Bursa sell authentic Bursa-made silk. Many of them also sell cheaper silk from Vietnam, India, China, and other Asian countries. If you want true Bursa-made silk, specifically ask for it. And just because a tag says “Bursa silk” doesn’t necessarily mean it was made in Bursa or even that it’s pure silk. Ask before you buy.
How will you use it?
In the silk bazaar, you can find scarves, shawls, head coverings, hats, shirts, skirts, dresses, neckties, handkerchiefs, bed linens, table linens, and even rugs. Thinking about how you’d like to use your silk can help narrow your search.
Do you want it pure?
If you’re a purist, ask for 100% pure silk (gerçek ipek). But you can also find some really nice blended pieces as well. My wife recently picked up a beautiful silk-linen blended shawl from a shop in Koza Han. You can find silk blended with wool, cashmere, cotton, linen, polyester, rayon, and other fabrics. Typically, blended fabrics are less expensive than pure silk.
Of course, you can also find pieces containing no silk. Silk-free pieces—especially those made of cotton or polyester—are often very inexpensive.
One type of silk you’ll see offered in many shops is 100% raw silk. Raw silk is a relatively coarse fabric as it has not undergone the boiling required to give silk its characteristic soft and smooth feel. Raw silk pieces look and feel a little more rustic than fully processed silk.
Woven, printed, or hand-painted?
Some silk pieces are made of silk threads of various weights and colors woven together to form intricate and beautiful designs. Other silk pieces are single-weight fabrics printed with multi-colored designs. Both types are beautiful in their own right, and deciding which style to buy comes down to your own personal taste.
Traditionally, printed silk wasn’t machine-printed—it was hand-painted in intricate detail by highly skilled artists. I’ve heard of a few local artists still doing this. If you’re interested in a piece of hand-painted silk, ask around in Koza Han.
Modern or traditional design?
For the traditionalist, many woven and printed silks carry beautiful Ottoman designs. Often, these designs include tulips, carnations, calligraphy, and Ottoman-era symbols. But you can also find modern designs in most silk shops. And of course, plain, single-color pieces are also readily available.
How much would you like to spend?
Because of the rich diversity in fabric and style, costs vary widely. I’ve seen pure silk handkerchiefs for as little as 15 Turkish lira (TL). On the other end of the spectrum, a friend of mine recently showed me a beautiful pure silk Iranian rug with a price tag of more than 4000 TL. If you’re looking for a typical, Bursa-made, good quality, pure silk scarf or shawl, plan to spend in the 100-200 TL range. Pieces made from silk blends or synthetic fabrics are considerably less expensive but often equally beautiful.
Where to buy
Buy your piece of Bursa silk in shops in and around Koza Han. Opened in 1491 by Sultan Bayezid II, Koza Han was a center of the city’s vibrant silk trade for 500 years. Though kozalar (cocoons) are no longer traded in Koza Han, you can still find an abundance of silk for sale in many of the han’s 95 rooms. And while you’re there, take time to sit down and enjoy a cup of tea in the charming cobblestone courtyard.