“This must be it,” my friend Ahmet told me as we pulled up to the edge of the centuries-old stone-walled cemetery in Bursa’s little Armutköy village. “But it looks more like a çınar to me.” Bursa is famous for its collection of 600 and 700-year-old çınar (plane) trees, many of which were planted in the early days of Ottoman rule. But on this particular cold, rainy February day, Ahmet and I weren’t on the search for an ordinary 600-year-old plane tree. We were hoping to find something perhaps even more special; we were looking for what is believed to be Bursa’s oldest living resident, a 1,000-year-old Quercus robur, or pedunculate oak.
We hopped out of the car and walked over to the massive tree with far-spreading branches. As suspected, the plate on the trunk identified it as a plane tree with a wee age of under 700 years. Impressive, certainly, but not what we were looking for. Before I knew it, Ahmet was prattling along on his phone, talking with his friend who had suggested this little outing to us. “Go deep into the cemetery,” Ahmet’s friend advised.
As we walked through the wet, ankle-high grass, we kept our eyes open for the big oak tree. We also kept our eyes open for big stray dogs who might not appreciate our intrusion into their quiet solitude. Sure enough, just as we spotted the massive, gnarled trunk in the distance, a startled dog leapt out of the shrubs with a growl and a bark. We stopped in our tracks for a moment, and thankfully the dog kept her distance as we continued to make our way toward the millennium-old oak tree.
The old Armutköy oak isn’t the oldest tree in Turkey. That honor goes to a 2,000-year-old cedar in the Mediterranean province of Antalya. And though the Armutköy oak may be Bursa’s oldest tree, it is certainly not the city’s best known. The popularity title goes to the famed Īnkaya çınar, a plane tree in Bursa’s mountainside village of Īnkaya. Under its wildly sprawling branches, you can sip tea and eat gözleme and catch some lovely views—if, that is, you can snatch a table from the throngs of tourists and weekenders that flood the village during summer months. Despite being a mere 600 years old, the popularity of the Īnkaya çınar seems to have resulted in a commonly held misconception that it is the oldest tree in Bursa and one of the oldest trees in Turkey.
Back in the quiet, secluded, and decidedly not tourist-popular Armutköy cemetery, we approached the oak with a sense of respect. Its knotty trunk, gangly branches, and massive roots bore the scars of centuries of growth and change. The small marker on the trunk officially designated the specimen as a monumental tree and stated an estimated age of 980 years old as of the year 2014.
Below the tree stood a large marble tablet that explained the significance of the tree not by its age, but by the two people who are buried beneath it. One is Meymune Hatun, wife of holy man Eyyüb-ül Ensariy. According to the writing on the tablet, Meymune Hatun was a saintly woman who—as suggested by a prophetic word—will serve as a helper for sinners on God’s Judgment Day. The other is Ğatike Sultan, a holy man who was born in Yemen and lived in Armutköy. According to the tablet, Ğatike Sultan spent 21 years of his life alone in an Armutköy cave so that he could worship in solitude. He died in the Hijri calendar year 441 (1,049 Gregorian calendar) at the age of 63 years old.
As we stood under the oak in the little village cemetery, I tried to imagine what this old tree had seen in its lifetime. When it was planted, Bursa was an ancient Byzantine city and Armutköy was a tiny village far from the walled city center. The world has come a long way since then, and the old Armutköy oak tree has—for better and for worse—witnessed all kinds of changes. In that fleeting moment, I found myself wishing that trees could talk.
The old oak tree didn’t show much life on that cold February day. In fact, the only sign of life was the soft whimpering of a puppy that seemed to come from a deep hollow at the base of the tree, a sound that explained why mother dog was keeping Ahmet and me under a warily watchful eye from afar. Though the ancient tree was still deep in its winter slumber, we were certain that as the days get a little longer and the temperatures get a little warmer, this old Bursa resident would once again bud back to life as it had every spring for nearly a thousand years.