Walking down the street in front of Bursa’s historic Yeşil Cami’i (Green Mosque) one sunny Friday afternoon, my wife and I spotted our friend, Yunus Vurmaz, standing on the corner gazing at the old Turkish bath house next to his gift shop. “Yunus, my friend, what are you doing? Trying to get a suntan?” I asked with a grin.
Delighted to see us, Yunus greeted us with a warm hand shake and wide smile. “Our shop is expanding into the old hamam, and I’m making sure I like the exterior paint color,” Yunus explained in his near-perfect English. Having spent a handful of years in Pennsylvania as a boy, Yunus has an excellent grasp of the English language.
The hamam was built in 1480 during the reign of famed Ottoman sultan Mehmet the Conqueror. Though part of the UNESCO-listed Yeşil Külliyesi, in recent years the hamam has sat in disrepair. “We need to expand. Our shop is too small, and this will be a great place for us to grow,” Yunus predicted. As I peered past the scaffolding through the open front door, I could easily see beyond the construction dust to envision a charming old building full of ceramics, silk, and other Bursa trinkets.
Inviting us around the corner to his lovely Anadolu Ceramics and Gift Shop, we sat down in the courtyard to sip tea under the shade of the 150-year-old grapevine. “This Ottoman house is 250 years old. It was most likely built for relatives of the sultan,” Yunus suggested. Twenty years ago, Yunus and his cousin, Taner, opened their shop in this old house in the Yeşil neighborhood across the street from the 15th century madrasah, now home to the Turkish Islamic Art Museum. Over the years, the cousins’ business has grown to include İznik and Kütahya-style ceramics, silk, silver, and other local crafts. These goods spill out of the shop’s door and into the grapevine-shaded courtyard.
Yunus and Taner have one of the best selections of ceramic and quartz pottery that I’ve seen in Bursa. “We design all of our own pottery,” Yunus explained. “We have the İznik pottery made in İznik and the Kütahya pottery made in Kütahya. Our pieces are uniquely designed by us, made to our specifications, and hand-painted the way we want them.” To be sure, the shop’s showroom is a visual smorgasbord of beautiful colors, shapes, patterns, and styles.
But the real treasures in Yunus’ shop are kept upstairs. On the third floor of the old Ottoman house lay piles of beautifully handcrafted Turkish rugs, carpets, upholstery, and woven decorative art. It’s a collection that Yunus is more than happy to show off. “Just come up and take a look,” Yunus will tell you. “You never know what might happen.”
Upstairs in the rug room, Yunus sets out dozens of pieces. He can tell you the story of each one. One is from the area around Mount Ararat. One was used as a prayer rug. One was made as a dowry. One was made to be used on both sides. Some are large, some are small. Some are small pieces taken from larger rugs. Most are made of some combination of wool, cotton, silk, or goat hair. All are beautiful. Listening to Yunus excitedly talk about his collection is both fascinating and enticing. Even my mother-in-law couldn’t make it out of his shop without purchasing a nice hand-woven rug.
Yunus said he’s been collecting and selling handmade Turkish rugs for 20 years now. Each winter, he travels throughout Turkey looking for unique, special, hand-woven pieces. Some he buys from women in the villages and some he buys from nomadic mountain people. As Yunus explained it, 70-80% of his rugs were made by young girls as dowries to bring into their marriage. These girls learn the craft from their mothers, and when they are 13 or 14 years old they start to make a rug for themselves, for their future. The other 20-30% of the rugs are made by women who work in the fields during the growing season. In the winter, they sit by the fire and weave rugs.
No matter who the weaver or what the reason, each rug is unique. Each rug tells a story. Each rug reflects the woman, her people, her village, her history, and her experience.
“This is a dying tradition. Rugs like this are getting harder and harder to find in Turkey,” Yunus lamented. Years ago, Yunus would be able to easily find 100 rugs on a winter road trip through the Turkish countryside. This winter, he was only able to bring back 45, mostly from villages along Turkey’s eastern borders. “Modern conveniences are replacing old traditions,” Yunus explained. “Today’s girls want to bring washing machines and dishwashers and televisions into their marriage, not rugs. These one-of-a-kind Turkish rugs are getting to be rare.”
A visit to Yunus’ Anadolu Ceramics and Gift Shop is a great opportunity to buy beautiful pottery, neat souvenirs, and, of course, unique Turkish rugs. But visiting Yunus’ store is about more than shopping; it’s about having a delightful experience that we highly recommend. In fact, we bring all of our visiting friends and family to see Yunus in his shop, and we suggest that you stop in, too. When you do, be sure to ask to see his rug collection upstairs on the third floor, and please tell him and Taner “Merhaba” from Dennis at The Best of Bursa.