World’s oldest market bridge: Irgandı, Türkiye’s Ponte Vecchio

Özge Şengelen

ISTANBUL: One of only four bridges in the world with a bazaar on top of it, Irgandı Bridge in Türkiye’s Bursa has been a witness to 600 years of history and hardships, and today stands as one of the most popular cultural legacies of the city

Bursa is a wonderful city established on the skirts of Uludağ that has hosted many civilizations throughout history and attracts people with its lush nature, and is also where the special Irgandı Bridge is located. The old name of the city was Prussa and it evolved into Bursa over time. As with the name of any city, Bursa has many stories associated with its moniker. It is said that Bursa, which was founded as a castle city by King Prusias I of Bithynia, was named Prusa after the royal. Some say the name of the city comes from the words “Pura” meaning fortress and “Issa” meaning city and that contrary to what is known, the king is actually named after the city, not vice versa. When the city was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, the name of the city first changed to Brusa and then to Bursa.

The Irgandı Bridge, in Bursa, Türkiye. (Photo by Özge Şengelen)
The Irgandı Bridge, in Bursa, Türkiye. (Photo by Özge Şengelen)

Bursa, which has been home to many civilizations over the years and served as the capital of the Ottoman Empire for a total of 39 years, is one of the most developed cities in Türkiye today. It is also the second largest city in the Marmara region after Istanbul. While Bursa dazzles with its many natural and historical beauties, it also hosts historical artifacts from the founding years of the Ottoman Empire. One of them is the historical Irgandı Bridge.

The entrance to the Irgandı Bridge, in Bursa, Türkiye. (Photo by Özge Şengelen)
The entrance to the Irgandı Bridge, in Bursa, Türkiye. (Photo by Özge Şengelen)

Irgandı Bridge is one of Bursa’s hidden treasures. It is quite different from the bridges you may know. If you ask what makes it so special, it is the fact that it was the world’s first bridge with a bazaar on top of it and is one of only four such bridges in the world today, the others being the Ponte Vecchio and Rialto Bridges in Italy and the Osma Bridge in Bulgaria.

Although the construction of the Ponte Vecchio, built in 1345 in Florence, predates the Irgandı Bridge, the Irgandı Bridge is considered the world’s first bridge with a bazaar because the Ponte Vecchio was used differently. Although the Ponte Vecchio bridge was designed like a bazaar, it was only a gateway for the famous Medici family who did not want to mix with commoners at the time. In 1591, the shops on the bridge began to be used and after this date, it became a bridge with a bazaar. Therefore, if you want to see the world’s first bridge with a bazaar, you should come to Bursa and visit the Irgandı Bridge, not Florence.

Of course, there are many rumors about Irgandı as it is such a special and historical bridge.

Souvenir shops on the Irgandı Bridge, in Bursa, Türkiye. (Photo by Özge Şengelen)
Souvenir shops on the Irgandı Bridge, in Bursa, Türkiye. (Photo by Özge Şengelen)

One of these stories is about a warrior who lived during the reign of Orhan Bey, one of the first sultans of the Ottoman Empire. The soldier hears voices coming from beneath the ground where the bridge is now located and draws his sword and strikes the rocks. Suddenly the ground shakes and a great treasure comes out, which the warrior takes to Orhan Bey. Orhan Bey tells the warrior that the treasure is his to keep, but asks in return that he does something good for Bursa. Thus, the warrior has the Irgandı Bridge built at the site where he discovered the treasure.

“Irgandı” means to be “swayed” or “swung” in Turkish. Maybe that’s why the bridge was known as the “Swing Bridge” for a period.

Unlike this story, you will also read in many places that the bridge is a foundation bridge built by Hodja Muslihiddin from Irganda in 1440, and that’s why the bridge was given this name.

Many travelers also visited the bridge during the Ottoman period and had their own interpretations. While Julia Pardoe introduced the bridge as a Roman work in her travel book after visiting in 1836, according to a German traveler, the bridge is a Christian work. A famous Turkish traveler, who started his travel book from Bursa, based the story of the bridge in the period of Orhan Gazi and emphasized that the bridge is an Ottoman work.

A cat in the door of a craftsman's shop on the Irgandı Bridge, in Bursa, Türkiye. (Photo by Özge Şengelen)
A cat in the door of a craftsman’s shop on the Irgandı Bridge, in Bursa, Türkiye. (Photo by Özge Şengelen)

With such a deep-rooted history and as the first of its kind in the world, the bridge is still standing tall and waiting to be visited, although it suffered heavy damage in the past. The bridge, which was badly damaged in the Bursa earthquake in 1854, was also exposed to Greek bombs during the War of Independence. However, the bridge was rebuilt each time after it was destroyed. It took its current form after going through various restorations in 2004.

Today, the Irgandı Bridge, where traditional handicrafts are exhibited and sold, is one of the must-see places in Bursa. You can visit this unique bridge and get a closer look at Turkish traditional handicrafts or purchase beautiful souvenirs. At the same time, you can have a drink and rest here, accompanied by the soothing sound of the Gökdere stream passing under the bridge.

For those who may visit Bursa in October, I would like to remind you that Irgandı Art Days Festival is held here every year during the month. Lastly, you can visit Gurebahane-i Laklakan (House of the Fallen Storks), a place near the bridge where injured storks were treated during the Ottoman Empire period.

The Gurebahane-i Laklakan, an Ottoman animal hospital, in Bursa, Türkiye. (Photo by Özge Şengelen)
The Gurebahane-i Laklakan, an Ottoman animal hospital, in Bursa, Türkiye. (Photo by Özge Şengelen)

Gurebahane-i Laklakan, which is also known as the world’s first animal hospital, was established with the aim of healing storks and other migratory birds that were injured on the migration route which was considered fertile and auspicious in Anatolian culture during the Ottoman period.

Established by the Ottomans in the 19th century, Gurebahane-i Laklakan, reveals how merciful the Ottomans were not only to people in need but also to animals in need. With the restoration works carried out, it still continues to serve stray animals today.

Bursa is a city full of treasures, some perhaps hidden, but nonetheless waiting to be discovered. These two hidden treasures, which were the first in the world in their respective rights, just scratch the surface. Irgandı Bridge and Gurebahane-i Laklakan, both of which defy the test of time, should definitely be on your list of places to visit in Bursa.

Courtesy: Dailysabah