town and district in Bilecik Province, Turkey

For the seaside village of Söğüt near Marmaris, see Bozburun.

Söğüt is a town in the hills of Eastern Marmara Region in Turkey, with a population in 2020 of 17,924. It's a nondescript place amid cherry orchards and market gardens, and eyesore marble quarries and claypits. Yet from 1299 to 1335 it was the first powerbase of the Ottoman dynasty, which went on to establish a vast empire that endured for 600 years.

Understand

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16th century depiction of Ertuğrul

The town name means "willows", which in Byzantium was Thebasion. It traded and processed silk and other materials along the Silk Road between inland Anatolia and the ports along the Sea of Marmara coast. Initially this was pre-made silk, but by 140 AD the secret and the silkworms had been smuggled out of China, and towns across this region began production in their own right. Anatolia to the east was wrested from the Byzantines by the Seljuks in the 11th century, so Söğüt was in a borderland or power vacuum.

Around 1258 AD, the local leader Ertuğrul had a son, called Osman — and that is all that is reliably known of his origins. The standard theory is that Ertuğrul was of the Kayı tribe of Oghuz Turks, a nomadic people pushed ever westward from Persia by the Mongol invasions. They pitched their yurts among the willows and established settled dwellings and agriculture here. When the Seljuks were toppled by the Mongols, the vassal tribal chiefs each declared independence, and Osman (having succeeded his father) did so in 1299. The problem is that none of this was documented until over a century later and has been thoroughly mythologised and jazzed-up. If you win battles, people write about you, and you get to employ them.

The proto-Ottoman statelet began to subdue its Byzantine or briefly independent neighbours under Ertuğrul. Osman continued, and laid siege to the major city of Bursa, but it was only during the reign of his own son Orhan that it was captured in 1326. This was a much more important, sturdier and more lucrative place to be, so the throne was soon moved to Bursa, and Söğüt was left in a backwater.

It was rediscovered, and in a way reinvented, in the late 19th century when the Ottomans were being ousted from their non-Turkish dominions and needed a rallying cry in their heartlands. Abdülhamid II (r 1876–1909) ordered the repair of the earliest Ottoman structures, a new mosque, and selected his personal bodyguard regiment from the Karakeçili clan, closest known descendants of the Kayı people settled around Söğüt. But 1918 saw that empire finally shattered, and the Greeks awarded the Aegean islands and large tracts of mainland such as Izmir. The Greeks had greater ambitions and in 1920 invaded this region, until driven back in the War of Turkish Independence.

Get in

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There's no direct transport from the big cities. From Istanbul take the YHT fast train to Bilecik, whence an hourly dolmuş runs the 28 km to Söğüt. From Ankara take the YHT to Eskişehir; the onward dolmuş is every two hours, and similarly from Bozüyük which is also on the YHT line.

The main approach highway is D-650 to Bilecik, then onto the side road past Yeniköy. This road is wide and smooth. It continues southeast to join D-200 / E90 towards Eskişehir.

You might approach via Bozüyük coming from the Izmir area. This road is surfaced but the turn-off isn't signed, and the route is narrow and twisty. Still, it's scenic.

Get around

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It's about 3 km from the tomb of Ertuğrul Gazi at the north end of town, to the Mosque of the Well at the south end, so it's walking distance.

 
Flags drape the tomb of Ertuğrul Gazi
  • 1 Ertuğrul Ghazi tomb (Ertuğrul Gazi türbesi) (1 km north of town centre). Daily 07:00-18:00. A humble mausoleum for the birthplace of a dynasty ― Osman I built the original, but it was extensively rebuilt in the 19th century. Like the rest of town, it was shot up in the Greek invasion of 1921, but restored as before. It's an octagonal domed stone building, with the interior decorated in Ottoman Baroque style and by Kayı and modern Turkic flags. In the leafy cemetery are other graves of early Ottoman or Kayı notables. You may encounter visitors got up in Kayı warrior costume, owing less to history than to a Turkish TV soap opera: Kuruluş: Osman is the third in that series, aired from 2019. Free.  
  • Hamidiye Mosque (or Çifte Minareli Cami — "Double Minaret Mosque") just north of the museum is a neo-classical building of 1903.
  • 2 Ertuğrul Gazi Museum, Curabey Cd 33, +90 228 361 3027. Tu-Su 08:30-17:30. Small display of traditional clothing and artefacts of the Yörük people of this region, and other curios. The building is from 1900, a former dispensary. Exhibit displays are only in Turkish. Free.    
  • 3 Hamidiye High School (Hamidiye İdadisi) is an attractive group of buildings of 1905, corner of Zafer Sk and Ertuğrul Gazi Cd. They're now a library and other local government offices.
  • 4 Çelebi Sultan Mehmet Mosque is the town's finest. It was built circa 1420 but only the foundations remain, with the present mosque built upon them at the end of the 19th.
  • Governor's Fountain (Kaymakam Çeşmesi) is north side of that mosque. It's early 20th century.
  • 5 Mosque of the Well (Kuyulu Mescid or Ertuğrul Gazi Mosque), Köprü Cd 40. A very simple small mosque, built some time in the 13th century under Ertuğrul Gazi. It's thus claimed as the Ottomans' first permanent building; it's been much restored since. Within its precincts are the well (nowadays dry) which gave the mosque its common name. This was intended not just for religious ablution but to alleviate the settlement's chronic water shortage.

Further out

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  • 6 Dursun Fakıh Tomb. This is the hilltop mausoleum of Dursun Fakıh, a 13th century scholar, judge and preacher who became brother-in-law to Osman I. Since his pronouncements boosted all things Ottoman, he's been sanctified as legitimising the dynasty. He died in 1327.
  • 7 İsa Sofu Tomb in the village of Borcak is a simple building, probably 14th century. But under its interior plaster were discovered curious decorations, interpreted as shamanistic references to Gök Tanrı or Tengri the sky-god. These interpretations are disputed, and detested by those who wish to depict medieval Turkey as monoglot Islamic; but pre-Ottoman nomads acquired Islam in dribs and drabs from travelling preachers not from study in a medressah. Isa Bey himself served with Ertuğrul Gazi: "İsa" corresponds to Jesus and "Sofu" indicates he was Sufi, the mystic branch of Islam.
  • 8 Metris Tepe is a memorial to Turkish losses in the war with Greece 1920-22.
 
Ertuğrul Gazi Museum
  • Söğüt Spor Salonu is a gym and fitness centre at Ertuğrul Gazi Cd 79 just south of the tomb.
  • There are souvenir shops around the Mosque of the Well, and south of the Ertuğrul Gazi tomb.
  • Shops for necessities line main drag. There's no dominant superstore.
  • Türk Sofrası is next to Ertuğrul Gazi Tomb, open daily 10:00-22:00.
  • There's a slew of small cafes in town centre.

Drink

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  • Most cafes serve beer. There's no free-standing pub.

Sleep

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  • Namlı Osmanlı Konagi, Ertuğrul Gazi Cd 87 (by Ertuğrul Gazi tombs), +90 228 361 2011. Convenient location, but the lease is expiring and the place is shabby.

Connect

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As of May 2022, Söğüt has 4G from all Turkish carriers. 5G has not rolled out in Turkey.

Go next

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  • Bilecik — a nearby city and the provincial capital was also an early Ottoman possession and has some associated sites.
  • Eskişehir — back in the early years of the Ottoman Empire, Eskişehir was the site of a small Byzantine castle as well as of a Turkish-run regional marketplace. Nowadays, it is a fine riverside city, taking pride in being the hometown of Malhatun, the spouse of Osman I and the mother of Orhan.
  • Bursa — the Ottoman capital after Söğüt is chock full of monuments from the early years of the empire, and is the site of the tombs of many sultans, including Osman I.
  • Domaniç — over the misty mountains to the southwest, Domaniç was the summer meadows of the Kayı tribe back in the nomadic days, and is the site of the tomb of Hayme Ana, the mother of Ertuğrul.
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