Söğüt is a town in the Turkish region of Eastern Marmara. A small town stuck among the mountains, Söğüt could be "Anywhere, Turkey", were it not for the fact that the Ottoman Empire, spanned over multiple continents and multiple centuries, was founded right in this, seemingly insignificant, place.
- For the Mediterranean village/resort of the same name, see Marmaris.
In the meantime, the Kayı tribe of the Oghuz Turks, led by Ertuğrul (d. 1280), was fleeing from the chaos brought about by the Mongolians in their homeland in Central Asia during the 13th century. Like many of the relative tribes, they immigrated through Khorasan to Anatolia, which was then ruled by the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum, established by their Oghuz kindred in the preceding centuries. First setting up the camp (in a literal sense, with their yurts) in Ahlat on Lake Van, which was then in the eastern realms of the Sultanate, they were later granted the area around Söğüt at the opposite end of the land — the Seljuk policy towards the tribes pouring in from the east was to settle them in the borderlands of the Sultanate, in a similar fashion with the marches of medieval Europe, both to keep those unruly nomads away from the Seljuk policy centres and to keep the borders secure by using them as a first line of defence against unwanted incursions. They were provided with autonomy in their tribal affairs, as long as they accepted the sovereignty of the Seljuk sultan in Konya above each and all.
However, the Mongols soon showed up at the doorstep of hitherto presumed-to-be-safe Anatolia, and the Seljuk Sultanate collapsed after the Battle of Kösedağ, east of Sivas in 1243. After a tumultuous half-a-century of the Mongolian rule over Anatolia, the tribal chiefs declared their sovereignty one after another. So did Osman I (d. 1324), the son of Ertuğrul and considered to be the founder of the Ottoman dynasty, in 1299.
The newly established Ottoman state was luckier over the other petty kingdoms forming a patchwork on the maps of Anatolia, as it was on the borderlands of the Byzantine Empire, which was much weakened by that time, and more or less was limited to the immediate rim of the Sea of Marmara and Northern Greece. Using Söğüt as a base, the Ottomans quickly captured the Byzantine castles in the area, but it took until the first year of the reign of Orhan (r. 1324–1362), the son of Osman I, that they took control of Bursa, the first major city to fall under the Ottoman rule. The throne was then quickly moved to Bursa.
For centuries after the capital was moved to Bursa, Söğüt was all but forgotten, although it was still on a major route heading to the Anatolian plateau. Later, during the age of nationalism in the 19th century, when the Ottoman authority was in a steady decline and was shattering in the outlying areas of the empire inhabited by non-Turkish population, Söğüt got another boost, especially by "back to the roots"-minded Abdülhamid II (r. 1876–1909), who ordered the repair of the earliest Ottoman structures, a mosque to be built anew, and had the members of his personal bodyguard regiment to be specifically selected from the Karakeçili clan — considered to be the closest relatives of the dynastic family — of the Kayı tribe dispersed around Söğüt.
Nowadays, Söğüt is home of 15,000 and is a sleepy town off the major highways of the country. However, the locals are extremely proud of their heritage, and annually celebrate the foundation of the Ottoman Empire in their town.
Ceramics and marble production seem to be major businesses in the area, as huge quarries in the surrounding mountains as well as company headquarters in the town indicate.
There are three main approaches to Söğüt from the national highways:
- The route from Bilecik (28 km), branching off D-650, is wide and smooth except for a short section with significant roadworks as of Aug 2021.
- The route from Bozüyük (23 km) is surfaced but hard to locate (no signage for Söğüt exists on the highway bypassing Bozüyük, and there is only a small one in the central roundabout), narrow, and constantly twists and turns and goes up and down, often steeply. However, mountain and forest scenery along the way won't disappoint.
- The route from Eskişehir (50 km) branches off D-200/E-90 west of that city.
These three cities are also where minibuses bound for Söğüt depart from, with a frequency of at least every two hours during the day.
The tomb of Ertuğrul Gazi and the old town (the site of the Mosque of the Well) stand on the gently rising hillsides at the northern and southern ends of the town, respectively, roughly equidistant to the modern centre which is on the flat ground inbetween.
The sights in Söğüt all relate to the Ottoman heritage. Since they are situated along an almost straight line through the town, it is easy to list them north to south:
- 1 Ertuğrul Ghazi tomb (Ertuğrul Gazi türbesi) (about 1 km north of the town centre). A humble, 13th-century, octagonal stone building topped by a dome, defying its historical importance. Interior is decorated in Ottoman Baroque, which should be a much later addition. On the leafy grounds are other graves belonging to the early Ottoman dynasty or the Kayı gentry. Due to the huge popularity of a 2010s soap opera based on the life of Ertuğrul Gazi, expect crowds and reenactors adorned in Kayı warrior attire as depicted in that show.
- 2 Hamidiye Mosque (Hamidiye Camii).
- 3 Ertuğrul Ghazi Museum (Ertuğrul Gazi Müzesi).
- 4 Hamidiye Academy (Hamidiye İdadisi).
- 5 Çelebi Sultan Mehmet Mosque (Çelebi Sultan Mehmet Camii).
- 6 Governor's Fountain (Kaymakam Çeşmesi) (in the central park). An early 20th century, free-standing fountain with somewhat neglected blue tiles.
- 7 Mosque of the Well (Kuyulu Mescid; also known as the Ertuğrul Gazi Mosque, Ertuğrul Gazi Mescidi) (in the old town past the bridge, southwest of the central park). A very small mosque (basically a single largish square room with a dome) Ertuğrul Gazi had built. At the entrance is a water well (nowadays dry) which lent the mosque its vernacular name. It was purpotedly got dug out by Ertuğrul Gazi to end the perpetual water shortage in the town, and was open to be used by anyone of any belief system.
There are souvenir shops around the Mosque of the Well, and in a bazaar-like area on the farther side of the park south of the Ertuğrul Gazi tomb.
- 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.