Kütahya is a town in the Central Anatolia region of Turkey. Known for its colored tiles, Kütahya Faience, the town also serves as a base for the ruins of the Temple of Zeus in Aizanoi, amongst the best preserved Roman ruins in the country.
For the better part of the last millenium or so, Kütahya, which has its ancient roots in Kotiaion ("the city of Kotys", Kotys being a war goddess in Paleo-Balkan mythology) was an important city of the surrounding region. In the 14th and the early 15th centuries, it was the seat of the Germiyanid (Germiyanoğulları), one of the Turkic petty kingdoms that rose to power after Anatolia was overrun by the Mongol hordes in the 13th century and the central authority of Seljuks disappeared as a result. Of the more powerful ones of such principalities, the Germiyanid land was later annexed into the Ottoman state—which itself started as a neighbouring frontier principality to north—in 1429. Regardless, Kütahya kept its prominence, and for a long time—more than four centuries, to be precise—was the capital city of the Ottoman eyalet of Anatolia, which covered more or less half of what is today Asian Turkey.
However, the luck of Kütahya ran out with the coming of the age of steam and trains. For laying out their new route from Istanbul into Anatolia and beyond, the engineers understandably favoured the open steppes in the north to the mountain fastness that Kütahya resides on. The location of the following railroad-related industries to Eskişehir sealed the deal, and assured that Kütahya should now take a backseat to its northern neighbour's regional prominency—as Eskişehir sparkled, Kütahya waned.
Today, with its 215,000 residents, and its modern heavy industry (so much so that for many years Kütahya was rated as having the worst air quality in the country, although things seem to get better nowadays), in addition to its traditional trade of tilemaking, Kütahya could be considered as one of the bigger cities in Turkey. However, there is still something of a rural mentality here, and, although the local Dumlupınar University is slowly changing this, any visitor can expect to be welcomed with some sort of curiosity.
The focal point of the city, the usual starting point for any direction, is Zafer Meydanı ("Victory Square"), referred to by most everyone, locals and visitors alike, as Vazo ("the Vase")—not hard to understand, as at the centre of the large traffic roundabout in the square stands a big, tiled vase. (If you need a handy landmark but can't immediately locate the relatively low-lying vase, look for the clock tower instead, which rises close to the eastern side of the square.) The quarters of the officialdom, the fairly non-descript building of the province governership (Valilik), and the kitschy, faux Ottoman-arched building of the town council (Belediye) covered with tiles all over its façade rest on the western and eastern edges of the square respectively, and all the main streets converge here—Atatürk Bulvarı which leads north (bus company offices, and tile shops), eventually transforming into the main highway to Eskişehir; Abdurrahman Kara Ağa Bulvarı (formerly and still inofficially İstasyon Caddesi, "Station Street") which leads northeast to the train station; and the pedestrianized Cumhuriyet Caddesi ("Republic Street", a.k.a. Sevgi Yolu, "Love Walk", a name it shares with many other pedestrianized streets in western Turkey, presumably after one such street in Izmir), which is the main drag of the city where locals go for shopping or simply for a stroll, which leads into the old town in the southwest. The other main roads that lead away from the square are Adnan Menderes Bulvarı towards west, and Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bulvarı towards east.
Kütahya is well connected by bus. Buses leave almost every 45 minutes for Istanbul (six hours) and Bursa (three hours). More than a dozen buses depart daily for Ankara (five hours) from where easy connections are available to points in Eastern Turkey. There are several buses daily to Antalya (eight hours) with connections to points along the coast. Buses from nearby Eskişehir are very frequent, cost 10 TL one-way, and take slightly more than an hour (you can expect delays of up to 15 minutes on their scheduled departure, though, especially if the bus does not have its terminus in either of these cities, but simply making a stop on its longer route instead—say, for example, from Ankara to Uşak).
The main bus station of Kütahya (not otogar as elsewhere in Turkey, but çinigar , the "tile station", named after the most popular local produce that you will come across so often and at so unexpected locations while in Kütahya) relocated in 2010 to its current, rather oversized building 3 km north of the city centre, on the highway to Eskişehir. Free servis minibuses, which depart from behind the building (enter from the gates at where the buses draw, and exit from the gates right on the opposite side), take passengers to the city centre, covering the route in about 15 minutes. The terminus for the servis minibuses of Kütahyalılar (a local bus company which connects with Eskişehir, and possibly with many other cities) is an office of them on Atatürk Blv, very close to the Vazo (make note of this office, as that's a very convenient location where you can buy your ticket and take the connecting minibus to the bus station upon leaving Kütahya).
The site of the old çinigar, a more convenient 800 metres north of the Vazo on Atatürk Blv, is now an empty lot (save for its retaining gate covered with tilework), and is called eski garaj ("the old depot"), which might be useful for, say, asking directions.
As Kütahya is situated in an ideally central location of Turkish rail network, there are daily train connections from Eskişehir, Afyonkarahisar, Ankara, Izmir, Adana, Konya, and a number of other cities, although most connections, except for those from the nearby cities of Eskişehir and Afyon, have their stops in Kütahya late at night as the trains are understandably scheduled to arrive in their terminal stations, that lie rather far away from Kütahya, in reasonable hours. The direct links to Istanbul (or, anywhere north of Eskişehir, for that matter) are severed due to the massive rail renovation works in that part of the country, and will not be back in service until, at least, 2014.
The train station (Guess what? Decorated with tiles, of course!) lies 1,200 metres east/northeast of the city centre, at the end of Abdurrahman Kara Ağa Blv, across the main highway.
The highway D650, one of the major north-south highways in Turkey, connects the city with D200, a major west-east highway in the north, directly linking to Eskişehir, and also to Bursa via Bozüyük with another branch. North of Bozüyük, D650 is the main highway to Istanbul. There is also another road from Bursa, through the mountains and the town of Tavşanlı, branching off from D200 at İnegöl, but this would surely take longer to complete than the other route mentioned above.
D650 north of the city has separated directions all along it, and passes through some remarkable rocky canyons reminiscent of the American Southwest, as well as beside the elongated dam lake on the River Porsuk.
Kütahya, as well as the surrounding region, is served by the newly-opened (in 2012) Zafer Havalimanı ("Victory Airport", IATA: KZR), which lies 41 km southeast of the city (the Turkish Air Forces have an airfield right by the city, but it's not open to civilian traffic). The airport receives flights from both airports in Istanbul—from Atatürk by Turkish Airlines , and from Sabiha Gökçen by Pegasus —and that's the full extent of the list of connections with Zafer currently.
Havaş buses connect the airport to Kütahya, departing 25 minutes after each flight arrives. They stop at the university, and at their office near the Vazo on the way before terminating at the bus station .
While the city has a fleet of private minibuses of various colours (red, green, and blue), and yellow city buses, the average traveller won't feel a pressing need to use them, as most of the sights and useful locations are located near each other and walking around is easy enough (while the city is surrounded by mountains, it's positioned on a flat ground, so you won't have to climb up and down too much, unless you decide to ascend to the castle).
- Great Mosque (Ulu Cami) (800 metres from the Vazo—walk along Cumhuriyet Caddesi, 200 metres past the end of its pedestrianized part, marked by the dervish statue in the middle of the road). While nothing much fascinating, you could visit here just for the sake of a visit—or perhaps so you could tick it off from the list of the historic Turkish mosques visited. Unlike what may be guessed by some visitors, this building was not built by the Germiyanid dynasty, but rather by the Ottoman sultan Beyazıt the Thunderbolt, in an interim era when the Germiyanid Kingdom was taken by the Ottomans. (Tamerlane, after beating Beyazıt, and taking him captive in the Battle of Ankara in 1402, freed all the new possessions of his rival, and it took almost three decades that Kütahya was re-incorporated into the Ottoman State again—and that was only after the last reign of the Germiyanid dynasty, who had no sons, had voluntarily donated his land to the Ottomans after his death.) Free.
- Museum of Archaeology (Arkeoloji Müzesi) (just next to the Great Mosque; see above for directions). This is a small museum housing various findings from the surrounding region, aged neolithic down to the Byzantine era, with the most impressive one being a marble sarcophagus excavated at Aizanoi, with highly detailed carvings around it. In the surrounding walls of the centre room, as well as in the accompanying rooms, you'll find various marble Byzantine gravestones, coins, earthen pots and amphorae (notice those human-like artefacts, which have "eyes" on them—should have been produced after a certain stage in spiritual evolution was passed). The museum building itself was converted from the Vacidiye Madrasah (Islamic academy), built by the Germiyan family. 3 TL.
- Hungarian House (Macar Evi) (1,100 metres from the Vazo—further into the old town from the Great Mosque/Museum of Archaeology, through Gediz Caddesi behind the mosque). A renovated 18th-century mansion in which the Hungarian freedom leader Lajos Kossuth lived between 1850 and 1851 during his exile (and hence, the Hungarian house). A good excuse to take a look inside a historic Kütahya house.
- Tile Museum (Çini Müzesi).
- Germiyan Street (Germiyan Caddesi) (600 metres from the Vazo—walk west along Adnan Menderes Blv; there is also a traffic sign in the Vazo pointing the correct way). A narrow alley shadowed by tastefully restored, two-, or three-storey Ottoman-era mansions, that look somewhat more elegant than Eskişehir's Odunpazarı district.
- Castle. Looming high above Kütahya on a rocky hill to the west of the old town, this Byzantine citadel has a modern rotating restaurant added later in.
- Tile Mosque (Çinili Cami) (southeast of the city). Out of the traditional centre of the city, this mosque built in 1973 emulates the Central Asian architecture with its deep blue/turquoise tiles covering all of its exterior valls, dome, and minaret.
Kutahya is known for its hot springs and hamams. Visit the hot springs and have a bath.
Yes, tiles. Kütahya is famous nationwide for its tiles (çini), a distinction it shares with the town of İznik several hundred kilometres to north since the 16th century, when the Ottoman sultan Selim the Grim imported the art by resettling a number of tilemakers from Tabriz after his victory over Persia in the battle of Chaldiran. (It's no coincidence that this happened after the highly delicate Chinese pottery became a favourite of dynasty members after the throne was moved to Istanbul in the mid 15th century.) While the İznik pottery was favoured for its quality in numerous mosques and palaces across Turkey and the Middle East, the faience of Kütahya conquered the markets with its quantity—and continue to do so, given the earthenware of İznik is now mostly a thing of the past.
Check out the row of shops just north of the Vazo, at the beginning of Atatürk Blv; it seems basically similar stuff is on sale, and none deserves an especial mention, so just pick one. Prices go from 5 TL for a ceramic coffee cup decorated with local and traditional motiffs (though these are not technically tile, and, as they are hardened in relatively lower temperatures than real, glassified tiles, tend to be less stronger) to 130 TL for a beautiful mid-sized vase, coming in different colours and shapes (perfect choice for the table in your living room!). Remember to haggle—you can shave 10-15% off the bill. If you have your own transportation, you may also want to take a look in the Çiniciler Çarşısı ("Tile Bazaar") off the highway, between the city centre and the bus station, and the line of big stores on both sides of the highway to Eskişehir, 5 km or so out of the city, which might offer the same selection for a cheaper rate (though Gürallar—a name that you will see often both in downtown shops and also at the highway warehouses—is known to be a bit more expensive than others).
There are numerous banks along Cumhuriyet Caddesi, along with their ATMs.
As far as local specialities are concerned, there is not much to recommend, so you are falling back into the usual Turkish eat-out menu of döners and kebabs.
- At the small eatery near the entrance of Atatürk Blv, very close to the office of the Kütahyalılar bus company, ask for tavuk dürüm—a quick, savoury, and filling bite of chicken döner, rolled inside a tasty and thick wrap, with a going rate of just 2 TL (add 0.50 TL on the top of that for an accompanying cup of ayran). The place looks clean (and the food is prepared right in front of your eyes), and the clientele looks to be consisting of locals, so there should be no problems considering the hygiene. There might be other places offering the same dish.
- Germiyan Konağı Salih Gül Kafe ve Restoran, Pirler Mah. Germiyan Cd. 83, Germiyan Konağı. Restaurant occupying a beautifully renovated old Ottoman house along Germiyan St. On Saturdays, there is a live fasıl (unplugged traditional Ottoman music) performance. Prices are affordable.
- Tahya Otel, Atatürk Bulvarı 56, ☎ +90 274 2262010. Across from the old bus station, a comfortable, clean and modern mid-priced hotel.
The area code of Kütahya is 274.
- Aizanoi (Çavdarhisar) — since you are this close, sparing at least half a day to pay a visit to the spectacular Temple of Zeus in this ancient city is definitely worthwhile
- Afyonkarahisar — another traditional and conservative city in the region, also complete with its historic houses and hilltop castle, Afyonkarahisar may be a good break on your journey south to Antalya or southeast to Konya to taste a bit of its culinary offers—including heavily spiced bacon (sucuk) and ekmek kadayıfı (a sandwich of soft bread-like doughs washed in sweet syrup with cream inbetween)—if not for anything else