The Grand Bazaar Istanbul – a photographic essay by Lynn Clayton
Mazes always freaked me out so it was with some intrepidation that I first ventured into the maze known as the Grand Bazaar. I had been privy to a rooftop view of thousands of orange tiles covering 54.653 square metres consequently the thought of getting lost was very real.
Let the romance of the Ottoman Empire sweep you through the hundreds of passageways adorned with ornate ceilings and welcoming Turkish people.
Don’t panic if you think you are lost, you can always ask for directions, most shop owners speak some English.
300,000 thousand tourists supposedly visit every day, however before 11am it is not crowded. Early morning the shop keepers are washing their pavement area or sitting chatting over small glasses of Turkish Tea.
They don’t hassle you early in the morning and even later in the day the Turkish people are very polite; they ask you a question to engage you but accept a ‘No Thankyou ‘ response quite happily.
The Grand Bazaar (Turkish: Kapalıçarşı, means ‘Covered Bazaar. The construction of the Grand Bazaar’s started during the winter of 1455/56, shortly after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. Sultan Mehmet II had an edifice erected devoted to the trading of textiles, and today, 500 years later, it is a thriving Trading Post. I loved poking around the eclectic mix of shops.
I have no idea how extensive the bazaar really is, as I seemed to keep returning to the same area. Most tourists arrive at Gate # 1. There are cafes inside selling good Italian or Western food and coffee. There are toilets with long queues outside Gate1. There are more hidden inside. There is an armed policeman at every entrance so I was lulled into feeling relatively safe in the bazaar.
Some of the ceilings are more recent, some authentic and very old and dilapidated. The murals on the ceilings are quite beautiful in some areas so remember to look up.
I am no authority on the Bazaar; I am just sharing my visits with you. It seems to me that there is more jewellery here than the rest of the Globe put together, no joking I have never seen so much bling! From fine jewellery such as antique and priceless brooches to 5 lire (NZ$1-00) junkie bracelets; every woman could find something to suit her taste and budget I am sure. I purchased a silver dress ring from a silversmith working in a small dark workshop off the main streets and another shop in the bazaar spends all day resizing so that was a quick and efficient exercise.
is a very charming antique shop owned by an Armenian gentleman. He sells old Russian and Greek Icons as well as exquisite jewellery and watches. It was this store that had a Van Cleef and Arpels diamond and emerald brooch; absolutely spectacular. Sandal Bedesten Sokak #38, a shop with much history and a great reputation, one of my highlights.
This emerald brooch was in its original box from Van Cleef & Arpels.
Another store Karmen is celebrating 150 years in the bazaar next year. Jacob is the 4th generation in this family business. Shop #156 Main Street is the location, his speciality is antique diamonds but he also has objects’d art, silver and carpets. The shop fittings are as old as Balthasar, so well worth a look in this little gem..
Leather jackets outnumber the population, well almost! Some are beautiful, some are shoddy. I recommend Trip Advisor when shopping leather in Istanbul. Prens leather store we found excellent, I had a jacket made to measure, fits me perfectly.
Beautiful silk tops featuring the Ottoman Empire.
However Turkish leather is very good quality unlike some countries I’ve visited so even the fake products are at least well made; usually. Turkish towels are also inexpensive as are spices and numerous teas including Love Tea, Viagra and Aphrodisiac. No I didn’t try them!
On the outer edges of the Bazaar are several low lit workshops where craftsmen manufacture exquisite jewellery and where they also melt down the Gold. We saw them melting the gold and turning it into a slab, $20,000 US worth of 14 carat gold… no security, two men working in a hot little workshop, the only ventilation being the open door.
Melting down the gold! The finished product a slab of 14 carat gold.
Felted Fez Patchwork rug
It is easy to wander around aimlessly so perhaps have a pre conceived idea of what you might like to buy; scarves outnumber leather jackets – and remember to bargain, they expect it. Fake brands in abundance. T shirts, men’s belts, watches; it is all hidden amongst the corridors of the Grand Bazaar.Other very popular items are the colourful Turkish lamps, a real decor statement.
As I already mentioned the jewellery seemed to go on for ever. Diamonds and Gold in abundance, buyers a little more rare! Some jewellery pieces are cheap copies; well not so cheap actually! And some are the real thing! One needs to know your stuff before buying or have a trustworthy local to assist you.
There are not many resting places so when you do find a cafe sit and people watch, it is a wonderful way to see many tourists from many countries; people watching at its best!
So visit the Grand Bazaar more than once and try and ferret out the unique and speciality stores. Allow two hours; I actually made four visits in the week I was in Istanbul.