No Istanbul shopping tour or historical sightseeing tour of Istanbul would be complete without a visit to the world famous Grand Bazaar!
Built by Fatih Sultan Mehmet (The Conqurer), the Grand Bazaar, or Kapali Carsi as it is known in Turkish, is reminiscent of a city. It was an important step in the “Conquerors” target to make Istanbul “his own city”. Built in a modest scale compared to today, the bazaar was extended during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent.
It is well known for its jewelry, hand-painted ceramics, carpets, embroideries, spices and antique shops. Many of the stalls in the bazaar are grouped by type of goods, with special areas for leather, gold jewellery and the like.
The complex houses two mosques, four fountains, two hamams, and several cafés and restaurants. In the centre is the high domed hall of Cevahir Bedesten, where the most valuable items and antiques were to be found in the past, and still are today.
The Grand Bazaar extends over a 45 thousand square meters area with 64 alleys and 5000 thousand of shops. It is one of the largest covered markets in the world. Despite resembling a labyrinth, all streets are linked an amazing order.
There would be separate craftsmanship and guilds in each of the streets. In one you would see quillions while on the next clog makers awaiting customers. A passage from the street of mirror makers would lead to fabric sellers and from there onto fez makers. Some of these guilds have been forgotten and lost today, but the names given to the street still survive.
The Grand Bazaar has witnessed an amazing flow of people throughout its history. Some Istanbulites would arrive to sell and sometimes to buy. Furthermore, wealthy people of the time would keep their precious jewelry and fur coats in a safe in the bazaar. Part of the state treasure was also kept in a safe here. The Grand Bazaar was the centre of life in old Istanbul and stayed that way for over 550 years.
Although the city’s pulse beats in different corners today the Grand Bazaar is stıll a major centre of attraction. Allowing for seasonal and situational variances around 300 to 500 thousand people visit the bazaar “daily”. Almost 20 thousand people work here.
A leisurely afternoon spent exploring the bazaar, sitting in one of the cafés watching the crowds pass by, bargaining for purchases, is one of the best ways to recapture the romantic atmosphere of old Istanbul.