Istanbul is unique. It is the only city in the world where two continents meet. Enjoy old and new in the cultural capital of Turkey with Istanbul expert Marc Guillet

Grand Bazaar celebrates 550th birthday

Posted on 15 June 2011

Bargaining in the Covered Bazaar. Photo: Slawomira Kozieniec

Istanbul’s famous historic marketplace, the Grand Bazaar, will celebrate its 550th birthday this year with a series of cultural events.

The Covered Bazaar was constructed upon an order by sultan Mehmet II the Conqueror in 1461. The Kapalı Çarşı, as the bazaar is known in Turkish, is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. And one of the first shopping malls in the world.

The bazaar is a vast complex, a labyrinth of 58 streets with more than 4,000 shops. Originally there were a series of different markets, side by side, each specializing in a particular product. Many had karavansarais, or hans; lodgements for travelling merchants and their camels. The merchants could stay for three nights for free and sell their products. Some of the originals still are there; but are now in use as shops and workplaces for jewellers and other craftsmen.

The nicest way to enter the bazaar is from Çembertitaş square down. Take a left at the gate of the Nuruosmaniye Mosque and continue walking till you reach the beautiful gate to the bazaar which has a colourful coat of arms above it.

The market is well known for its jewelry, pottery, spices and carpet shops. Most shops are grouped by the type of goods they sell, with special areas for leather coats, furs, carpets, jewelry and souvenirs. Close to the main gates of the bazaar the streets all have a very touristy feeling, but continue strolling through the labyrinth and you will find more authentic places too, more quiet and more evocative. Look for the back streets where you will find the ancient ‘hans’, where you still can see the craftsmen hard at work  at making and repairing jewellery, carpets and more. Several of my favorite ‘hans’ are: Zincirli han, Cukur han, Safran han and Ic Cebeci han.

The bazaar contains tow ‘bedestens’, domed masonry structures built for storage and safekeeping. The complex was vastly enlarged in the 16th century during the reign of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent.

In 1894 the bazaar underwent a major restoration following an earthquake.

Never pay the first price suggested by the salesman. Bargaining is a must in the Covered Bazaar. It all depends on your negotiating skills, but most of the time you will be able to get 20 to 30 percent off the original price. If a vendor follows you out of his shop it means there is still scope for bargaining.

Open: Daily 8:30 – 7:00

Closed: Sundays

Covered Bazaar is closed on Sundays. Photo: Slawomira Kozieniec

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