The Shopaholic’s Paradise
From silk ribbons to ornate carpets, from delicate Turkish teapots to ornate Ottoman lamps, the lantern-lined alleys of İstanbul’s Kapalı Çarşı or Grand Bazaar are home to the city’s finest treasures. In this historic shopper’s paradise, the arched doorways are covered from wall to wall with traditional Turkish antiquities, mementos of your visit and produce.
There are twenty-two gates leading into the covered bazaar from all directions. The Beyazıt Gate is marked with the tuğra (imperial sign) of Sultan Abdülhamit II and the assurance that “God loves the merchants".
A stroll through the hive of activity of the vendors and sellers haggling and bargaining like their life depended on it all the while sipping tea brings as much wonder and delight as a little entertainment. The Bedestens or warehouses date back to the prosperous times of the 15th century, when Sultan Mehmet proposed the construction of the Grand Bazaar to promote economic progress and the crossroads of trade in the city at the time. Today, the bazaar is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world, its winding labyrinth filled with up to 4,000 shops and spanning nearly 61 shopping streets and alleys is a feast of retail therapy for the hardy tourist and locals alike.
A Masterpiece of Tantalised Senses
But the best vantage point is, of course inside, İstanbul’s Grand Bazaar is the ultimate covered market and is one of the largest buildings in the world. It comprises a network of 61 covered streets and covers an area of 307,000 m². In this teeming marketplace, up to 30,000 traders bustle daily in 4,500 shops, haggling with up to 400,000 buyers - locals and visitors from all over the world.
It is one of the oldest covered markets in the world, dating back to the 15th century. At that time, merchants travelling on the trade routes met here, and the market grew in size. The core of the original covered structure is still intact today.
One might feel transported back to Ottoman times like in a science fiction film, as you stroll through the main bazaar alleys and smaller side streets. Admire hand-woven carpets and beautifully patterned textiles such as towels and blankets. Be bedazzled by the bright and ornate Turkish lamps and look at the expertly hand-painted ceramics. You’ll find leather jackets, handbags, copperware, bolts of silk, antiques, chess sets, and even wedding dresses.
In and Out of The Maze
The maze-like bazaar is divided into different areas. The core consists of several covered shopping areas known as ‘bedesten’. These bedestens are then divided into smaller sections where specific items are sold. The oldest are the İç Bedesten and the Sandal Bedesten, which together form the foundation of the Grand Bazaar. After their construction was completed, other local merchants began to set up their own stalls in the surrounding streets selling jewellery, antiques, food, textiles, and much more, with some areas merging into others. You soon see why İstanbul is one of the best shopping cities in Europe.
Perhaps one of the largest selections you’ll see is jewellery. There are many sparkling pieces of ornate accessories for sale in the many silver and gold shops. If you’re interested in jewellery with gemstones mined in Türkiye, look out for Zultanite, a rare gemstone that seems to change colour.
You’re expected to haggle over prices at any market; this is part of Turkish culture and a pleasant exchange for Turks over an offering of rose-coloured tea in tulip-shaped glasses.
With more than 5,000 vendors offering carpets, beaded bracelets, a menagerie of precious metals, colourful lanterns, leather goods, ceramics, textiles, fabrics, and much more, you will find the perfect reminder of your experience of İstanbul in the labyrinthine alleys of the bazaar.
Haggling is part of everyday life in this wonderful marketplace labyrinth. So take your time, look around, and do not let yourself be pressured. After all, haggling is half the fun in these historic bazaars.
It may be the oldest covered market in the world, but by far it is still the most active and vibrant centre of trade - and shopping - in İstanbul today. The Grand Bazaar is a must for history buffs, carpet enthusiasts, and shopaholics.