More than 3,000 shops in almost 60 covered streets make up the Grand Bazaar, Kapalı Çarşı in Turkish, one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world.
After the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul, Mehmet II commissioned the build in 1461 to provide financial resources for the Hagia Sophia. (It’s about a 10-15 minute walk from Sultanahmet Square and Hagia Sophia).
Almost every imaginable item is available under one roof, the ideal destination for buying authentic souvenirs, traditional crafts, jewelry, leather goods, hand-painted ceramics, carpets and antique items.
The labyrinthine complex of winding streets is fun to explore and can be hard to navigate or even escape. Crowded with shops, merchandise and people, at times the experience can become a bit overwhelming. I’m sure there are strategic ways to to walk through the bazaar but when either alone or with locals, I’ve always lost my way and can never find the exit I intend for.
MARK TWAIN’S TAKE ON VISITING
In Mark Twain’s ‘The Innocents Abroad’ published in 1869, he mentions the Grand Bazaar while visiting Constantinople.
We went to the great Bazaar in Stamboul, of course, and I shall not describe it further than to say it is a monstrous hive of little shops—thousands, I should say—all under one roof, and cut up into innumerable little blocks by narrow streets which are arched overhead. One street is devoted to a particular kind of merchandise, another to another, and so on.
When you wish to buy a pair of shoes you have the swing of the whole street—you do not have to walk yourself down hunting stores in different localities. It is the same with silks, antiquities, shawls, etc. The place is crowded with people all the time, and as the gay-colored Eastern fabrics are lavishly displayed before every shop, the great Bazaar of Stamboul is one of the sights that are worth seeing.
- Bargaining skills are a must, don’t be fooled by persistent shopkeepers, with sales tricks and every language up their sleeve.
- Taking photos is no problem, the shop owners are used to it and won’t say a word. If anything it’s flattering to them that you want a photo of their merchandise.
- Don’t be a afraid to ask for directions, someone will be sure to help!
Is it a tourist trap? To be honest, it’s something you have to see and experience – it is one of the most-visited tourist attractions in the world. The history and the shops alone are fascinating. Personally, I’ve only bought a colorful turkish hand-woven table cloth from there though.
For the full experience try to walk through and exit towards the Bosphorus so you can walk through the backstreets and into the Spice Bazaar.
Open 8:30am-7pm Mon-Sat