Hans were originally built in Seljuk times to encourage trade and provided lodging (an overnight stop-over) to incoming traders and artisans along their long distance trade routes. Outside the cities they were built and designed to be one traveling day apart, approximately 30-40 kilometres. This group of buildings called caravanserais derived from the word caravan (a group of people, especially traders, travelling together) and in Turkish it’s known as ‘hans’.
Built with a single entry for maximum security, a main portal and monumental entrance gate provided access to a large open-air courtyard. Here, merchants had access to lodging, a fountain/bath for washing and stables for their animals, usually camels, horses and mules. Merchants were able to rest and do business – whether to sell or to exchange their goods or to produce small scale manufacturing. The hans provided shelter, safety and services.
In Ottoman times the hans were built with a second courtyard, additional floors, lodging, workshops and mosques for commerce and to support the operations of the social institutions (education and welfare).
Naturally, the Grand Bazaar, was a major hub for merchants so it’s no surprise hans can be discovered hidden away behind shops and gateways here. Similar to how the Grand Bazaar was once laid out, it was once divided into sections and designated to a particular craft or artisan, in these sections were hans – think of it as ‘the man behind the curtain’, crafts were being produced right behind the shops.
One of the largest hans in this area is Büyük Valide Han, built in 1651 by Kösem, the mother of Sultan Mehmet IV. Today this is one of the most popular hans to visit due to it’s amazing views from the rooftop. Other go-to hans in this area include Zincirli Han, Vezir Han and Sağir Han.
Just by walking through the side streets outside of the Grand Bazaar you can easily get lost and stumble upon hans. I was determined to find Büyük Valide Han, for it’s recent popularity, and in doing so we also stumbled upon Zincirli Han. Keep your eyes peeled for signs with the words ‘han’.
Through asking several shops along the way for directions to this not so secret entrance, we were able to find the man at the door (pictured below) and paid 1TL each to enter onto the rooftop of Büyük Valide Han. Keep in mind, tread lightly, you are walking on the roof and there are no railings or insurance that you’ll return without any injuries. It’s said that they filmed the motorcycle scene from James Bond’s Skyfall film here.