There is nothing I love more than being in a place I've never been, and I pretty much just want to go everywhere...
I can't get enough of travelling and sightseeing, so this blog is dedicated to the cool little places I would someday like to go.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"Kapali Çarsi" : The Grand Bazaar

So I originally planned to stay away from places that are super crowded and touristy, but I haven’t done the most stellar job so far, and this one was just too good to resist… so from now on, I’m just doing whatever the heck I want. Some places will be touristy and some will be obscure. Moving on…

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey, is one of the oldest and largest covered street markets in the world. The bazaar has been around since the 1400’s, when Istanbul was the world’s most important trading centre. The market covers sixty streets, all of which are named for the craft they were historically dedicated to, and includes nearly 5,000 shops. The market also houses numerous restaurants and cafes, four fountains, two ancient Turkish baths, and two domed buildings, including the Cevahir Bedesten, where the most valuable items were traditionally sold (and still are today). 

The bazaar is a whimsical melding of the Western and Oriental worlds, and has been since the middle ages. It really recaptures the feel of historic Istanbul. You can buy all kinds of unique, eclectic items here, and the pictures look like something out of an I-Spy book. The market is home to craftsmanship at its finest – along with pickpocketing at its finest, so watch out.

 What to do? The market is a labyrinth of streets and shops with many different entrances – very easy to get lost, but I would be happy to get lost exploring all the cool things the market has to offer. It’s crowded, busy and warm – the market is several degrees hotter than the air outside because of all the lights. There are merchants and shoppers everywhere, and colourful, exotic wares spill from thousands of stalls. The bazaar is divided into “Bedestens” – complexes of related shops. The merchants are known for their jewelry, hand-painted pottery, carpets, fabrics, spices and antique shops.

The atmosphere can be quite overwhelming, and make sure you know how to say no, unless you’re prepared to blow your life’s savings shopping here. The merchants are outgoing and can sometimes be aggressive. They will bombard you with greetings and offers, and try to convince you/guilt you into to buying their items. Apparently a favourite opener is “Hello, Americans! Where are you from? I have a cousin there!”

 Merchants often try to take advantage of people’s politeness, so you need to be firm and sometimes assertive. It’s the only way to get through the market without spending all your money and being constantly stuck in conversations. Just don’t feel like you have to engage everyone who greets you, or buy something everywhere you look. If you approach the merchants with a sense of humour, it can be quite fun –the merchants love to chat, and I’m guessing you’d have some pretty interesting conversations. You could even try your hand at bargaining.

It would be well worth your time to check out the district of the Silversmiths. Many of them will be happy to let you inside their workshops if you ask, and you can watch them craft beautiful objects out of silver. Frequently, merchants are forced to move their workshops out of the bazaar because of high rents, which is unfortunate because the bazaar has always held both workshops and shops, and many of the craftsmen believe the soul of the bazaar will be lost if they are forced to move their workshops. Gold is another specialty of the market. Since Turkish currency is fairly unstable, many Turks invest their money in gold, a more secure form of wealth. You will see women in the market whose arms are lined with plain gold bracelets – their life savings.

There are cheap touristy areas in the market, and other areas that are very overpriced, but if you go to the outer edge of the market and the streets around the bazaar, where the local Turks shop, you will find good merchandise for good bargains.

While you’re in Istanbul, there are plenty of other historic sites and beautiful, ancient mosques to visit.  I could never get tired of exploring this city.

What to eat? Try the Kardesler restaurant, a family owned restaurant that specializes in south-eastern Turkish cuisine. Kardesler is crowded but inexpensive, and the atmosphere is welcoming and homey. The food is apparently absolutely delicious. After your meal, if you fancy trying Turkish coffee, Sark Kahvesi (“The Oriental Coffee Shop”) is a short walk away. Turkish coffee is a method of making coffee, not a type of coffee. The beans are hand ground to be extra fine and the coffee is brought to a boil several times. Well prepared Turkish coffee is flavourful and extra foamy. Turkish coffee is served extremely hot with a glass of cold water and goes well with Turkish Delight. A thick layer of sludgy grounds settles at the bottom (don’t drink that…). Traditionally, the leftover coffee grounds were turned over onto a saucer and used for fortune telling.

So that’s the Turkish Grand Bazaar. This is only one aspect of the culturally rich wonder that is Istanbul, and I could probably spend forever exploring the Bazaar alone.
Official Website here. And s/o to Rick Steves for a detailed, street-smart self tour.


  1. Funny thing, I've actually been to Istanbul... in my video game. xD There was a virtual version of 16th century Istanbul in Assassin's Creed. It was a pretty accurate portrayal and judging by these pictures not much has changed.
    Anyway, I really want to visit the Grand Bazaar someday. There's so much culture and history going on there. It's actually pretty cool that a market place used hundreds of years ago is still in use.

  2. Istanbul is a city i've always wanted to visit. So much culture it would definitely be a unique experience to visit a place such as this.

  3. This is somewhere I would not be able to go to! I would leave without a penny to my name! I am bad with not being able to say no. And I would buy something every time I was pressured too.