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Romans were ruling everywhere for nearly 1500 years until a 21 year old boy named Sultan Mehmed‑ II triumphed over them and made Constantinople (Istanbul) the capital of Ottoman Empire, marking the end of Byzantine (Roman) empire.
Ottoman’s loved trading. Sultan thought it would be wonderful to have a Bazaar where merchants can trade clothes and luxury items. Hence began the construction of one of the biggest covered markets of the world – The Grand Bazaar.
Constructed in 1461, first built of wood, and called as ‘Yeni Bedesten’ during the Ottoman times, Cevahir Bedesteni (Jewelery Market) marks the oldest part of the Grand Bazaar. The centre of the complex is the high domed hall of the Cevahir Bedesten, also known as the Eski or iç Bedesten, where most valuable antiques were found in the past, and still are today, including copper ware, amber prayer beads, inlaid weapons, icons, water pipes, walking sticks, watches and clocks, candlesticks, old coins, and silver and gold jewelry set embedded with coral and turquoise.
By 17th century, Ottoman empire had spread it’s wings like an eagle to three continents, and feasibility of route between Asia and Europe made bazaar, The Grand Bazaar, oldest and biggest covered market in the world.
With four different entrances – Sahaflar Kapısı, Takkeciler Kapısı, Kuyumcular Kapısı, Zenneciler Kapısı – there’s still one store that revered by all the people of Istanbul which is the store of Mehmet Amca – the last master of gramophone. Several catastrophic events like fire and earthquakes over the centuries have played havoc in the past. Bearing the brunt of fire for the first time in 1651 and in 18th century, a massive earthquake demolished the whole establishment. Now, what we see is the touch by Sultan Abdulhamid – 34th Sultan of Ottoman Empire.
The Grand Bazaar is open daily between 09:00‑19.00 except on Sundays and during public or religious holidays. Shucks that it isn’t open on Sundays!
With galore of colors, voices of humans and dazzling lights ‑Grand Bazaar – has approximately 4000 shops, 60 streets and attracts between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. The labyrinthine of shops, maze like streets, and lively disposition of the atmosphere selling jewelry, hand‑painted ceramics, carpets, embroideries, spices and antiques – are scattered around 56 interconnecting vaulted passages.
The area covered under one roof, dense, thick with shops is collated with other interlinks of Istanbul, lying underneath a huge vast forest. The vast forest is City of Istanbul and the seed is The Grand Bazaar.
Forceful selling of products and prices set at 50% above the marked goods are the common norms. Tradition of Bargaining goes a long way in The Grand Bazaar. Haggling your way to Mt Everest is analogy which one could use because the extent to which people haggle. The prices are quoted 50‑60% above, because of customary tradition for bargaining. Hence, the shopkeepers quote it 50 times higher the original price.
First visit to The Grand Bazaar may fail to ticker the strings of guitar and colors may seem devoid of magic, happiness and contentment. You may carry a bundle of disappoint wrapped in a nice, ribboned box, hoping if Grand Bazaar could not be a damper on your high hopes, nipping straight in the bud, by being a colossal disappointment.
Notwithstanding my opinion of unsatisfactory remarks on The Grand Bazaar, don’t conjure negative ideas about Grand Bazaar.
The Grand Bazaar’s first language is not trade. Beauty of Grand Bazaar lies in the colors, it’s people and the flickering lights. Old walls, adorned with yellow paint, peeling off the walls, infuse light and warmth like a sunflower bending towards the gleam of sunshine. Blue and red paint infused with white are the seeds awaiting to germinate in the summer. Narrow windows, high ceilings, vaulted arches, talk about the effort taken by humans of The Grand Bazaar, from years to years, relentlessly selling things to customers. It reeks of things being brought and sold, in the past and present, which shall continue in future.
Grand Bazaar is about people who have spent countless evenings during the course of years. From great‑grandfathers, grandfathers, their sons, son of sons – the legacy continues. Hearts full of mirth, cheer and gusto – have set their minds in luring people into their shops with a twinkle in the eye and have galore of amazing stories to tell. Who are just like you and me – their stories are embroidered with melody, cherry and plums. Once you sit down to talk to them and ask them questions about their life in Istanbul – it is akin to reading a novel. A pen spills words ruthlessly on the paper, but they spill words with grace and tenderness from the deep gorge of their heart, surging up against the force of gravity.
NAZAR BONCUĞU (EVIL EYE)
Presence of blue‑eyed is ubiquitous in Turkish markets. They represent the ‘evil‑eye’ to ward off negativity and is commonly found in Islamic countries.
Drinking tea is an integral part of Turkish Culture. If there is anything that could win your heart after Turkish Desserts and The Bosphorous, it definitely has to be Turkish Tea. Turks love to drink tea in the tulip‑styled glasses, sometimes elegant, sometimes ornate – drinking from these cups is a unique experience.