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With sixty-six streets and alleys, over four thousand shops, numerous storehouses, moneychangers and banks, a mosque, post office, police station, private security guards and its own health centre, İstanbul’s Ottoman-era Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı) is said to be the largest covered bazaar in the world. In Ottoman times it was based around two bedestens (a domed building where foreign trade took place and valuable goods stored): the Iç Bedesten probably dates from the time of the Conquest, while the Sandal Bedesten was added in the sixteenth century. The bazaar extends much further than this however, sprawling into the streets that lead down to the Golden Horn. This whole area was once controlled by strict laws laid down by the trade guilds, thus reducing competition between traders. Each shop could support just one owner and his apprentice, and successful merchants were not allowed to expand their businesses. Similar unwritten laws control market forces among traders in the covered bazaar even today.
The Grand Bazaar gets more than its fair share of souvenir-hungry visitors. But the area around it is relatively little explored, which is a shame as there are some very worthwhile attractions, from the historic Cembirlitaş Hamamı, arguably the best Turkish baths in the country, to the city’s very best mosque, the hilltop Süleymaniye Camii. Throw in the gritty districts of Aksaray and Laleli, half a kilometre west of the bazaar, notable for the ornate Baroque Laleli Camii, and it’s easy to see how you can spend a day in this area alone. It’s easy enough to walk to this district from Sultanahmet, or take a tram to the Beyazit, Laleli or Aksaray stops depending on your proposed itinerary.Read More
The Süleymaniye complex
The Süleymaniye complex
Built by the renowned architect Mimar Sinan in honour of his most illustrious patron, Süleyman the Magnificent, the Süleymaniye complex, some 300m northwest of the Grand Bazaar, is arguably his greatest achievement. Completed in just seven years the mosque and its satellite buildings achieves a perfection of form and a monumentality of appearance that set it apart from other Ottoman architecture
On the university side of the complex is the Süleymaniye Library, housed in the Evvel and Sani medreses. These buildings, mirror images of each other, are situated around shady garden courtyards. Süleyman established the library in an effort to bring together collections of books and mauscripts scattered throughout the city. On the north side of the complex, on Mimar Sinan Caddesi, is the Türbe (tomb) of Mimar Sinan himself.
Otherwise, the buildings of the complex served the usual functions. On Şıfahane Sokak is the imaret (soup kitchen), which despite its ornate design was constructed as a public kitchen supplying food for the local poor, a kervansaray (hotel) and a mektep (primary school). The Süleymaniye hamam, built by Sinan in 1557, is on the corner of Mimar Sinan Caddesi and Dökmeciler Hamamı Sokak. Legend has it that the great architect took all his baths here from 1557 to 1588.
The mosque itself, the Süleymaniye Camii, is preceded by a rectangular courtyard, whose portico stands on columns of porphyry, Marmara marble and pink Egyptian granite, and by four tapering minarets. The doorway into the mosque is high and narrow, its wooden doors inlaid with ebony, mother-of-pearl and ivory. Move inside, and the sense of light and space is staggering – the dome 53m high (twice its diameter), surmounts a perfect square of 26.5m while the double panes of 200 windows ensure a softly filtered light. In the adjacent cemetery are located the tombs of Süleyman the Magnificent and of Haseki Hürrem, or Roxelana, his powerful wife.