With 66 streets and alleys, more than four thousand shops, numerous storehouses, moneychangers and banks, a mosque, post office, police station, private security guards and its own health centre, İstanbul’s Grand Bazaar is said to be the largest covered bazaar in the world. In Ottoman times it was based around two bedestens (domed buildings where foreign trade took place and valuable goods were stored): the Iç Bedesten probably dates from the time of the Conquest, while the Sandal Bedesten was added in the sixteenth century. The bazaar sprawls further, 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.
Visiting the bazaar
The best time to visit the bazaar is during the week, as it’s very crowded with local shoppers on Saturday. Expect to get lost as most streets are either poorly marked, or their signs are hidden beneath goods hung on display. However, try finding Kavaflar Sok for shoes, Terlikçiler Sok for slippers, Kalpakçılar Başı and Kuyumcular caddesis for gold, and Tavuk Pazarı Sok, Kürkçüler Sok, Perdahçılar Caddesi and Bodrum Han for leather clothing. Carpet-sellers are just about everywhere, with more expensive collector’s pieces on sale on Halıcılar Çarşısı, Takkeciler and Keseciler caddesis, and cheaper ones in the tiny Rubiye Han or Iç Cebeci Han. Ceramics and leather and kilim bags can be found along Yağlıkçılar Caddesi, just off it in Çukur Han, and also along Keseciler Caddesi.
The old bazaar (or Iç Bedesten), located at the centre of the maze, was traditionally reserved for the most precious wares because it could be locked at night. These days, however, it’s indistinguishable from the rest of the complex.
A number of decent cafés in the bazaar enable shoppers to unwind and avoid the constant importuning of traders.