23 July 2012

Wandering in Byzantium 2 - The Grand Bazaar

Istanbul is famous for a few things, but one of the most famous is the Grand Bazaar.

Everywhere you go people are trying to attract your attention - they are usually trying to sell you something, but that doesn't make it any less entertaining. And goods are set out for sale in all sorts of places.

There are ordinary shops selling things displayed in real windows with price tags and all, for those who prefer that sort of thing.

Loved these embroidered boots

But these weren't nearly as much fun as the Bazaars.

This is Arasta Bazaar in Sultanahmet. Compared to other parts of the city it is quiet and the pressure to buy a scarf or a carpet isn't as insistent as elsewhere. A very pleasant place for a stroll.

Every evening this informal market appeared in Beyazit Square, in front of the Istanbul University. Things were bought and sold, but it also seemed to be a great excuse for a lot of men to get together for a bit of gossip.

Eventually you have to admit the Grand Bazaar is unavoidable

There have been markets in this part of the city for a long while; in Byzantine days the slave market was here, but you could buy pretty much anything else you needed too.

The present day Bazaar begin in 1455/56 when Sultan Mehmet II, who had put an end to the Byzantine Empire and become the first Ottoman ruler of Constantinople, had a building erected as a textile market. Either a few years or a century later (depending on which book you read) the textile market moved to a new building and the earlier one became a market for luxury items.

The area between them became a maze of shops and stalls and before long it was obvious that a completely new commercial district had developed. 

By the middle of the seventeenth century there were more than sixty streets, it included mosques, squares for public prayer, fountains, and eighteen gates that were closed every night and opened for business in the morning. There were more than 3,000 shops. Here are three of the gates.

Tourists at the Nuruosmaniye Gate

Around the outside were many large caravanserais where merchants were lodged and could store their goods; these incorporated another 300 shops. And you thought your local Rose Gardens Eastside Plaza Shopping Mall was big! Still, only the two original buildings were covered. Most of the market was open to the sky.

This is what it probably looked like originally – well, substituting ancient fashions and materials for the modern ones. What I'm getting at, is that goods were displayed outdoors under awnings.
As time passed the awnings became more substantial, and eventually the entire street was roofed over. This had obvious advantages, so the local authorities did the job properly. And thus was the Grand Bazaar created.

I found the buildings as interesting as - well, almost more interesting than the goods on display.

The Bazaar has been struck by various calamities, mainly earthquakes and fires, including a fire in 1660 that destroyed most of the city. Much of it was roofed over for the first time after a particularly fierce fire in 1701. The area was reduced in size after earthquake damage in 1894, but there have been a couple of fires since, the last big one in 1954. Restoration took five years.

Now there are twenty one gates, but five main ones. I did my usual trick of plunging in and getting lost so I've no idea which ones I went in and out. I do know, however, that when I passed the same drinking fountain for the third time I decided I should start making left turns instead of right ones. 
Here are some photographs that hardly do it justice. I can't tell you where in the Bazaar they are because I have absolutely no idea, but it probably doesn't matter. 

There were a lot more people around than these photographs suggest, but if you wait patiently enough there are brief moments when everybody moves out of shot. Sometimes you manage to catch that moment.
I visited the Bazaar several times, and wandered at random. Fantastic way to pass an afternoon.

Not far from the Grand Bazaar is the Spice Market, which
provides a wonderful selection of smells as well as colour.
There are little corner cafes in various spots, and men
hurry around delivering hot cups of tea to stallholders.

And, to finish: the compulsory cat photo.

At the Grand Bazaar even cats have somebody to bring them
a cup of tea in bed.

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