Friday, February 21, 2014

95. The Grand Bazaar

One of the major landmarks of Istanbul is the Grand Bazaar - a thriving "retail" complex - employing some 26,000 people and attracting something like 300,000 visitors each day ... it is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, and it claims to have over 60 covered streets with 3,000 shops selling – or I should say “marketing” – everything from buttons to exotic herbs and spices – from bling jewellery to hand-painted ceramics – from carpets to silk and cashmere scarves – and much much more besides …. 

One of the five gates leading into the Grand Bazaar ...



The construction of the future Grand Bazaar's core started in 1455 - shortly after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, when Sultan Mehmet II had an edifice erected - and by the sixteenth century, the Bazaar had grown to its present size.

Until the restoration following the earthquake of 1894, the grand Bazaar had no shops as we know them in the western world: along both sides of the roads merchants sat on wooden divans in front of their shelves. Each got a space 6 to 8 feet in width, and 3 to 4 feet in depth. The name of this space was in Turkish dolap, meaning ‘stall’. The most precious merchandise was not on display, but kept in cabinets. Only clothes were hung in long rows, with a picturesque effect. A prospective client could sit in front of the dealer, talk with him and drink a tea or a cofee, in a totally relaxed way. At the end of the day, each stall was closed with drapes. Another peculiarity was the totally lack of advertising. 





In the ancient Bazaar the merchants were organized in guilds, and traders of the same type of goods were forcibly concentrated along one road, which got its name from their profession. The inner area hosted the most precious wares: jewellers, armourers, crystal dealers had their shops there. The next area was mainly the center of the silk trade, but also other goods were on sale there. The most picturesque part of the market was the shoe market, where thousands of shoes of different colors ( Turks were bound to wear only yellow shoes, Greeks blue, Jews black and Armenian red ) were on display on high shelves.This kind of organization disappeared gradually, although nowadays a concentration of the same business along certain roads can be observed again. 




Another peculiarity of the market during the Ottoman age was the total lack of restaurants. The absence of women in the social life and the nomadic conventions in the Turkish society made the concept of restaurant alien. Merchants brought their lunch in a food box called sefertas, and the only food on sale was simple dishes and Turkish coffee. 



At last I can see daylight in the distance ... 
and I emerge into the glare of outside streets ... 
only to find more merchants ...






Then it's back into the Bazaar through another gate ...




... and outside into daylight again ... 



... but after a few minutes of this I suddenly find myself in another bazaar - 
the Egyptian Spice Bazaar ... 
equally as crowded and even more exotic with the intoxicating aromas 
of every spice and herb imaginable ... 






... but after half an hour of spices and people I search for daylight and familiar surroundings and escape into the street ...



... and the tram home ... totally unscathed and in spite of the over-friendly carpet sellers, having bought nothing more than my lunch and a delicious pomegranate juice ( meant to be great for cleaning the arteries .... ) ... talk about the last of the big spenders ...


On another day - and in search of a bookstore selling novels in English - a friend directed me to another Istanbul Bazaar. This one just around the corner from my apartment - not so crowded as the Grand Bazaar - but lacking the ancient atmosphere ... and yes I found a great bookstore ...

Nothing much has changed in 500 years ... other than the level of engineering involved and the merchandise on offer. 

21st century shopping centre in Sisli ...