The Grand Bazaar has been important for as long as this city has. That is to say, the emergence of the bazaar didn’t take long after the Ottomans took full reign. There is perhaps no more appropriate name than the Grand Bazaar for this nearly endless market. It’s grand is a plethora of ways, and, it has had the grandest of histories. However, while it used to boast nearly a quarter of a million visitors a day, the situation has changed quite a bit. Unfortunately, tourists have internalized the headlines, and this has put many vendors in nearly dire situations, but that means it needs our attention more than ever.
The majesty of the city’s foremost bazaar is a result of its simple transactions. Money, as it were, changes hands at a blinding pace. This sort of face-to-face interaction has never been more important in a world where it’s more and more tempting to do all your shopping from the confines of your own home, curled up next to the warmth of your favourite laptop screen. In some ways, it’s convenient that you don’t have to leave, but it’s also important to remember all the reasons you might want to. Let the Grand Bazaar be one of those reasons.
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In many ways, the Grand Bazaar is a microcosm for the city itself. Its roots are ancient, its customs are from another time period, yet it works when you add a sprinkle of modernity. At times, it can seem like pure chaos, but, if you know how to look, the emphasis is on “pure”, not “chaos.” It’s life at its most basic and essential denomination – buying and selling, eating and drinking, bartering and arguing, living and laughing. Yet there is so much less life there these days. Stores that were once thriving are now vacant, and all the memories created there are starting to seem like nothing more than a distant past. And, this alone should be enough fodder for all us all consider the Grand Bazaar’s future.
Let’s be clear, this isn’t the market from your respective homeland. With over 5000 shops, it’d take a lifetime to do it justice. Yet, as many have found out in the past, a full Saturday there can leave you feeling rather satisfied, walking away with a bag full of cherished goodies. And it’s not just the shops that define the Bazaar, there are some eateries to die for within the vaulted confines of this labyrinth. Cafes and teahouses are also as common as air in the Grand Bazaar. I would venture to argue that if the Grand Bazaar is a car, Çay is what fuels the engine. As with the shops, these cafes and restaurants used to be overflowing with customers, but that just isn’t the case these days. The food is of the same quality, but the visitors are just not of the same quantity.
The shops, restaurants, and cafes are good, but what about the fountains, mosques and hamams, you say? A good point indeed, gentle reader. There’s no end to what you can experience in one day should you put your mind to it. As I mentioned prior, the Grand Bazaar is the ultimate microcosm, it is the city squashed into a few city blocks.
In present day Istanbul it’s never been more valuable to hold on to what makes this city unique and worth visiting. The current climate in Istanbul is forcing those who have made a living at the Grand Bazaar for an untold amount of years to shift their focus. It’s not the only bazaar, sure, but it’s the grandest of them all. And, It’s not because it’s “grand” that it needs to be protected, it’s because it is the ardent representation of what this city can be on its best and worst day. It is part of the city, but it also is the city.
Time and Location:
The Grand Bazaar is open from 8:00 to 19:00 every day except Sunday. It is in the historical area of Fatih / Sultanahmet, and can be accessed by tram from the Eminönü stop (about 15 minute walk uphill past the Spice Bazaar) or the Beyazit stop.
All images by Erin Power.