Istanbul’s spectacular, historical grand bazaars and markets

Özge Sengelen

Istanbul is a treasure trove when it comes to wonderful bazaars where you can go on a shopping spree and also a journey through history at the same time, all of which are filled with rich historical texture, brimming with Turkish and Ottoman culture

Have you ever been to a market when you didn’t even have a single need to buy? Sounds silly doesn’t it? Well, I did. I actually have gone to many markets even though I didn’t need to buy anything. However, not just any market. I am talking about the bazaars of Istanbul, whose history dates back to the Ottoman Empire, and which are still visited today as historical sites on top of being bazaars.

How would you like to get to know these historical bazaars of Istanbul, many of which you can see in quick succession as they are very close to each other?

Istanbul is full of these historical beauties, from the Grand Bazaar where you can find almost anything you are looking for, to the colorful Spice Bazaar, to the Book Bazaar which is the most historical stop for book lovers, the Copper Bazaar with meticulously handcrafted copper works, and the Arasta Bazaar with objects reflecting Turkish Culture.

Spices and nuts in various shops in Spice Bazaar, Istanbul, Türkiye. (Shutterstock Photo)
The historical Spice Bazaar in Istanbul, Türkiye. (Shutterstock Photo)
Spice Bazaar

The Spice Bazaar is located just behind the historic New Mosque in Eminönü district and next to the Flower Market. I had heard that the history of the Spice Bazaar, one of the oldest covered bazaars in Istanbul, goes back to even the Byzantine Period during which there used to be a market in this exact spot as well.

The bazaar, which was built as a part of the mosque complex in order to generate income for the New Mosque, was previously known as the “New Bazaar” or “Valide Bazaar.” However, because the products sold here usually come from Egypt, the bazaar was named the “Egyptian Bazaar” after the 18th century, and is known as the Spice Bazaar too.

Spices from the East were distributed to Europe from this bazaar, the most important point of the Silk Road. In the Spice Bazaar, which was the trade center of the period, you will be satisfied with a thousand and one kinds of spices, medicinal herbs, plants, nuts, delicatessen products and souvenirs. The moment you step into the bazaar, which has become the symbol of Eminönü district, the scents of spices that welcome you will follow you.

You should definitely see the Azan Pavilion on the balcony of the Dua Square, the main square of the bazaar with a total of six gates. In the Ottoman period, shopkeepers used to gather here in the morning and start their work by praying.

If you come to Istanbul, you should definitely visit the Spice Bazaar, even if you are not going to buy anything. In Istanbul, the Spice Bazaar, where you can immerse yourself in the dance of scents and colors, and travel into history, awaits its visitors.

By the way, when you come to the Spice Bazaar, do not leave without seeing the Flower Market, which is located nearby.

Various shops and stores in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Türkiye. (Shutterstock Photo)
A birdseye view of the historical Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Türkiye. (Shutterstock Photo)
Grand Bazaar

Now, I will tell you about a bazaar in Istanbul that can be visited both for shopping and touristic purposes. This is one of the rare bazaars in the world, where not only those who want to shop but also many local and foreign tourists come to breathe the historical and mystical air; the Grand Bazaar.

The Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and largest covered bazaars in the world, with a history of more than 550 years.

The Grand Bazaar, where you can find many products all in the one place with its labyrinth streets and passages, is located in Istanbul’s Beyazıt district. The continuation of the bazaar, which was started to be built in 1461 by the order of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, was completed during the reign of Sultan Suleiman I.

Today, there are approximately 4,000 shops in the bazaar, which is spread over a very large area. The Grand Bazaar, which is an Ottoman heritage that has not lost its function today, has a structure that is divided into sections according to the type of products sold. The Grand Bazaar, which has 11 gates, 65 streets and 14 inns, was established on an area of 110,868 square meters (1,193,373 square feet).

These streets and inns, where you can find almost anything you can think of, offer you the opportunity to meet all your needs in one place. I must say that the most beautiful and meaningful gifts you can buy from Istanbul can be found here.

The second-hand Book Bazaar in Istanbul, Türkiye. (Shutterstock Photo)
The second-hand Book Bazaar in Istanbul, Türkiye. (Shutterstock Photo)
Sahaflar Bazaar

The name of this bazaar, which has survived from the 15th century, comes from the word “sahaf” used for those who buy and sell second-hand books. During the Ottoman Empire, this profession emerged for the first time in Bursa during the time of Ottoman Sultan Orhan Ghazi. During his time, second-hand booksellers used to sell books around the big mosques in Bursa. Later, second-hand booksellers started selling books around mosques in other cities as well.

Thanks to the second-hand booksellers who also have an intellectual perspective, the book bazaar in Istanbul has become not only a place where books are sold, but also a place where information is shared.

The bazaar, which is located in a narrow and long street behind the Beyazıt Mosque, was a place used by madrasa students duran Ottoman times, but today it has become a place where you can source all kinds of second-hand books. After the earthquake and fire disasters, the bazaar underwent a major restoration in 1952.

If you want to wander among the smells of old books and inhale that smell, do not return without seeing the Booksellers’ Bazaar in Istanbul.

Once a person steps into these bazaars, where both the heart of trade and history beats in Istanbul, and when one breathes the air of these markets, one wants to go many times. I can guarantee that every time you go to these historic bazaars, you will discover different places and you will get a different taste every time you go.

Courtesy: Dailysabah