Touted as the first covered market in the world, it is as large and noisy as you would expect a 5,000 store shopping mall to be. It was also far more colorful and brightly lit than I was ready for, and I reached nearly complete sensory overload in the first ten minutes. Rick Steves says to spend about 2 hours here, which is about as much time as a human has before their retinas start to melt…
In addition to the shops that line some 60 walkways, this complex also houses two mosques, four fountains and a couple of bathhouses as well as several restaurants. Upon entering one of 27 doors, the first thing I see is a window filled with tiaras. Later on, a stall of embroidered boots, and beyond that, several shops filled with beautiful glass lanterns. A coat from the Topkapi, replicated in blue and white porcelain tile also catches my eye.
I give my first TL10 to an artist who writes my name Arabic style calligraphy. I later learn it is a style called hüsnü hat – writing in Türkish with Arabic alphabet and most often used for religious texts.
I see an unadorned set of 6 tulip glasses and saucers for tea. I begin to barter with the vendor but am met with resistance so I don’t pursue it beyond the TL5 discount he has offered. He tells me how bad business has been the entire time he is wrapping my purchase. I feel badly for initiating the barter and I start to question what I have read about shopping practices in Turkey.
The next shop is attended by a bouncy teenager with good English skills. I sort through a pile of wooden fabric stamps, select three for my hatmaking, and make no attempt to haggle the price. He drops it by a few dollars between bagging the pieces and collecting my money. I shop for a silver ring, but the jewelry is very gaudy so I move on.
After passing the same teenager three times, which elicits flirts from him and subsequent smiles from me, I turn the corner and into the Old Market. Here the ceiling domes are exposed brick, and most of the shops are faced with glass cases. An antique store has a case containing an astrolabe and some swords, which I did not enquire as to price.
Here, behind glass are three pair of chased silver chopines that were worn in Turkish baths. Another tiny shop is filled with stacks of Persian miniatures. The shopkeeper allows me to handle them. I cannot tell if they are true antiques or reproductions and the shopkeeper cannot read the Arabic that covers the backs of them.?He offers tea but I decline.
Ali Güzeldemirel’s old copper and brass is the most pleasant find of the day. He offers tea and a seat in his very small shop which I accept. He spends the next hour showing me various wares, telling me what the regular price is, and what ‘my’ price is, which eliminates the need to haggle. His prices are very fair and I end up buying several gifts for friends and a brass kohl bottle for myself.
I watch the bustle of the tea (cay) merchants, who weren’t serving customers, but instead ran from shop to shop, delivering tea in small “tulip glasses” on saucers, which they carry on suspended silver trays. Providing tea to patrons must be a cost of doing business here and I make a mental note to only accept tea from merchants I intend to do business with.
I exit the main bazaar and locate the Spice Bazaar which dates back to the mid 17th century. Olive oil soap, piles of saffron, Turkish Viagra, most things I don’t recognize, wishing my sense of smell was better. I try to buy just a few pieces of Turkish Delight but end up with a box which is discounted by 30% without my even asking.
The Spice Bazaar is about the size of a single arm of the Great Bazaar, so I backtrack the way I came in, passing a finch in a shrink-wrapped cage, hanging in a doorway of a shop. What a clever idea. The bird stays out of drafts but can still see out, and passersby can see him and hear his happy little voice. I pass a baklava shop that has been here since 1871, and exit out into the street.
I was more or less prepared to be lost for awhile this morning. I wasn’t prepared to be lost for the entire day. I wander up and down several streets filled with wedding dress and lingerie shops, and other shops with windows displaying wedding or pageant wear for children, which I later learn are for rites of circumcision. I end up in a plaza, and look up to get my bearings. I thought I could use the Ayasofya as a landmark, but one set of domes and minarets looks the same as another and now I am looking at three sets. I find the Hotel Han almost by accident an hour later. It’s been a really long and sensory-draining day.
For more photos of the Grand Bazaar and surrounds, please visit Daveno Travels.