The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey is one of the largest and oldest covered market places in the world. The bazaar is comprised of 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops attracting from 250,000 to 400,000 visitors every day of the week but Sunday when the bazaar is closed. The Grand Bazaar is located within the walled city of Istanbul in the city’s center.
Construction of the Grand Bazaar’s central space began in 1455 A.D. just after the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople. The Ottoman Sultan, Mehmet II, constructed a building to house the trading of textiles. The building was completed in 1460. Very near the building was a center for bakers, a slave trading market and a second-hand store.
Around 1545, Mehmet II, no longer a Sultan, built another market and moved his textile trade business there while the original market devoted its trade to luxury goods. First these two buildings were distinct trading entities. Little by little, though, shops formed between and around the buildings giving birth to a comprehensive shopping center conveniently in a single location. Perhaps this was the original one-stop-shopping convenience department store so popular today.
The beginning of the 17th century saw the Grand Bazaar in its final configuration. The vast extent of the Ottoman Empire covering three continents, and the empire’s control of roadways between the continents of Asia and Europe established the Grand Bazaar as the hub of trade in the Mediterranean region. At this time, there were 3,000 shops comprising the bazaar with out-buildings for storage. There was no roof over the marketplace as yet.
Continuous devastating phenomena both natural and unnatural primarily fires and earthquakes plagued the area from 1515 to 1894, the year of a strong earthquake that wracked all of Turkey. Before the last quake according to an 1890 survey the Bazaar had 4,399 active shops, textile traders, 2,195 rooms, a mosque, many fountains and a mausoleum. After the 1894 earthquake only nine shops remained enclosed within the structure.
The original textile market was defunct by 1914 due to intense European competition and was acquired by the city of Istanbul. The former market became an auction house for the famous Turkish carpets.
The last restoration of the huge complex took place in 1980 following previous rehabilitations due to fires in 1943 and 1954. The Grand Bazaar that is seen to this day is the product of that final 1980 reconstruction.
The Grand Bazaar Today
This thriving originally Byzantine market employs 26,000 people and is one of the major attractions in Turkey. The year 2011 marked the historic landmark’s 550th birthday and in that year was the most visited monument in the world according to the Grand Bazaar’s Artisans Association.
The bazaar today consists of jewelers, goldsmiths, small antique shops, tailors, and carpet and textile dealers. There are also vendors hawking souvenirs, designer original handbags, clothing and other such luxury items as well as the usual knock-offs of designer fashions and expensive watches. Visitors to the marketplace can find everyday items at modest prices to priceless antiques, artworks and jewels. Price haggling is expected for all goods regardless of cost. Along with the thousands of shops are several hundred small restaurants, coffee and tea shops.
The bazaar is a city within a city with all the smells, labyrinthine pathways, raucous voices and noises of a large metropolitan area. It is one of the most colorful places on earth.
The significance of the Grand Bazaar lies not only in its rich history but in the richness it adds to the lives of locals and tourists in modern times. There are many covered market places in the world, but none so unforgettable as Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.