When İstanbul was conquered in 1453 the Ottomans had to quickly create a commercial area for the public. Normally in Ottoman cities you had a place for commercial exchange and it was called bedesten or hans that handled a diversity of merchandise. This is a story of one of the biggest shopping malls of all time.
I personally love to get lost in this maze of labyrinths, to discover a new street, a new corner and a new atmosphere. Yes, I am talking about the world renowned Grand Bazaar. A story some of you may know and some of you may not.
The beginnings of the Grand Bazaar goes back to the bedesten and the shops built by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror. However, we not so sure if the streets of the bazaar were covered during that time or not. According to the official historian of the Sultan, Tursun Bey, the Conqueror built a place called Bezazistan meaning a shopping places for cloth sellers. There was also a temporary shop area for produce sellers called bazargahs. The central building of the grand bazaar called the bedesten and the large commercial buildings called hans were constructed from stones and bricks and the shops were built from wood. This marketplace was never given a general name so people named it as they wished. However various parts of this huge facility were named according to the products sold and found there. For example takkeciler (makers of skullcaps), terziler (tailors), bazzalar (cloth merchants). The famous Ottoman traveller, Evliya Çelebi, in his unique epic Seyahatname (book of travels) describes certain parts of the bazaar such as sahaflar (second hand book sellers), attarlar (herbalists) and kuyumcular (goldsmiths). He never describes it as a one single open-air or grand marketplace. By the way Evliya çelebi lived in the second half of the seventeenth century.
The Marketplace that was built with the orders of Mehmet the Conqueror gradually expanded with extra additions being made during the reign of subsequent Sultans.
New marketplaces were built for various groups of tradesmen. By the eighteenth century the neighbouring streets which were by that time lined on both sides with shops were covered with vaults and domes. Hence the area began to be converted into a grand bazaar. With constant fires that ruined down the wooden shops were rebuild because of necessities as stone structures and the streets were covered in order to protect them. This approach of construction was completed towards the end of 1704.
Of course this was not the end of the fires and the grand bazaar dis suffer from fires but it withstood with sustainability. Such reconstruction expenses were covered by the state just because of the importance of the bazaar in the economy of the whole capital and even of the whole empşre.
According to the historical documents from the period of the conqueror, there were almost 849 shops around the bedesten. This number gradually grew to 2000 by the end of the 15th century. By the beginning of the 16th century when the marketplace was actually named grand bazaar with its stone structures, it’s recorded that there were over three thousand shops in total. With the structural evolution of the bazaar it embraced mosques, fountains, wells and inns.
The Grand Bazaar today contains 61 streets and eighteen doors or to be more exact gates.
The streets are not the same width with the widest being kalpakçılar street. This unique structural gem is one of the most important elements of İstanbul’s traditional life. It has been written by various native and foreign travellers. Especially one description of a British traveller named Julia Pardoe who visited the city in 1835 is just lovely. She mentions the Bazaar in her memoirs as: “You should think of a single place when I say a bazaar, the bazaar consisted of several sections where different kinds of goods were sold. These sections were like small cities with their tops covered. Each street in this bazaar was a separate center of craftsmanship and commerce with all its special attractions ranging from the shop window of a goldsmith’s to woolen pillows and feather cushions.”
Durand de Fontmagne who visited and stayed in İstanbul during 1856-1858 described the Grand Bazaar as the most entertaining place in the city. I believe with a different level of perspective this description is still valid.
It’s a must visit for all travellers native of foreign visiting the city for the first time.
Today the grand bazaar embraces more than 5 thousand shops and almost 45 thousand people work on daily basis here. It’s recorded that almost 200 thousand people visit her each single day. It’s definitely a unique location where one can lose yourself in time and shopping.