Grand Bazaar, one of the precious symbols of Istanbul’s traditional architecture and cosmopolitan structure, is a must-visit area for every visitors of Istanbul. Today, I will explore the Grand Bazaar with all its details, history, and texture.
With the conquest of Istanbul by Sultan Mehmet II (a.k.a Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror), the Grand Bazaar was established in line with the desire to create new areas of Ottoman culture in the city. It was very difficult at that time to build a new culture in the city that symbolizes the Ottoman Empire. But a correct architectural plan made it possible to build a large structure like the Grand Bazaar.
The Grand Bazaar, which was opened in 1455 and looks very attractive with its four large gates, was one of the biggest economic projects of the empire at the time of its construction.
The number of people working here is almost 25 thousand now and there are 4000 shops in total. This exotic and impressive destination, which is visited by millions of tourists every year, is located in the city center of Istanbul and easy to reach with various means of transportation.
- 1 Visiting Grand Bazaar
- 1.1 How do you get to the Grand Bazaar?
- 1.2 Visiting hours
- 1.3 Entrance fee
- 1.4 Dress code
- 1.5 When to visit Grand Bazaar
- 1.6 How long to spend in Grand Bazaar
- 1.7 Finding your way in Grand Bazaar
- 2 What is the Grand Bazaar famous for?
- 3 History of Grand Bazaar
- 4 The architecture of Grand Bazaar
- 5 What to buy at Grand Bazaar?
- 6 The art of haggling at the Grand Bazaar
- 7 Where and what to eat at the Grand Bazaar?
- 8 Is Grand Bazaar a tourist trap?
- 9 Further information and tips
Visiting Grand Bazaar
Visiting the Grand Bazaar in the Beyazıt Neighborhood of Fatih district of Istanbul can be a good opportunity to visit other historical and touristic sites around it, too. This historic bazaar will allow you to buy countless exotic products to distribute to your loved ones when you return to your country.
Sweets and Turkish delights unique to Turkey, coffee varieties with exotic scents, traditional cooking utensils, traditional clothes are the best-selling products in the Grand Bazaar. In addition to these, a few pleasant hours you will spend here can be an impressive experience among the bargains in the bazaar, the sales staff inviting you to the showcase and the treats offered to you from the products.
The industry that has become iconic in Grand Bazaar is the jewelry sector. Here you can see many jewelry shops with glittering showcases and vintage designs. Behind these shops, there are workshops where generally sold products are produced. In this respect, Grand Bazaar is both a sales and production area.
This building, which has the title of the first covered shopping center in the world, is a unique opportunity especially for those who want to see the early Ottoman culture in Istanbul closely. Built-in dedication to Sultan Mehmet II, the building continued to serve many emperors over the years.
How do you get to the Grand Bazaar?
Located in Beyazıt, in a very central point of the city, the Grand Bazaar is very close to the hotels frequently preferred by tourists. After arriving in Beyazıt, you can choose a pleasant walk and explore the streets. Süleymaniye Mosque and Beyazıt Square, which are very popular tourist destinations, are very close to the Grand Bazaar. If you wish, you can visit these places before or after your visit to the Grand Bazaar.
You have alternative options to reach the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, which offers more than one meaning in terms of transportation possibilities. Here are some of them:
Getting to the Grand Bazaar from Taksim
If you are in Taksim, take the metro, there is a huge metro station in Taksim Square. Get off at the stop named “Vezneciler”. After a short five-minute walk you will be in the Grand Bazaar.
Getting to the Grand Bazaar from Kadıköy
You may need to take a short ferry trip to the other side. Travel to Eminönü by ferry. Then you need to use the Kabataş-Bağcılar tram line. Travel towards Bağcılar direction and get off when the stop named “Beyazıt-Grand Bazaar” is announced. You will be directed at the Grand Bazaar.
Getting to the Grand Bazaar from Sultanahmet
Grand Bazaar is very close to Sultanahmet Square. Hagia Sophia is only 1.1 kilometers (0.7 miles) from the Grand Bazaar.
You can easily walk from Sultanahmet to Grand Bazaar. The only thing you need to do is following the tramway line and you will reach the Grand Bazaar within only 15-minutes.
If you do not want to walk, you can also take the tramway. When you take the tramway from the Sultanahmet Tramway Station and get off at “Beyazıt Tramway Station”, you can reach the Grand Bazaar, which is one minute away.
Getting to the Grand Bazaar from Beşiktaş
You can take the bus from Beşiktaş to Kabataş and take the tramway from Kabataş to Beyazıt. Beyazıt Tramway Station is one minute away from the Grand Bazaar.
Grand Bazaar is open six days a week and is closed on Sundays.
It may make sense not to make your trip plan for Sunday.
The opening and closing hours may change season to season. It currently opens at 8:30 am and closes at 7:00 pm.
Grand Bazaar is a large market area that is accessible to all. Anyone can enter the Grand Bazaar without paying any fee and spend as much time as they want.
You do not need to show any identification or buy a card at the entrance or exit of this place. You can enter the Grand Bazaar as if you were in any market area or shopping center.
There is no special dress code for Grand Bazaar. You can wear anything you want. However, it may be a good idea to follow some suggestions:
While coming here, you can enter your sports and casual clothes. I am talking about a traditional place, but you don’t have to dress traditionally. More than ninety million tourists visit this place annually, making the tradesmen here “connoisseur of human nature”. Tradesmen guess where you are from by looking at your clothes or your appearance and start calling you accordingly. Russian, German, English, or Arabic. Do not be surprised if you encounter such a situation.
You can also wear something traditional if you wish. If you wish, you can choose to wear your daily clothes and buy traditional clothes such as shalwar and fez. In this way, you will have a special memory for yourself.
Although there is no obligation as a dress code, you can be treated according to your dressing style. Therefore, if you do not want very high prices to be offered to you, we recommend that you do not look like a tourist.
Also, keep in mind that Grand Bazaar can be a really crowded place. It is very important to keep your bag, wallet, cards, and money safe too. For this, we can recommend that you wear your backpack on the front, towards your chest.
When to visit Grand Bazaar
It can always be a good time to visit the Grand Bazaar! However, we have to say that Istanbul has turned into a real touristic city as the weather gets warmer especially in the spring and summer months. You can also make your visit during these times.
If you don’t want your visit to be disappointing, make sure that it is not Sunday or religious holidays when planning your Grand Bazaar.
You can choose to visit the Grand Bazaar at noon when the sun is high. In this way, you will be protected from the sun and after a two-three-hour bazaar tour, you will have the chance to visit other places in the region.
How long to spend in Grand Bazaar
You need to spend at least 3 hours here if you want to shop, take impressive photos, and collect unforgettable memories. A pleasant three-hour trip will allow you to explore the Grand Bazaar and its unique texture up close.
Grand Bazaar is huge! We said that there are a total of 4000 shops there. This place is also a very large area with five mosques, seven fountains, 10 wells, 1 public fountain, 1 fountain, 24 gates, 17 ‘’han’’. The entire building is spread over a total of 30,700 square meters. The labyrinth-like area consists of sixty-six streets in total. Each of the streets pointed to areas where a particular occupational group coexisted in the past. Now there is no such situation, tradesmen are settled in the market in a generally mixed way.
Don’t forget to spare time for all streets and areas where different products are sold.
Finding your way in Grand Bazaar
Getting to know the labyrinth-like structure of the Grand Bazaar better can be helpful to find your way here. Especially the high number of streets and the low number of phrases to find out where you can make you feel lost. But you don’t have to worry. With its wide structure, this place has a picture where each street opens to another.
There are a total of 22 gates in the Grand Bazaar. The largest among them are as follows:
It is possible to say that among these gates, the ones most used by tourists are Nuruosmaniye and Beyazıt gates. If you think you have lost your way inside the Grand Bazaar, after finding the nearest gate, you can open your sketch again and decide where you want to go. Don’t worry, there are a phone and internet connection in Grand Bazaar. Moreover, helpful tradesmen will immediately describe you when you tell them where you want to go.
Kalpakçılar Street is defined as the main street of Grand Bazaar. This street is located in the middle of Beyazıt and Nuruosmaniye gates. Therefore, many people who visit the Grand Bazaar visit this street first.
If you have felt lost among structures that are very similar to each other, you can calm down by remembering a few basics:
- The streets in the Grand Bazaar are lined up side by side. These structures are built vertically and horizontally and intersect each other at certain points. For example, Kalpakcılar is a street on the vertical axis while Yağlıkçılar is on the horizontal axis.
- If you are lost, it might make sense to start by finding Kalpakçılar Street. This street connects two large and popular gates, Nuruosmaniye and Beyazıt. Once you find this place, it will be much easier to get out of the bazaar. If you are not sure if the place you have reached is Kalpakçılar Street or not, look around. Sandal Bedesten should be found on this street.
- There is another area that connects two different gates: Yağcılar Street. This street connects Çarşıkapı and Örücüler gates. There is a prayer square there, where tradesmen can pray together with a special ceremony.
What is the Grand Bazaar famous for?
Grand Bazaar is famous for being the first and oldest shopping mall in the world that is still active.
The discovery of the Grand Bazaar, defined as “the beating heart of Istanbul”, also means the discovery of Ottoman history that started in Istanbul with Sultan Mehmet II. Traces of the traditions, economy, and architectural tradition within the Empire are found in this area.
What makes this place different from all other areas is that it is predictably huge. With more than 4000 different shops, this is one of the largest market areas in the world.
Exotic products you can buy while spending time here are the main points that distinguish Grand Bazaar from others. For example, you can buy jewelry, precious metals, furs, rugs with traditional patterns, sweets, coffee, decorative kitchenware with traditional tile patterns, traditional clothes, and weapons. The combination of all these and their selling in traditional areas makes this market different.
Another feature that makes this place different from all other bazaars is the jewelry shops inherited from father to son for centuries. The glittering golds available in the jewelry shops can allow you to buy high quality, valuable, and specially designed jewelry at very reasonable prices due to the exchange rate.
Grand Bazaar is a very special area with a history of 557 years. The main feature of this area is not that it is old, but that it has been used for centuries to perform exactly the same function. How was the Grand Bazaar used when it was built 557 years ago? It is used in exactly the same way today.
With its high ceiling and impressive structure, Grand Bazaar has a very spacious interior ambiance. You don’t have to be afraid of the sun or the rain while spending time here. This actually offers a more enjoyable shopping experience.
Another feature that distinguishes this place from other areas is, as can be expected, it hosts a large number of visitors. With 91 million visits a year, the Grand Bazaar has a record number of visits.
History of Grand Bazaar
With its impressive history, Grand Bazaar also symbolizes the history of the Turkish conquest of Istanbul. Because, if you look at it, the Grand Bazaar started to be built for the Ottoman culture to manifest itself here, shortly after Sultan Mehmet II conquered Istanbul. Therefore, this place had to reflect exactly the traditional Ottoman world and had a magnificent structure to be the economic center of the new empire. All these have been taken into consideration during the construction of the Grand Bazaar.
In which period did the Grand Bazaar is constructed?
The construction, which started in 1460 on the order of Sultan Mehmet II, continued for a very long time. Many sources attribute the construction to Sultan Mehmet II, as the start of construction was due to Sultan Mehmet II. In fact, most of the building was built during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent and the building began to be used in this period. When it was first built, the structure was wooden. Later, more durable materials were used during the repairs.
All shops are of equal size in Grand Bazaar, which was built to reflect the sociocultural structure of the 15th century. In the past, these shops had very strict trade rules that they had to follow. For example, nowadays the concept called “Competition Law” was applied extensively in that period as well. When the two shops were side by side, they could not hold exhibitions that would overshadow each other’s products. Selling products below the specified prices was prohibited. In this way, a reliable and profitable environment was achieved for the tradesmen.
Social culture and Grand Bazaar: From past to present
In addition, in the past, the Grand Bazaar consisted of tradesmen that the public entrusted their money. This place was almost like a bank. The people entrusted their accumulated money to the tradesmen and this money served as a kind of credit for the tradesmen to trade more easily. For a long time, such relations between the people and the shopkeepers continued to improve.
When we look at the history of this place, we see that especially fires and earthquakes have had a great impact on the building. Having experienced such disasters for centuries, the Grand Bazaar somehow managed to stay intact. Because every almost sultan came rule repair the building again.
Influence of the Byzantine Empire
Research shows that the “Cevahir Bedesten”, called the Inner Bedesten, could be a Byzantine structure. Although a group defending that the building belongs entirely to Turkish culture opposes this, according to some sources, it is highly probable that this 48 x 36 meter covered bazaar was historically built by the Byzantine Empire.
The architecture of Grand Bazaar
It can be quite difficult to study the architecture of an area like the Grand Bazaar, which has a very detailed structure. Let’s examine the most important buildings of Grand Bazaar architecture together:
- As mentioned before, there are 5 mosques, 1 school, 7 fountains, 10 wells, 1 public fountain, 1 fountain, 24 doors, 17 ‘’han’’ (public house or inn) in Grand Bazaar.
- The building consists of two large covered bazaars and surrounding streets. The number of shops on the streets is currently 4000 and each shop has the same size.
- The fires that took place in 1546, 1589, and 1618 caused the shops to burn down almost completely. When this building was first built, wood material was used. This, of course, caused the whole building to be less resistant to fire.
- Especially after the fire in the Old Bedesten in 1652, all of the markets were completely destroyed.
- The Grand Bazaar, which was rebuilt at the end of this process, entered the period when it became iconic from an architectural point of view. The restoration work carried out in the surrounding tents turned the vaults on wooden structures into masonry works.
- During the Sultan Abdulhamit II period, approximately in the nineteenth century, the ‘’han’’s were abolished while the grand bazaar was organized from the beginning. In addition, the major routes used by individuals visiting some places were examined and new gates connecting these routes were added.
- Later, iron columns were added to the structure to make it more resistant to fire and similar situations.
- The fire in 1954 caused the building to be restored. After the interior painting process that took place in 1980, the building is quite similar to its most recent version.
“Han”s (Public Houses or Inns) in Grand Bazaar
Hosting buyers and sellers from different parts of the world is one of the important features of the Grand Bazaar’s architecture. The public houses here also serve this purpose. The public house names in the building can be listed as Rabia, Yarimtas, Evliya, Aga, Astarci, Sarraf, Big Saffron, Little Saffron, Pit, Zincirli, and Varakçı. Let’s take a look at some of the structures known as ‘Han’ that survive today.
Almost everyone who comes to the Grand Bazaar wants to take a photo of this place. The biggest reason for this is that the building has a crimson façade and the shutters are green. The public house looks quite exotic with this feature. In addition, there are many jewelry shops at the bottom of the building.
If you visit Yağcıklar Street, you will see it immediately. Merchants who came to Istanbul for a period used to stay here. The building has two courtyards and a two-storey dwelling. In 1894, the building was badly damaged. But later the structure was improved again.
The architectural features of this building, which is thought to have been built in the Tulip Period(1718-1730), are more spectacular than the others. Because in the Tulip Era, luxurious details were used especially in the external beauty of the buildings. In particular, the trade of wool fabrics was carried out here, and a special type of wool fabric was called “Çuha” at that time. In 1755, this place was also damaged by fire.
There is another popular building among public houses that are still open to visitors. The name of Kalcılar Han comes from a concept in traditional jewelry culture. In the building, which was built in the eighteenth century, there are many pouring workshops where silverware is currently made.
The Interior of the Grand Bazaar
While thinking about the current state of the Grand Bazaar, be careful not to think of it as a simple shopping area. There are many different structures such as health centers, police stations, branches of all banks, and post offices directly in the bazaar.
Ağa Street and Aynacılar Street are the major areas of interest in the interior architecture of the building. Here, there are people who want to exchange currency and those who want to buy jewelry and gold from the jeweler.
What to buy at Grand Bazaar?
When you enter the colorful and exciting atmosphere of the Grand Bazaar, you can forget to buy something. But purchasing something is one of the best ways to create unforgettable memories for yourself. Therefore, it may be a good idea to buy a few of the following items while having fun at the Grand Bazaar.
Gold & Silver
We can say that there are really many gold workshops in Turkey. Here, gold is highly valued in the traditional sense. Especially weddings or other celebrations require people to gift each other with gold. You will come across many gold products in different settings in dozens of different jewelry shops you will see in the Grand Bazaar. It may be the right time to buy an elegant gift for yourself, your spouse, or your relatives.
You will see many Turkish delights stands in different colors in the Grand Bazaar. You can buy products in packages from these stands, which contain different nuts. Here, the Turkish delights are carefully packed and ready to be taken to your country as a gift. If you wish, you can make a mixed package from Turkish delight. Or if you wish, you can request to create a large box from a single type of delight.
Types of Coffee
Traditional Turkish Coffee is distinguished from others in terms of its taste, cooking style, and presentation. You will see fresh coffees at large stands in many different shops in Grand Bazaar. There are shops selling freshly brewed Turkish coffee from the entrances of the bazaar. You can see people waiting in a long queue in front of these shops. Don’t forget to buy coffee here too!
With traditional production, you will love the patterns on rugs, which are completely hand made. Traditional colors such as red, blue, turquoise, orange, and green will combine to make your home’s Nordic atmosphere ethnic and the rugs will mean an unforgettable memory from Turkey. There are 54 different carpet sellers in the Grand Bazaar.
Do not finish your bazaar tour without visiting Cevahir Bedesten. Here, you will see shops with very valuable antique pieces. Unique antique kitchen utensils, decoration items, and jewelry will blow your mind. The prices of antiques presented in a traditional atmosphere may be a bit expensive for you. But bringing the history of Istanbul to your home comes at a price.
Grand Bazaar is one of the most suitable points to purchase leather products with completely original and exclusive quality. Moreover, there are many shops that traditionally produce textile products from leather. The most intensive production processes take place behind many of the looms that you see and offer you leather. This situation can really inspire you. Certified sellers, where leather and leather products can be purchased reliably, will allow you to buy durable gifts for yourself. Jackets, bags, notebook cases, and much more.
The art of haggling at the Grand Bazaar
One of the most important shopping traditions in Turkey is bargaining. If you be timid while visiting this place, they can open the prices to you from a higher point. Therefore, before shopping, you can ask several different shops for the price of the same product. After deciding which shop to buy from, here’s what you need to do: Ignore the label price. One of the valuable features of the Grand Bazaar shopping culture is the option of bargaining. The bargaining continues until the moment the seller and the buyer shake hands. So feel free to push the seller a little bit. They are used to it!
Where and what to eat at the Grand Bazaar?
Two or three hours spent at the Grand Bazaar can make you feel very hungry. Because you will be seeing a large number of desserts around you constantly. There are many restaurants you can choose from in order to experience a traditional meal in this traditional area. Some of these can be listed as follows:
- Şark Kahvesi: Have you ever experienced Turkish coffee with its special presentation? When you come here, you will see Turkish coffee with an intense foam on it being served to you in a special glass. Moreover, there are drinks such as sage tea, linden, rosehip, and mint lemon that you can order for your children or choose during the winter months.
- Dönerci Şahin Usta: We will suggest a shop that has been serving since 1969 for those who are really hungry. You can eat Traditional Turkish doner wrap here. You will really love doner with sauce. These wraps make up the fast-food culture of this place.
- Gaziantep Burç Ocakbaşı: Everyone who takes a short tour in Turkey really likes the kebab restaurants here. Kebab restaurants are very popular with their rich catering culture, delicious and juicy meat dishes. The most preferred products by tourists in kebab shops are lahmacun, Adana Kebab, and Urfa Kebab!
- Fahri Usta: Known for its traditional flavors, Fahri Usta aims to bring Ottoman cuisine to you. The most preferred products from this restaurant can be listed as saray meatballs, chickpeas pilaf, heart, brain, semolina halva.
- Fes Coffee: Have you ever read the British Monocle Magazine? As a result of the researches and surveys conducted, British Monocle Magazine chose this shop as the “World’s 4th Best Independent Retailer”. Those who want to experience a traditional coffee in a truly exclusive place may love Fes Cofee.
Is Grand Bazaar a tourist trap?
Every city that receives its touristic visits intensely may encounter the question of “Is it a tourist trap?” The time you spend here will give you a cultural and cosmopolitan experience above all. Therefore, we are sure that this destination cannot qualify as a tourist trap.
However, if you want to buy the first product you encounter during your time in the Grand Bazaar, if you do not bargain in any way and you decide to buy every product that is marketed to you, the sellers may make you pay more than necessary. We recommend that you pay attention to this and manage your tour accordingly.
Further information and tips
The present and the past of the Grand Bazaar are absolutely similar in functional and architectural features. But some features that were very prominent in the past have been lost today. For example, in the past, each street was named according to the products sold by the tradesmen on that street. Today, the names of these streets are still used, but there are no longer any specialized tradesmen groups according to their business areas. Studying some of the street names can be useful for you to grasp the tradition: ‘’Ressam, Sahaflarbedesteni, Sandal, Sandalbedesteni, Serpuççular, Sıraodalar, Sipahi, Tacirler, Takkeciler, Tavukpazarı, Terlikçiler, Terzibaşı, Terziler.’’
Family professions in Grand Bazaar
The fact that the Grand Bazaar has been a bazaar for centuries has made the shops here a family heritage. Most of the workshops here today are a professional legacy passed down from father to son. Many individuals were born in the workshops here and learned the profession directly by being in the workshop. Most of the products on the counters that you come across are produced by those who sell them.
‘’Shoe Law’’ in Ottoman Period
While visiting the Grand Bazaar, you will immediately feel that you are witnessing history. In the past, individuals of different races were required to wear different shoes here. Here was the “shoe rule”:
- Yellow shoes for Muslims
- Blue shoes for Orthodox Greeks
- Black shoes for Jews
- Red shoes for Armenians
First and only night opening of Grand Bazaar
Security measures taken during the Ottoman Period required the Grand Bazaar to be closed at night. According to the order given, the bazaar could only be opened at night with the permission of the sultan. Therefore, we can say that the bazaar has never been opened at night for centuries. On just one date, in 1867, the Grand Bazaar opened at night.
This event, which was sent only once in history, took place for the celebration of Sultan Abdulaziz’s return from Egypt and for the people to show joy. The sultan, who wandered the streets of Grand Bazaar on a horse, gave a very impressive show of strength that day. While on horseback, the sultan greeted the people and this historical moment became one of the moments witnessed by the Grand Bazaar.