Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar

“How do I find this place again?”

“Take a photo with your phone, that way you can ask for directions back here”

Carsikapi Gate (Beyazit tram stop)
Carsikapi Gate (Beyazit tram stop)

My husband was sitting at a café inside the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul with a steaming cup of tea. I was going to explore the bazaar but was worried I’d never be able to find the right café in that maze-like market. As it turned out, his advice was very helpful. When I had to ask someone for direction back to the café, I simply showed him the photo.

The jewelers’ corridor literally glittered. Each window was dripping with gold bracelets, chains, earrings, cuffs, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, pearls and other precious stones in all shapes and sizes. The reflection of the light on so much gold made taking good photos impossible and made my eyes hurt.

One of the arched halls
One of the  halls

The displays were so beautiful: silk scarves, hand-painted isnik ceramics, pashminas, spices, handbags, silverware, and table linen. Even the trinkets and miscellaneous tourist tat looked pretty and enticing. The kilims, rugs and rug salesmen deserve a special note. These men are very insistent, they won’t take no for an answer. They will follow you and talk to you in different languages so pretending you don’t understand doesn’t work. We were polite but firm. No, thank you, we’re not interested in buying a rug.

Typical Turkish tea and coffee sets
Typical Turkish tea and coffee sets

I did, however, buy a leather handbag. I was coveting a gorgeous one embroidered with silk thread. I asked the price, TL (Turkish Lira) 500, more money than I had in my pocket. The young salesman then showed me cheaper ones embroidered in wool, very pretty too but not quite the same. These cost TL 380.

“I don’t have that kind of money right now, sorry.”

“How much do you have?”

“250 lira” I thought this might have been a mistake. No one needs to know how much I have. He said he was just an employee and was going to fetch the owner. I felt a bit uneasy; I do not like haggling at all. I was about to leave, anyway, because not having enough money felt embarrassing to me.

“Don’t be sorry,” he said. “This is just business. It’s not personal.”

Rugs and cushion covers
Rugs and cushion covers

The owner came in and asked if I had dollars? No. Euro? No. He smiled and let me have the handbag for the money I had. It felt like a bargain but it was definitely not at about US$ 120. “It’s made in Turkey, not China” said the owner. “Nothing from China.” A sign of the times, I thought. The young attendant wanted to give me a coin as a good luck token because I had no money left, which, apparently, is bad luck in Turkey. “It’s all right, thanks. I have some loose change.” This seemed good enough for him.


Grand Bazaar

 Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

To get here, take the tram and get off at either Beyazit or Çemberlitaş.

The bazaar was established by Mehmet II in 1453 in what is now known as the Bazaar Quarter. This labyrinthine indoor market has cafes, restaurants, a mosque, a police station, offices, public restrooms (tuvalet) and banks. The Grand Bazaar extends to the adjacent streets.

What to buy: anything you want! I bought gorgeous pashminas, an Iznik ceramic bowl, silk scarves and, of course, a suede and embroidered fabric handbag. Spices and tea are a good option too.

The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul is an almost magical place where you can shop for almost anything you want, from exotic spices to gold to pashminas.

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