Istanbul’s Shopping Paradise

Covered Street in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar (Photo by Don Knebel)

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey, is perhaps the world’s most famous shopping area. It is also among the few indoor places where both adults and children can get lost for hours.

In 1453 A.D., the Ottoman Empire, under 21-year-old Mehmed II, captured Constantinople, then with a population of about 500,000, bringing the Byzantine Empire to a close. The Ottomans were experienced traders and the city, soon renamed Istanbul, lay along major trading routes. In 1461, to finance converting the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, Mehmed ordered construction of a bazaar in the center of the city to market goods, such as textiles and gems, from throughout his realm. In 1520, Sultan Suleiman I, known to history as Suleiman the Magnificent, began a major expansion of the Ottoman Empire. With the Empire’s trading reach expanded, Suleiman significantly enlarged the bazaar. By the seventeenth century, Istanbul was the largest city in the world and its famous bazaar added slaves taken in the Empire’s conquests to its long list of items being bought and sold.

Today, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, occupying about 1.2 million square feet and featuring about 3600 stores, is a shoppers’ paradise. Six days a week, between 8:30 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., at least 250,000 people, locals and tourists alike, crowd into its maze of 65 streets, most now covered with vaulted ceilings, seeking everything from life’s essentials to exotic works of art. The Grand Bazaar is routinely listed among the ten most visited places in the world.

Istanbul guides have two cautions for Grand Bazaar visitors. First, never pay the asking price, no matter how charming the seller. Second, remember which of the 18 named gates you entered if you hope to find your way back. I can tell you from personal experience that these warnings are disregarded at your peril.

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