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Oh the bazaars of Istanbul, where to start? There are many, from backstreet haggling pits to the maze-like halls of the Grand Bazaar, from medieval spice-heavens to colourful knickknack markets. I’m not the biggest fan of getting dragged into carpet shops by relentless sellers (to only be released after an intense chat, the exchange of business cards, the assurance to tell all my friends and relatives and the promise to hand over my firstborn), therefore I didn’t go to great lengths to seek out the bazaars of Istanbul. I basically only visited the ones I ran into by chance.
The Grand Bazaar:
This is probably the market in Istanbul – you simply can’t visit Turkey’s capital and not somehow end up there. Your feet will magically carry you in its direction and suddenly, you will find yourself in the midst of 5000 shops. The Grand Bazaar is quite the maze, probably constructed in such a way to lure visitors in invitingly, never to be seen again.
Constructed in 1461, the market used to be a giant local and international trade-station. While it is still one of the biggest covered markets in the world, nowadays it’s mostly inhabited by thousands of beckoning shop-owners and their victims – wide eyed tourists with bursting wallets, on the hunt for leather jackets, tacky jewelry, carpets and all kinds of Turkish knickknack. I liked wandering the Grand Bazaar for a while, but ultimately, I found it to be too overpriced and too touristy. Most of the goods are mass produced and probably not of the best quality.
The Spice Market:
Lots of visitors come to Istanbul, expecting some kind of oriental Aladdin-world. While most of it is a misconception, one can indulge in some oriental fantasy and fulfill the urge to experience something completely exotic here an there. The Spice Market (also calles Misir Carsisi or Egyptian Market) in Eminönü is such a venue. Colours, shapes and textures are artfully set up and aromatic foreign scents perforate the air. The arrangement of spices, olives, nuts, dried fruit and Turkish delight is of course exquisite and a feast for the eyes – even if you decide not to buy anything.
The Arasta Bazaar:
The Arasta Bazaar can be found alongside the Blue Mosque. Although it is right next to one of the main tourist attractions in town, I found it strangely devoid of camera-wielding tour groups, which made for a way more pleasant shopping experience. The products seem to be generally of higher quality and less mass-produced than in the Grand Bazaar, although the prices are similar (which is way more expensive than in the rest of Turkey). All in all, the Arasta Bazaar doesn’t give off the vibe of a giant souvenir shop – selling more unique pieces of good quality, some, like the Turkish bath towels, even handmade.
Maybe this is once again a by-product of the offseason, but I found the salesmen in the markets to be not as bad as often portrayed by many other visitors. Most of them weren’t very pushy and were preoccupied with chatting to each other and drinking Turkish tea – sometimes they even ignored me completely and let me browse in peace. Of course, all three of the above markets are fairly popular, touristy and well known, but there is a fair selection of markets, such as in the conservative neighbourhood Fatih or in Kadeköy on the Asian side of town, where one can find the locals shopping and of course lower prices.