Over the past years, Istanbul has become a major must-see metropolis. Every week, new stylish restaurants, chic clubs, trendy boutiques and gigantic shopping malls open their doors to a young urban crowd. At the same time, all things Ottoman are finding their way back into Turkish society. Shops, restaurants and hotels carry names from a time when Istanbul was still called Constantinople. Dishes that were once served to Sultans are now becoming popular amongst connoisseurs. To get a feel for this Ottomania, you only need to visit the biggest and oldest shopping temple of Istanbul, the Grand Bazaar or Kapalıçarşı. It was founded by Sultan Mehmet II in the middle of the 15th century. The 3,500 shops that line the 60 streets of the covered market today display a beautiful array of jewellery, clothes, brassware, ceramics and souvenirs with Ottoman designs and colours. Original pieces such as fine silk caftans, satin clothes ornate with gold thread or intricately chiselled metalwork have become rare and highly priced treasures.
A visit to the Grand Bazaar is like a journey back to Ottoman times. Just stroll through the alleyways and walk up and down its hidden stairways. Let yourself be overwhelmed by the sheer splendour of the many shops selling gold jewellery and also by the friendliness of the people. Don’t be shy about accepting an invitation to drink a glass of tea and chat with the shopkeepers. Take your time to watch the merchants jostling their wares in the streets, past the fountains and across the courtyards. Discover workshops on the rooftops of the bazaar and listen to the call to prayer echoing through the majestic hallways of the historic building.
Things not to miss when in Istanbul’s bazaar quarter:
Buy some colourful cotton towels or original hamam towels. Together with a brass bowl and a bar of olive soap, they make a perfect gift. You will find a great variety of bath linens at Eğin Tekstil in the Yağlikçılar Caddesi 1 in the Grand Bazaar.
Climb the crumbling stairs of the Büyük Yeni Han, built in the 17th century just outside the Grand Bazaar. Enter one of the doors along the old passages to watch silversmiths, polishers or fine metal workers at work. Nothing seems to have changed here since Ottoman times.
It is worth queuing at the window of Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi in Tahmis Sokak 66 in Eminönü, just opposite one of the side entrances to the Spice Bazaar. You will be rewarded with freshly roasted coffee beans, ground Turkish coffee or strong dark espresso. The company has been perfecting the art of coffee roasting since the late 18th century.
When in the Grand Bazaar, take some time to sample the delicious food in one of the many restaurants hidden in the small passages or courtyards. Try the Pedaliza Restaurant in the Cebeci Han 55 just off the Yağlikçılar Caddesi. You will find shop owners and tradesmen eating their lunch here.
Bored of the classical Turkish carpets? Then check out the hand woven kilims at Dhoku, which combine modern design with beautiful colours.
PHOTOS : LAURA SALM-REIFFERSCHEIDT, MORITZ STIPSICZ, ISTOCKPHOTO.COM/OUTSIDERZONE, SHUTTERSTOCK/WITHGOD