The Grand Bazaar is one of Istanbul’s most recognizable landmarks and a bustling commercial center that currently employs 26,000 people and sees between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors every day.

It must compete with the modern shopping malls common in Istanbul, but its beauty and fascination represent a formidable advantage for it. On the 550th anniversary of the complex in 2011, the head of the Grand Bazaar Artisans Association said that it was the most visited landmark in the world.


The building’s infrastructure, heating, and lighting will all be updated thanks to a restoration project set to begin in 2012. The stalls inside the market will be renovated, and any additions made later will be torn down. This plan will address the major issues plaguing the market, such as the lack of a restroom in the entire bazaar (now it is solved and there are many toilet facilities in the Grand Bazaar). Also, because there haven’t been enough controls in the past few years, many dealers have taken out columns and walls from their stores. This, along with the fact that stolen lead was replaced with concrete on the roof of the market, has made it very dangerous for the earthquake that is expected to hit Istanbul in the next few years.

Except for Sundays and national holidays, the Grand Bazaar is open from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. every day.

History of the Grand Bazaar

Shortly after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, in the winter of 1455–56, work began on what would become the Grand Bazaar’s central market as part of a larger plan to boost the city’s economy. A building specifically for the exchange of textiles was commissioned by Sultan Mehmet II. It was known in Ottoman Turkish as Bezzâzistan-Cedîd (“New Bedesten”) and Cevâhir Bedestan (‘Bedesten of Gems’). The Persian word bezestan, meaning “bazaar of the cloth sellers,” was the inspiration for the English word bedesten. The structure, known variously as the “internal” (Ic), “ancient” (Atik), or “old” (Eski) Bedesten in Turkish, is located on the southwestern slope of Istanbul’s third hill, between the ruins of the ancient Fora of Constantine and the Fora of Theodosius. It was also near the first sultan’s palace, the Old Palace (Eski Sarayi), which was also under construction in those same years, and not far from the Artopoleia (in Greek) (Άρτoπωλεία), the city’s bakers’ quarter in Byzantine times.

During the 1460s and 1461s, the Bedesten was completed and donated to the Aya Sofya Mosque’s waqf. Even though most of the building is from the second half of the 15th century, academics have pointed to the Byzantine relief of a Comnenian eagle that is still on top of the East Gate (Kuyumcular Kapisi) of the Bedesten as proof that it was built in the Byzantine era.

A slave market, known in Turkish as Esir Pazari, operated not far from the Bedesten, a practice that had been maintained since Byzantine times. The old book market (Sahaflar Carsisi) was relocated from the bazaar to its present picturesque location near the Beyazid Mosque. Other important markets in the area were the “second-hand market” (Turkish: “Bit Pazari”), the “Long Market” (Uzun Carsi), which was the same as the Greek “Long Portico” (Makros Embolos), and the “Long Market.”

Mehmet II had a second covered market built to the north of the first. It was called Kücük (which means “Little”), Cedit (which means “New”), or Yeni (both of which mean “New”) Bedesten. The name comes from a type of thread that was woven in Bursa and had the color of sandalwood.

After the Sandal Bedesten was built, the textile industry shifted there, while the Cevahir Bedesten became the exclusive domain of the high-end retail sector. They were initially two separate structures. There were church ruins and a large cistern between them and the Mosque of Beyazid, as noted by a French traveler in the 16th century named Pierre Gilles. However, many merchants quickly set up shop in the spaces between and around them, and soon an entire district was devoted to trade.

According to a census taken in 1890, the Bazaar was home to 4,399 open stores, 2 bedesten, 2195 rooms, 1 Hamam, 1 mosque, 10 medrasas, 19 fountains (2 sadirvan and 1 sebil), 1 mausoleum, and 24 han. There are 3,000 stores spread out across 61 streets in the 30.7% built-up area that is guarded by 18 gates. These include the two bedesten, thirteen han, and sixty-one streets (plus several more outsides).

The last major disaster was an earthquake that struck Istanbul in 1894. Mahmud Celaleddin Paşa, the Minister of Public Works, oversaw the reconstruction of the damaged bazaar until 1898, during which time the size of the complex was reduced. While the Kütkculer Kapi and the old gate were demolished in the west, the Bit Pazari was left outside the new perimeter and turned into an open-air road known as Cadircilar Caddesi (the “Tentmaker Road”). Among all the hans that belonged to the market, many were left outside, and only nine remained enclosed in the structure.

After its textile merchants were driven out of business by European competition, the city of Istanbul purchased the Sandal Bedesten in 1914 and began using it as an auction house for carpets the following year. In 1927, the streets and sections of the bazaar were officially given their current names. The last fires in Bazaar happened in 1943 and 1954, and the related restorations were finished on July 28, 1959.

The complex was last renovated in the 1980s. At the same time, the market’s advertising posters were taken down.

The architecture of the Grand Bazaar

Layout-wise, the Ic Bedesten is square (43.30 m x 29.50 m). Twenty-four stone piers are supporting the three rows of bays. Each of the turrets has its blind-drum-topped brick dome. 44 underground vaulted rooms (Turkish: mahzen) were constructed in the inner and outer walls. Bedesten gets its natural light from rectangular windows installed directly under the roof, which can be reached via an ambulatory made of wood. Due to the limited lighting, the building was only open for a small number of hours each day, and its sole purpose was the sale of expensive goods, most notably textiles. In addition, the mahzen of the Bedesten served as vaults. Four separate entrances give people access to the structure:

The northern gate is known as the “Second-hand Book Sellers’ Gate” (Sahaflar Kapisi), the southern gate is known as the “Skullcap Sellers’ Gate” (Takkeciler Kapisi), the eastern gate is known as the “Jewelers’ Gate” (Kuyumcular Kapisi), and the western gate is known as “Women’s Clothiers’ Gate” (Zenneciler Kapisi).
The Sandal Bedesten follows suit with a rectangular layout (40.20 m by 42.20 m), 12 stone piers bearing 20 bays, and brick domes topped with a blind drum. Only the exterior walls have storefronts cut into them. The masonry in both structures is made of rubble, and the bays are connected with brick arches that are in turn connected with juniper beams. Iron gates protected the entrances to both structures.

The buildings of the Grand Bazaar, except for the Bedesten, were originally erected out of wood; it wasn’t until after the devastating fire of 1700 that they were reconstructed out of stone and brick and given roofs. Except for the fur dealers’ market (Turkish: Kürkcüler Carsisi), a later addition, all of the buildings in the bazaar are single-story structures. Most of the roofs are tiled, while tarmac has been installed in the area that caught fire in 1954. Bazaar goers were warned not to bring any kind of flashlight or candle, as this would only serve to attract attention and start fights. It runs roughly parallel to the roads that surround the central district of Bedesten. Regardless, the market took on a picturesque appearance, especially in its western part, due to the damage caused by the numerous fires and earthquakes throughout the centuries and the repairs done without a general plan.


What to Buy at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

Kilims and Rugs

One of Turkey’s best-known exports is its exquisite hand-woven carpets and kilims (flat-weaves), and the Grand Bazaar is a popular place to find these rugs.

Turkey has a long and interesting history of making carpets. Different regions, cities, and villages are known for their unique patterns and colors.

Carpets and kilims from Central Asian countries will be available alongside those made in Turkey.

You can browse through a wide variety of carpets in the Grand Bazaar’s carpet shops. The best carpet stores will give you a cup of tea and a tour of their showroom while talking about their stock and showing you different kinds of carpets.

When you go carpet shopping, don’t forget to bring your sense of humor.

Sellers of carpets are well-known for being a little too enthusiastic with their tales, but you should take it in stride and consider it all in good fun. Keep in mind that, unless they were present during the carpet’s production, no carpet dealer has any idea what the weaver was thinking as they created the carpet.

Carpet shopping can be confusing for the uninitiated; if you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s best to just buy something you like. Older carpets and kilims from the village or the nomad’s collection were made for the weaver’s use, while newer carpets are manufactured with the tourist in mind.

The value of antique carpets from Turkey and Central Asia depends on many factors, such as their age, craftsmanship, the quality of the wool and dyes used, and their scarcity in the current market.

Lamps and Lanterns

There has been a big rise in the number of people who want lamps and lanterns as gifts from Turkey.

In the Grand Bazaar, lampshades and chandeliers come in all kinds of modern styles, from metal filigree to colorful glass mosaics.

If you’d rather shop for vintage lighting than new, the Grand Bazaar’s Ic Bedesten (Old Bazaar), located in the vicinity of the bazaar’s geographic center, is where you’ll find most of the specialized antique shops selling such items. The oldest and most iconic structure in the Grand Bazaar is the Ic Bedesten.

Look in the Cebeci Han for some cutting-edge filigree light fixtures.

Smaller options include the many glass and metal candle lanterns sold in the bazaar.

Ceramics and Pottery

The cities of Iznik and Kütahya, which have been making ceramics for a long time, were the first places where famous Turkish ceramics were made.

Turkish ceramic artists now also make plenty of modern pieces in addition to the traditional Ottoman designs that often feature tulip motifs and other floral patterns.

Hittite-style jugs and carafes, with a circular middle section, are based on Anatolian designs from the Bronze Age and make excellent presents.

If you are planning a trip to Cappadocia while in Turkey, you may want to hold off on making any purchases until you have a chance to see what the ceramic artists of Avanos are known for producing, as their work is reminiscent of the Hittite era.

In the Grand Bazaar, the main streets are lined with shops that sell cheap, mass-produced ceramics of low quality.

Visit one of the market’s dedicated ceramics shops if you’re in search of uniquely painted ceramics.

The Arasta Bazaar (behind the Blue Mosque) and the Grand Bazaar are both worth exploring if you’re interested in purchasing ceramics in Istanbul.

Turkish Metalwork

The cities of Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, and Mardin in the southeast of Turkey are known for producing some of the best contemporary metalware in Turkey.

Hold off on purchases until your trip to Turkey, specifically to these cities, as prices will be lower there.

Some of the best-selling items are tea and coffee service sets and metal platters with intricate engravings that are based on traditional Ottoman designs.

Engraved Turkish coffee pots, used to brew the beverage over a stovetop, are a practical and attractive souvenir that won’t take up too much space in your carry-on.

Nargile Hookah

The nargile (water pipe) is a traditional Turkish souvenir used for smoking fruit-flavored tobacco.

Since the time of the Ottoman Empire, people have been smoking nargile in Turkish cafes.

Glass or ceramic nargile bowls (which hold the water used to filter the smoke) can take on elaborate designs.

Keep in mind that nargile components are often purchased separately, and the bowls can be used as distinctive vases if you’re not interested in buying a fully functional nargile but like the look of the bowls.

Go to Ic Bedesten’s antique shops if you’re in search of vintage Nargile. There are many shops in the bazaar selling contemporary nargile.


The Grand Bazaar is the best place to go in Istanbul to buy jewelry.

There’s something for everyone here, from glitzy gold to delicate silver filigree work and pieces set with semi-precious stones.

For gold work, head to the main street of Kalpakcilarbasi Caddesi first, which is lined with gold shops. This is the street that runs between the main Grand Bazaar entrances of Bayazit Gate, on the west side of the bazaar, and Nuruosmaniye Gate, at the eastern end.

Because so much of the production is aimed at the bridal market, the pieces tend to be classical in style.

Shops selling silver jewelry can be found all over the bazaar. It is possible to begin your search for silver jewelry in the Ic Bedesten (Old Bazaar), which is home to many stores dedicated to the precious metal.

Keep an eye out for blue chalcedony and zultanite jewelry, both of which are mined in Turkey and considered semiprecious stones.


Cushions and Pillows

The many smaller textile items available in Turkey are great purchases if you’re looking for easy-to-pack items.

These allow you to bring back some genuine Turkish-style furnishings without the hefty price tag and excess baggage weight of buying carpets.

Textiles can be found in an incredible variety of designs and styles. Cushion covers and other small textiles printed with traditional Ottoman designs are also easily accessible and inexpensive thanks to mass production.

The original suzani fabrics (Central Asian embroidered textiles) and vintage kilims are used to create one-of-a-kind textile accessories (flat weave carpets).


Hammam Equipment

Although bath products might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a traditional Turkish souvenir, they have a deep history thanks to the country’s hammam (Turkish bath) culture.

Towels with traditional fringed striped designs, called pestemals, are still used in modern hammams. The stalls in the bazaar will sell a wide variety of mass-produced towels, but if you’re looking for something truly unique, you should browse the selection of handwoven cotton pestemals, towels, and bathrobes available at stores that specialize in hammam supplies.

Handmade olive oil soaps and the exfoliating scrubbing mitts used in hammams are two of the smaller items that make great gifts to take home.

Accessories for Fashion

The Grand Bazaar is a fantastic place to shop for accessories, whether you’re in the market for a new scarf, pair of slippers, hat, or bag.

Turkey has long been known for its silk and leather products, and there is also a traditional felt-making tradition that today produces many quirky and highly contemporary fashion items, particularly slippers and hats.

Keep in mind that many of the scarves on sale are mass-produced with tourists in mind and are not even made in Turkey.

The fabric stores that run along the northern end of Yaglikcilar Caddesi are the best places to find high-quality handmade silk, cashmere, and cotton shawls and scarves.

In the southwest corner of the bazaar, along Parcacilar Sokak and Fesciler Caddesi, you’ll find a concentration of stores selling leather goods.


Sweets and Turkish Desserts

Although the Spice Bazaar is where most tourists go to buy souvenirs and gifts involving spices and Turkish delight, the Grand Bazaar also has plenty of options for these kinds of purchases.

Note that sumac (the dried crimson fruit of the sumac plant) and pul biber (the dried Aleppo red pepper) are two of the most prominent spices in Turkish cuisine.

Sweet-and-sour pomegranate molasses and pekmez are two condiments worth bringing back (condensed fruit syrups are usually made from grapes or mulberries in Turkey).

Look out for the many helva confectioneries made from sesame seeds in addition to the countless varieties of Turkish delight (called lokum in Turkey), which are stuffed with nuts and flavored with rosewater or fruit.

Advice on Shopping at the Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar is open from 8.30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
You cannot cover the breadth of the bazaar in one visit. Plan on spending at least an entire morning or afternoon here on your first visit if you want to explore or are serious about shopping, and don’t expect to see everything.
Expect to get lost. Half the fun is getting lost in the Grand Bazaar and discovering one of the alley dead ends that lead to an arcaded han (old traveler inn).

Tea and conversation with local shopkeepers and touts are essential parts of the experience. Cay (tea) will be offered to you by anyone and everyone you meet. Your experience here will be much richer and more fun if you take the time to partake in this Turkish hospitality.

The initial price you are quoted depends as much on the country you are from as it does on the seller’s mood at the time. For an idea of how much items cost, spend some time browsing a range of shops before purchasing.
Shopkeepers and touts here speak a range of languages.

The Grand Bazaar’s larger thoroughfares are lined with souvenir shops selling the same trinkets you’ll find anywhere: fridge magnets, key chains, Turkey flags, and the ubiquitous nazar boncuk (glass evil-eye protector amulets). Get away from the hustle and bustle of the main drags to find unique and exciting stores.

Different areas of the bazaar are devoted to specific shopping items. Carpet shops can be found in the vicinity of Halicilar Caddesi, while gold shops can be found along Kalpakcilarbasi Caddesi and in the vicinity of the Cebeci Han and the Ic Bedesten.


Frequently Asked Questions About The Grand Bazaar

Q: What is the Grand Bazaar?

A: The Grand Bazaar is a historic covered market in Istanbul, Turkey, known for its maze-like alleys filled with shops selling everything from jewelry and spices to textiles and ceramics.


Q: Where is the Grand Bazaar located?

A: The Grand Bazaar is located in the Fatih district of Istanbul, Turkey.


Q: How old is the Grand Bazaar?

A: The Grand Bazaar was established in the 15th century and has been in continuous operation since then.


Q: How big is the Grand Bazaar?

A: The Grand Bazaar spans over 60 streets and contains over 4,000 shops.


Q: What kinds of products can be found in the Grand Bazaar?

A: The Grand Bazaar is known for its wide variety of products, including jewelry, textiles, ceramics, spices, and more.


Q: What is the history of the Grand Bazaar?

A: The Grand Bazaar has a long and rich history, having been an important center of commerce for centuries.


Q: Is the Grand Bazaar only for tourists?

A: The Grand Bazaar is both a tourist destination and a local shopping hub, attracting both locals and visitors alike.


Q: What are the opening hours of the Grand Bazaar?

A: The Grand Bazaar is typically open from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., seven days a week.


Q: What is the best time to visit the Grand Bazaar?

A: The best time to visit the Grand Bazaar is in the morning or late afternoon when the crowds are smaller and you can enjoy a more leisurely shopping experience.


Q: Is bargaining expected in the Grand Bazaar?

A: Bargaining is expected and considered part of the shopping experience at the Grand Bazaar, so be prepared to negotiate prices with vendors.


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