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The Grand Bazaar & more in Istanbul

Arnie Greenberg

I had been to the center of Istanbul before. The shock of people and sounds came back instantly. What I also remembered was the cleanliness. Where else can a Bazaar of 4,000 shops and 30,000 workers remain so clean, bright and cheerful? Add to that the half million visitors a day serving food, banking services, teahouses and a post office not to mention the merchandise salesmen offering everything from carpets, leathers, denims, copper, ceramics, alabaster, bags, shoes, backgammon sets, pipes, hats, books and jewelry. You can by a pocket- knife for $1, a Ralph Loren shirt for $14 or one of the many sponges for a fraction of the North American price. There are spices, scents and teas from every country. There is nothing you can't find in the Turkish Bazaar in Istanbul.

We found ourselves in the section where leather coats and jackets are king. We had to get used to the salesmen who came out of their shops to entice us inside. One glance at a garment and the sales pitch starts. I passed a shop and a nicely dressed man called out, "Would you like to see a leather coat?"
"No thank you," I waved.

"Is that your final answer?" he said, theatrically.

I gave him "E" for effort.

"But look, what a coincidence. This is the shop where I bought a suede shirt, ten years ago," says my wife.
The salesman overheard us. He invited us in for tea. It was pleasant but the sale had begun. The charm and the low prices won us over. Twenty minutes and $200 US later, we walked out with a leather coat for my wife and a second suede shirt for me. We were pleased. So was the salesman. We had both played the game of bargaining and we both felt we had won. Everyone was happy.

The bazaar, which is a major drawing card for Istanbul dates back to the establishment of the site by Mahomet the Conqueror, and has continued to expand from that site. It was built before the palace and mosque. Commerce ruled this ancient capital. With such a warren of streets and shops it's no surprise that there have been many fires there over the years. The last was in 1954 and burned for three days.

Since the Bazaar is near the University, one can find shops specializing in books, dictionaries in many languages, and maps both old and new.

We were coerced into a carpet emporium where three young men rolled out forty or more carpets and explained the different techniques and designs. We were even shown how the knots were irregular on the hand made kilims or Hereke silk rugs with 36 knots to the square centimeter. If the knot count is higher, the rug is called a "super Hereke" and the cost rises accordingly. Check the knotting and the dyes before you buy one. You want a carpet that will maintain its color. It is not uncommon to see carpets lying in a field exposed to the sun. The selection was amazing. The prices were even lower. I saw "Kilims" made of sheep wool, goat hair and cotton. They can be used on the floor, hung on the wall, as door curtains, or prayer rugs. The material makes wonderful saddlebags or cushion covers. I even saw vests made with wonderful designs.

We couldn't resist and now have a wonderful Turkish rug in our entranceway. We were told that the knots get tighter and the colors deepen as we walk on them. We had our bundled up for travel but our friends had theirs shipped. The price included shipping and duty. It arrived a few days after we did, two weeks later.
There are carpet auctions in a 16th century hall (Sandal Bedesteni) every Monday and Thursday. It's a noisy place but unlike anything you'll see at home. Here too, for example, there's a section where silver items are made or repaired. I watched these craftsmen for a while then headed for the old Fezmakers Street. The Fez disappeared with the modernization of Turkey by Ataturk. Now the street is taken over by denim sellers.

In the middle of this sea of shops stands the 15th century Ic Bedestan where gold and silver antiques are sold. There are bargains here too but I suggest you check the customs regulations before trying to export antiques.

One can find many entrance gates including the most popular and attractive Osmaniye Gate but for me it doesn't matter where you enter or how you get out. You can get a taxi back to your hotel from any gate or exit. But don't look for a specific shop or tell a friend where you'll meet them. Just wander. You can't get lost. And remember you are under an impressive and ornate roof for the most part. That may not apply to the areas around the outside of the Bazaar, especially the spice market nearer the water. Here, the smells and colors will awaken the senses. You will see hundred pound sacks of coriander, saffron, dill, cinnamon, basil, thyme and cardamom. I even saw cumin, paprika and ginger. And all around one could see men selling bagel-like rolls called Simits, with seeds, fresh from the oven. Even though the smells were enticing, I stayed away from the snacks offered on street grills.

Istanbul is a city of street sellers and the most colorful by far is tea salesman who carries the huge silver tea caddy on his back. He bends forward, holding a hose and the teacup is filled. Turkish people love tea and their special Turkish coffee. I found it on the strong side.

Another commodity found everywhere is Turkish Delight. It is sold by the kilogram or in fancy boxes. It is offered in an assortment of flavors with various kinds of nuts or plain. Any way you eat it you'll know why it's called a Turkish "delight". The Turks call it Lokum.

Turkey is a city enriched by history. It is a crossroads to Europe and Asia. It is the meeting place of East and West. It was chosen as the site for the New Rome by Constantine in 324 AD the founding date of the Byzantine Empire. It was enriched by Constantine and conquered by Faith Sultan Mahomet in 1453. Today it is a bustling, glowing and modernizing city. It is one of the most unusual cities in the world and even in these troubling times, Istanbul, a Moslem city, opens its arms to Western visitors. The people are gentle, honest and hard working. It is by far my favorite place to visit.

You can go there on many European carriers. I entered via Turkish Airlines from Athens. There are magic sites to see all over Turkey but in Istanbul, visit the Topkapi Palace, museum, harem and gardens or the Hagia Sophia or St. Sophia. It's worth the trip. While you're there you can also see the nearby hippodrome built in Constantine's time.

Hotels abound. For the greatest selection search the Taksim Square region on the eastern side of the Golden Horn. I recommend Hotel Elite. It's modern, four stars, moderately priced and in a good location 500 yards from Taksim Square. Their dining room is worth a try for dinner.

If, on another day you are visiting St Sophia Museum or the Hippodrome. Ask someone in the area to point out The Pudding Shop.

When you exit the museum, turn right and cross Divanyolu Street.

Yes, it's a strange name for a Turkish Restaurant but it is well known with every Turkish delicacy you can imagine. This famous meeting place, dating back to 1957, was a place for travelers to gather in order to find transportation to the East. The founders, Idris and Namuk Coplan put up a bulletin board to handle messages from people offering rides in any direction.

You will see their 'a la carte' buffet as you walk in. I chose the stuffed eggplant but there are many traditional dishes to chose from. I found it, thanks to our able guide, Bill, but it is a popular place, spacious, bright and clean. It awaits you from 7AM to 11PM.

Before you leave, plan to visit the ancient city of Ephesus. It's a two-day car ride away, on the coast of Asia Minor and was one of the wonders of the ancient world. It's worth taking the time. Remember, Turkey is a large parliamentary democracy. They even elected a woman prime minister. The country is spread over 779,000 square kilometers. About 97% of it is in Asia. I'll tell you more about this awesome country another time.

Hotel Elite
58,Sehit Muhtar Street, 80090 Taksim, Istanbul


Phone:+90 212-297-1313 Fax:  +90 212-297-6240-41


Pudding Shop
Divanolu No:6 Sultanahmet Istanbul


Phone: 90 212-522-2970 Fax: 90 212-512-44 58


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You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at


Over the past few years, Professor Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the globe including Italy and most of China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters from St.Petersburg to Moscow. 

"He took a group to Greece and another to northern Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico.  His newly found spare time is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders..  "So You Want To Be A Tour Leader." 

Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.  Keep reading his web for travel ideas.  His next novel HELLSTORM'S Folly, will be available this fall. He now lives in British Columbia.

Go to: or contact him directly at

(More about the writer.)


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Last Revised: Friday, May 15, 2015 06:38:58 AM
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