By far, the most famous of Turkish bazaars is the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. It is one of the largest and oldest in the world, rivaling the Khan el Khalili Bazaar in Cairo, Egypt. There are dozens of covered streets and hundreds of shops and stalls that attract several hundred thousand visitors on a daily basis. It also contains fountains, mosques, inns, restaurants and dining spots, and is accessed via more than twenty gates. If you plan on shopping in Istanbul, this is the place to do it.
Called the Kapalicarsi, meaning “covered market” in Turkish, the Grand Bazaar has a rich history. It was built by order of Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror between 1455 and 1461, and was opened in 1461. This was the beginning of the Golden Age of Ottoman Empire, when it started expanding through the eastern Mediterranean into Greece, Hungary, and as far as Jerusalem in the Holy Land. Its four main gates and large masonry storage buildings date back to the Medieval era.
The streets of the Grand Bazaar are grouped more or less by specialty, with entire areas devoted to jewelry, another to leather goods, one for carpets and kilims, and so on. It is a vast and colorful labyrinth filled with bargains, as is the Egyptian Spice Bazaar in Istanbul that is located on the Bosphorus Strait near Galata Kulesi (Tower) and not far from Hagia Sophia, and Topkapi Palace. It was completed by Ottoman court architects in 1660, and rent from the spice shops was intended to pay for maintaining the nearby Yeni Mosque. This is one of the most beautiful and recognizable mosques in the city, and it was built from 1597 to 1663 using stone blocks imported from the island of Rhodes in Greece. Many of the historic bazaars in Turkey were established to help pay for construction or upkeep of mosques and other grand structures.
The Egyptian Spice Bazaar was so named because many of the exotic spices traded here came from Egypt. But the reach of the Ottoman Empire was extensive, and there were chili peppers from China, turmeric from India, paprika from Hungary, and much more. Today, this is one of the Turkish bazaars that is redolent with the exotic aromas of spices and herbs.
It is possible to visit both the Grand Bazaar and Egyptian Bazaar in Istanbul all in the same day, as well as take tours of one or two of the neighboring city attractions. Across the from the beautiful Blue Mosque is the Istanbul Handicrafts Center, where you can find good bargains on ceramics, hand painted silks, and charming Anatolian dolls. This bazaar is in the location of an old medrese or madrash (school), and the goods, stalls, and shops are in a courtyard surrounded by classrooms. You should try to find time to visit at least one of these bazaars in Turkey before you leave the city.
There are other Turkish bazaars in other parts of the country as well. All of the larger metropolitan cities, such as Ankara and Izmir, have at least one. Even small villages will have one, even though it may be open only a few days a week. The Alacati Antika Pazari in Cesme is known for its antiques, and dealers from around the Mediterranean come here on buying trips. Bodrum has the Mazi Koylupazari, the only bazaar on the Bodrum peninsula. It is famed for its carpets and hand woven textiles. The oldest bazaar in Izmir is the Guzelyali Pazari, selling mostly fruits, vegetables, local herbs, and household items. The “high society” bazaar of Asagi Ayranci Pazari is in Ankara, and is called this because of its fashion products and popularity with women. As you can see, bazaars in Turkey are everywhere. All visitors to the country should spend some time in at least one for an authentic taste of the culture.