The Grand Bazaar (in Turkish Kapalıçarşı, “covered market”) of Istanbul is one of the largest and oldest indoor bazaars in the world, with 60 streets, alleys and more than 4 thousand stores that receive according to some figures, between 250 thousand and 400 thousand people daily.
The construction of what would be the Grand Bazaar began shortly after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, as a bedesten (shop of textile vendors), although some historians say that part of the building may have a Byzantine origin. Progressively, other different beaux were approached and moved, and by the end of the 17th century the Grand Bazaar had reached its final form.
The vast expanse of the Ottoman Empire on three continents and its control of communications between Asia and Europe made the Grand Bazaar and the surrounding hans and caravansarays the center of Mediterranean trade. According to several travelers and chroniclers, at that time and until about the middle of the 19th century, the huge market had no rival among its peers in Europe, in terms of abundance, variety and quality of its products.
Until its restoration after the earthquake of 1894, the shops of the Grand Bazaar were not as we know them today, but the merchants sat on wooden couches in front of their small shelves where the garments were hung in long rows, with a very picturesque effect; although the most precious goods were not on display. Customers could sit next to the shopkeeper, chat with him and have Turkish tea or coffee together, a custom that is somehow preserved, since it is now common for vendors to offer tea to their more relaxed and conversational customers.
Another characteristic of that time was to group businesses of the same type in a certain area, which also persists today; thus, Kalpakcılar Caddesi street stands out, with gold bracelets and jewelery in general, the Divrikli Caddesi with certain types of furniture or the Sahaflar Caddesi with rugs; just to cite some examples.
Nowadays the Grand Bazaar is a prosperous and agglomerated complex, for which some 26,000 people work, and it constitutes one of the main sites of tourist interest in the city. Visiting Istanbul involves visiting the Grand Bazaar, with patience and good humor, talking with its vendors, enjoying their products of all kinds and walking through its labyrinthine streets. It is open every day except Sundays and holidays, from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.