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Hidden Corners Behind the Grand Bazaar

Istanbul is the kind of place which favors bold exploration, as we learned after a day spent in the maze of streets around the Grand Bazaar. The city is filled with quiet, secret spots… if you can muster up the courage to go down that darkened hall, into that empty courtyard, or up those crumbling stairs.

Secret Hans Istanbul

Of course, I’m not recommending that anyone skip off willy-nilly into Istanbul’s abandoned buildings. We ventured into a couple places that I would never go into were I by myself, or were it after dark. But a cautious exploration of the old hans around the Grand Bazaar can be very rewarding.

Our day began in the Subuncu Han, near Eminönü Plaza. This han itself doesn’t have much to recommend it, just a bunch of jewelry stores surrounding a tiny courtyard, but there was a great locals-only spot for lunch on the second floor. Instead of sitting down in one of Eminönü’s döner shops for an overpriced lunch geared toward tourists, we munched on excellent and very cheap lahmaçun (Turkish pizza) with a few guys who work in the han.

We progressed steadily from Eminönü towards the Grand Bazaar, every once in awhile escaping the crowds to duck into another han. We found gold and silver-smiths at work in the Leblebici Han, and watched a couple men train flocks of trick pigeons in the Büyuk Yeni Han. And in the gray, French-influenced Stamboul Yeni Tcharchi Han, we were the only people at all. A young guy witnessed our hesitation about venturing down an long, dark tunnel-like hallway in the Sair Han, and encouraged us to proceed without fear. At the end, we found a nargile workshop. The most well-hidden nargile workshop in the world!

Inside a couple hans, we were able to get onto the roofs for amazing views of the city. The first was at the northwest corner of the Sair Han; before going inside, you can scale a flight of stairs directly to the roof. But the better view was at the massive Büyük Valide Han. Here, we were approached by a key-wielding man who knew exactly what we wanted. “Go on roof, yes?” A small five lira tip later, we were up on top, looking over the city and the Golden Horn.

It was an incredible day out. If you’re interested in doing something similar, check out a great book called Istanbul’s Bazaar Quarter, by Edda Renker Weissenbacher and Ann Marie Mershon: a comprehensive guide to the Grand Bazaar and the streets which surround it, with four self-guided walking tours.

Locations on our Map: Subuncu Han | Sair Han | Büyük Valide Han

-Self-guided Han Tours In Istanbul

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Han stairs
Han Mosque
Han Sail
Han Arches
Han Bride
Hans Of Istanbul
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Büyük Valide Han
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Büyük Valide Han
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Istanbul Seagulls
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Istanbul Han Walking Tour
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Phone Service In Istanbul
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Büyük Valide Han Mosque
Büyük Valide Han Street
Breed Pigeons Istanbul
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Go Shopping Han Istanbul
Shopping Blog Istanbul
Looking Out Istanbul
Simit Seller Istanbul
Crowded Istanbul
Han Crowded Istanbul
Knitting Han Istanbul
I Heart Istanbul
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Glass Roof Han Istanbul
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Weird Han Istanbul
Being All Jazzy In Istanbul
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Big Han Istanbul
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Gül Han
Shedding Light Istanbul
Pigeons Istanbul
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Yellow Han Istanbul
Spiral Stairs Istanbul
Big Bears Man Istanbul
Parked Istanbul
Shadwo Walker
Dirty Hands Istanbul
Making Baseball Hats in Istanbul
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Tunnel Life Istanbul
Spndel Istanbul
Packing Nargiles Istanbul
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Critical Look In The Mirror
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Büyük Valide Han Perfect Light
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Corte Turkey
Old Machine Istanbul
Carpet Maker
Fixing Carpets Istanbul
Working The Machines Istanbul
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Sawing In Istanbul
Metal Dervish Dancers
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Old Boom Box Istanbul
Getting A Chari
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Nargile Han Shop

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June 21, 2013 at 2:22 pm Comments (6)

Gazi Park and Bursa’s Covered Market

More from Our Trip to Bursa
Introduction | The Green Mosque and Tomb | Karagöz Puppets | Muradiye and Around

Squeezed between two amazing mosques and the covered market, Gazi Park is the heart of Bursa, and was the logical place to begin our exploration of the city.

Bursa Silk Han

The Ottoman Empire is generally thought to have emerged in 1299, beginning with the ascension of Osman Gazi. Osman united a number of Turkish emirates and, just before his death in 1326, was able to capture Bursa (then the Byzantine city of Prousa). It was the first great military victory of the nascent empire, and far from the last.

Bursa enjoyed its golden years during the reign of Osman’s son, Orhan, who promoted it to capital of his young empire. So it was no surprise to find a mosque here named in his honor. The Orhan Gazi Camii was built in 1339, in the center of the city. Unfortunately, due to funerary proceedings, we weren’t able to spend more than a couple seconds inside, and instead walked a few meters over to another ancient mosque.

The Ulu Camii was built in 1399 by Orhan’s grandson Bayezid I, who went by the name of “Yıldırım” (“Thunderbolt“). He earned this nickname for his military acumen, which was especially evident during one of the greatest Ottoman victories of all time. In the 1396 Battle of Nicopolis, Bayezid’s men routed a combined force of Germans, French, Bulgarians, Italians, Romanians and Hungarians: basically the entire Christian army of Europe.

Before the battle, Beyazid had vowed to erect twenty mosques in Bursa should he emerge victorious. Perhaps he didn’t expect to win, because instead of the twenty promised mosques, he ended up building just one. But he gave it twenty domes, apparently hoping nobody would remember his exact wording… or at least dare to question him on it. The resulting Ulu Camii is one of the more architecturally interesting mosques we’ve seen. The twenty small domes are arranged in a 4×5 grid, lending the interior a sense of grandiosity.

Grand Bazaar Bursa

Just outside of the Ulu Camii is the entrance to the Koza Han, or “Cocoon Hall”. Bursa was once the final stop on the Silk Road from China and, throughout the centuries, the fine fabric has been the focus of this market. Hundreds of vendors in the beautiful old han concentrate on silk, with prices that are more than reasonable.

The Koza Han is connected to Bursa’s bewildering covered bazaar, which extends in all directions through halls, into courtyards, down underground, along tiny passages and onto upper floor terraces looking down on tea gardens. In terms of size and confusion, Bursa’s bazaar is nearly the equal of Istanbul’s. The main difference? Things are much cheaper. We picked up a coffee grinder for a third of the price we’d seen in the Grand Bazaar. In retrospect, we should have done all of our souvenir shopping during our stay in Bursa.

Locations on our Bursa Map: Orhan Gazi Camii | Ulu Camii | Koza Han

-Hotels In Bursa. BOOK NOW!!!

Bursa Mosque
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Bursa Fountain
Bursa Hans
Silk Market Bursa
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Bursa Shopping Tour
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June 17, 2013 at 7:20 am Comment (1)

Çengelköy and the Beylerbeyi Palace

There’s no shortage of charming neighborhoods lining the shores of the Bosphorus, but lovely little Çengelköy is among the very best of them. We had breakfast here on a Sunday morning, before walking along the coast to the incredible Beylerbeyi Palace.

Beylerbeyi Palace

Çengelköy literally means “Hook Village”, and was so named because it occupies a section of shoreline that hooks around a bend in the Bosphorus. The layout provides a perfect view of the strait, south to the Bophorus Bridge and into the Sea of Marmara beyond it. On the Sunday we visited, there was a market selling custom-made clothing and jewelry, and a pleasant, unhurried atmosphere in the cafes and restaurants.

After eating, we made a leisurely stroll to Beylerbeyi: another neighborhood about fifteen minutes down the Bosphorus. (You might be noticing an overuse of terms like “leisurely”, “unhurried”, and “relaxed”. But this it’s simply the frame of mind which the area inspires! Everything about it is peaceful and calming. The sound of lapping water, the fishermen focused quietly on their lines, the shade-giving plane trees, the old men drinking tea and playing okey (a Rummikub-like game). It’s a welcome change of pace from the normal mayhem of the city.)

Beylerbeyi is almost as cute as Çengelköy, and known for its amazing palace. Built in 1832 as a summer residence for Sultan Abdulaziz II, the Beylerbeyi Palace sits almost directly underneath the Bosphorus Bridge. Having arrived a little late (our stroll was leisurely, after all), we were compelled to join a Turkish-language tour of the palace. The English tours were done for the day. So, I spent the tour inventing imaginary translations of what our guide might be saying. Such as:

“This vase alone is worth more than your puny lives put together! Bow before it, you filthy swine!”

“Look at this golden mirror. It once reflected the image of a Sultan, but now it shows only an unwashed peasant! That’s you I’m referring to, by the way.”

The palace, of course, was astounding. It was similar to the Dolmabahçe Palace, which we had visited just a few days before. But the fact that this was just meant to be a “summer residence” really hammered home how wealthy the sultans of the late Ottoman Empire truly were. In the reception hall, for example, there’s a fountain and pool — inside the palace! Visiting a place like this can really make a guy feel inferior.

Locations on our Istanbul Map: Çengelköy | Beylerbeyi Palace

-Buy Turkish Coffee Here

Çengelköy
Çengelköy Market
Çengelköy Art
Çengelköy Old House
Çengelköy Fishing
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Çengelköy House
Çengelköy Mosque
Çengelköy Tree
Çengelköy Portrait
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Çengelköy Tea Garden
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Beylerbeyi Mosque
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Beylerbeyi Palace Columns
Beylerbeyi Palace Inside
Beylerbeyi Palace Carpet
Beylerbeyi Palace Golden Chairs

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June 15, 2013 at 10:11 am Comments (0)

The Hans of the Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar is really a city unto itself. The main thoroughfares are where you’ll find the most popular shops and restaurants, but just like any city, the coolest spots are tucked away in its less-visited corners.

Silver Han

In days past, the hans of Istanbul functioned as inns; places for traveling merchants to rest and do business. Most frequently, the hans consisted of courtyards with a fountain for washing, and a kitchen or tea house. The Grand Bazaar, naturally, was a major hub for merchants, so it’s unsurprising to find so many hans within its walls.

Most hans were dedicated to a particular craft, and many still are. You can find gold-spinning in Astarcı Han, chains in Zincirli Han and silver merchants in Kalcilar Han. Wandering through the courtyards, you can find smiths practicing their craft… melting gold, for example, or hammering out a piece of copper. Happily, they seem to be accustomed to tourists, and don’t mind if you politely enter their shops for a quick photo. It’s great fun watching them at work, performing tasks that have been unchanged over the last few centuries.

Most of the hans are small and run-down, but many are lovely. The Zincirli Han, for example, is particularly photogenic, with all-pink shopfronts, a marble fountain and trees. And our favorite is the airy and comfortable Iç Cebeci Han, where you can dependably find guys sitting around in the sun drinking tea and playing backgammon.

If you stick to the main drags, a trip to the Grand Bazaar can be hectic and stressful. So make sure to duck off into the little pockets of relative tranquility offered by the hans, and check out some of the activities which have kept the Bazaar running for 500 years.

Great Resource: Self Guided Walking Tours Through Istanbul’s Hans

Pink Han Grand Bazaar
Turkish Crescent Han
The Third Man Istanbul
Han Copper Grand Bazaar
Workshop Hans Istanbul
Working In Istanbul
Old Hand Istanbul
Old Orient Lamps Istanbul
Worker Hans Istanbul Grand Bazaar
3 Little Dudes
Han Entrance
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Silver Shop Istanbul
Spinning Gold Istanbul
Copper Wire Spinning Istanbul Hans
Portraits Han
Dish Han Grand Bazzar
Grand Bazaar Tunnel
Secrets Istanbul
Tea Garden Han Grand Bazaar
Silver Decoration Grand Bazaar
Fountain Grand Bazaar
Smoking In Istanbul
Melting Work
Schmied Grand Bazaar
Melting Pot Istanbul
Black Smith Istanbul
Fungus Dome
The Hole Grail
Istanbul Portraits People 2013
Tunnel han Istanbul
Gold Han Istanbul Grand Bazaar
Shoe Maker Grand Bazaar
Carpet Strings Bazaar
Making a Carpet
String Ball
Looking Inside Istanbul
Green And Rost
Welding
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June 10, 2013 at 10:57 am Comments (3)

Shopping Fever in Tahtakale

How much you enjoy the steep, jam-packed streets around the Rüstem Paşa Camii depends entirely on your point of view. Is it an exhilarating and chaotic shopping paradise, or an intolerable maze of pushy, obnoxious vendors? So visit only when you’re in a good mood and well-disposed to both noise and hassle. Because it’s not like Tahtakale is going to change for you. Tahtakale isn’t gonna change for anybody.

Shopping-Guide-Istanbul

Luckily, we visited Tahtakale on one of those rare days when both Jürgen and I were in positive spirits. “Let’s go shopping”, I suggested. “Yes, perfect”, came Jürgen’s immediate reply. I have no idea what had come over us, because we never feel like shopping. Maybe it was the sun. In any case, we made a beeline for the jam-packed streets of Tahtakale, our pockets full of liras, feeling almost eager to get taken advantage of. It’s like we were in a trance.

Soon enough, we were talking to a nargile (hookah) handler, who was so chummy that we instantly felt like old friends. We chatted about his family, our families, our project in Istanbul, our stay in Bolivia, and LeBron James. (Turkish men understand the geography of the USA in terms of its basketball teams. “Ohio” means nothing to them, but “Cleveland Cavaliers” will instantly kindle the light of recognition in their eyes.) It was a fun conversation… but where was our habitual skepticism? Our trusty mistrust of anybody selling anything? In the bewilderingly optimistic haze we were lost in, we felt only warmth and easiness.

And here’s the amazing thing: as we said our goodbyes, our new friend the hookah handler didn’t even try and push a sale. He had been genuinely happy just to talk for awhile.

We didn’t end up buying anything during our day in Tahtakale, but had an incredible time anyway. Chatting with and photographing affable strangers. Sitting on tiny stools set up on the sidewalks, sipping tea. Sampling the lokum offered by the sweets store. Watching the lone and increasingly frustrated taxi driver fight hopelessly through the crowds. Hopping out of the way for bent old men rushing up the hill with boxes strapped to their shoulders.

Istanbul-Hamam-Roof

But the highlight of our day had nothing to do with crowds or shopping. Near the Rüstem Paşa, we encountered the entrance to the Tahtakale Hamam — an old bathhouse which is being converted into yet another marketplace. There were only a couple shops installed inside, but the entire hamam was open to exploration. Here, in the middle of one of Istanbul’s noisiest neighborhoods, we found absolute, almost chilling, silence. The hamam was beautiful, with its star-shaped windows letting in the midday sun and old fountains that have long since stopped flowing. We even managed to access the roof. It was a strange discovery on one of the most enjoyable days we’ve yet spent in Istanbul.

Location of the Hamam on our Map

-Framed Istanbul Photos

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April 10, 2013 at 6:46 am Comment (1)

The Spice Bazaar (or Egyptian Bazaar)

Its real name might be the Egyptian Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı), but the Spice Bazaar is how everyone refers to it, and gives a better indication of what to expect inside. Found next to the Yeni Camii near the Golden Horn, this ancient covered market dates from 1660 and is Istanbul’s second biggest bazaar.

Hazer-Baba-Istanbul

Although we found the shopping experience inside the bazaar stressful and monotonous, the building itself is wonderful. After the Ottomans conquered Egypt in 1517, they raised the funds to build this covered market by imposing heavy taxes on Cairo. For centuries afterward, the Egyptian Bazaar was the center of Istanbul’s spice trade, where handlers would truck in colorful herbs and seasonings from across the far-flung empire. The L-shaped building is a bit of a curiosity — there are six gates, but the main entrance is at the joint known as the “Prayer Field”. In this, the bazaar’s only wooden section, an officer would lead the merchants in morning prayer and remind them to trade fairly.

I hadn’t necessarily been anticipating turbaned merchants in the Spice Market, sitting atop piles of cinnamon and mirthfully counting out their golden coins, but perhaps something a little more genuine than the tourist trap it has become. There was still spice, and plenty of it, but every stand had the same selection and the same prices. The same hawkers perched outside, entreating you to examine their teas and aphrodisiacs. A lot of stands were dedicated wholly to souvenirs. It’s definitely not the place locals come to fill their spicing needs, and the inauthenticity ruins the experience.

Just outside, though, in the nook of the building’s L-shape, is a place where locals do shop: the outdoor Pet and Gardening Market, with hundreds of caged birds, fish, some dogs, and boxes full of clucking chicks. We enjoyed the atmosphere here a lot more than inside the Spice Market. One of the more interesting aspects was a row of Leech Doctors with buckets full of the blood suckers to be applied to feet or even the face. We had hoped to get a picture of the doctors plying their trade, but unfortunately, none of them had clients. And despite Jürgen’s pleading, I wasn’t about to sit down.

Location of the Spice Market on our Map

-Great Hostels In Istanbul

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March 22, 2013 at 10:14 am Comments (3)