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Ortaköy: The Middle Village

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Midway up the European side of the Bosphorus, Ortaköy literally translates into “Middle Village”. Not the most enthralling of names, but this neighborhood does boast one of Istanbul’s most eclectic populations. Turk, Greek, Jew… hipster, playboy, fisherman. Everybody has a place in Ortaköy.

Ortaköy Istanbul

The weather was foul on the afternoon of our visit; grey, rainy and cold. Disembarking the bus (#25E from Kabataş), we popped open our umbrellas and trudged into the jumble of cafes and shops which make up the neighborhood’s heart. Here, we were met with another disappointment: the gorgeous Ortaköy Mosque was completely covered up for renovation. Just underneath the Bosphorus Bridge, this is normally one of the city’s most picturesque mosques. Hmph… the weather was too poor for pictures, anyhow, but this was not a good omen for our day in Ortaköy.

The bad luck continued at the neighborhood’s popular Sunday market. We’d heard a lot about this market, with its original art works, unique gifts, and cool bohemian vibe… so, when it turned out to be chiefly chincy trinkets, cheap sunglasses and bead jewelry of the sort you can find anywhere, we were severely disappointed. There was a row of second-hand book dealers, and a couple stands with some interesting artistic creations, but overall this market wasn’t anything special.

Despite the rain, the construction on the mosque and the boring market, Ortaköy managed to charm us. Since Ottoman times, this has been one of Istanbul’s most cosmopolitan areas, with a healthy mixture of religions and ethnicities living in harmony. That diversity is still in evidence today, with a couple Armenian churches, a synagogue and a Greek Orthodox church joining the neighborhood mosques. And there’s a nice mixture of bars and cafes, catering to everyone from hungry locals on a budget to more upscale joints with views over the Bosphorus.

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May 25, 2013 at 3:19 pm Comment (1)

The Spice Bazaar (or Egyptian Bazaar)

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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

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March 22, 2013 at 10:14 am Comments (4)
Ortaky: The Middle Village Midway up the European side of the Bosphorus, Ortaköy literally translates into "Middle Village". Not the most enthralling of names, but this neighborhood does boast one of Istanbul's most eclectic populations. Turk, Greek, Jew... hipster, playboy, fisherman. Everybody has a place in Ortaköy.
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