The Grand Bazaar


The celebrated traveler Evliya Çelebi wrote, of the bedesten (marketplace): “In İstanbul’s most select and crowded location, it is a market that constitutes the grand treasury of the House of Osman, virtually a fortress of guffaws.” The Kapalı Çarşı (Covered Bazaar, also known as Büyük Çarşı or Grand Bazaar) described thus by the distinguished traveler is composed of two marketplaces. A bedesten is built by combining the wooden shops in a city’s shopping district under a single stone structure. This becomes the commercial center of the city, and is often located near its religious center, the congregational (Friday) mosque. The city center grows around these two structures.

Bazaars of this kind were first built by the Ottomans, mostly in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. There are three covered bazaars in İstanbul, two in the Walled City and one in Galata. The Grand Bazaar once contained “two bedestens, 4399 shops, 2195 rooms, one public bath, one mosque, ten chapel mosques, two fountains, one water dispensary, sixteen fountains, one mausoleum, one elementary school, and twenty-four commercial buildings.”

Of the two bedestens in the Grand Bazaar, one is known by the names Büyük Bedesten (Great Bedesten), İç Bedesten (Inner Bedesten), Eski Bedesten (Old Bedesten), and Cevahir Bedesteni (Jewelry Bedesten). It was built by Sultan Mehmed II known as “The Conqueror” between 1453 and 1481, as part of the efforts to revitalize the post-conquest city that lay in ruins. Sultan Mehmed earmarked many sources of income for the maintenance of mosques, many of which —including Hagia Sophia— were former churches, and that included this bedesten. The second bedesten in the Grand Bazaar was apparently built by Sultan Süleyman I and housed cloth merchants. It is known as Yeni Bedesten (New Bedesten) and Sandal Bedesteni, a name that reportedly derives from a particular kind of textile.

The Grand Bazaar was not only a shopping center. It also fulfilled other functions, such as that of a “left luggage office.” At a time when banks and safe deposit boxes were not commonly available, valuables would be left at the bedesten for safekeeping, in return for a fee. In case the owner did not return for his/her belongings, they would be saved in trunks for ever.


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