Don’t be afraid to haggle! This is the norm - zealous merchants will expect you to drive a hard bargain, and you can often pay less than half the asking price.
A thriving market since the 1460s, the Grand Bazaar is today reckoned the world’s number one tourist attraction: in 2014 it saw over 91 million visitors. Its 61 covered streets house around 3,000 shops, selling everything from leather and fabrics to jewellery and lanterns.
Before 1894, when Istanbul’s great earthquake forced a renovation, the Bazaar’s stalls were rather different to what we recognise today. Each merchant occupied a space around six feet wide and four feet deep, and would sit in front of his wares on a wooden divan. The stalls were shut behind drapes at the end of the day, and the Bazaar’s gates placed under guard; theft was extremely uncommon. One notable incident occurred in 1591, when a Persian musk seller stole 30,000 gold coins: the city was scandalised, the market shut for two weeks, and suspects tortured until the culprit was found and hanged.
Today, such drama is thankfully still rare. A culture of mutual respect and social security, inherited from the Ottoman days of guild systems, fixed prices and Islamic ethics, survives among the merchants despite the westernization of Turkish society.
There are four main gates into the market, leading down roads that are named after the professions historically concentrated there: Kuyumcular Carsısı sells gold bracelets, carpets can be found on Sahaflar Caddesi, leather goods are sold along Perdahçılar Caddesi. Take a day trip to get lost in its maze, and come home with some wonderful souvenirs.
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