Istanbul’s Bazaars: Beyond Commodities

Europe, Turkey

The Grand Bazaar

“Are you okay?” a young shopkeeper of an antique shop asks Alexander, probably taking the heed from the walking stick on his hand.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Where are you from?” Alexander replies.

“I was born in Afghanistan and raised in Pakistan” the boy answers nonchalantly. “But my parents and I now live in Istanbul.”

People from all over Turkey and other countries come to Istanbul for the very same reason with the Afghan boy, looking for a better living. For centuries, Istanbul – then Constantinople – has been one of the most thriving trade ports connecting East and West. Exotic commodities, exquisite fabrics and other highly sought-after goods fill the bazaars of the city.

In the covered labyrinth of the Grand Bazaar, a multitude of colorful textiles, rugs, silverware and souvenirs tickle or assault the senses, depending on one’s preference of a market or bazaar. First built in the mid-15th century not long after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, Grand Bazaar was further expanded and modernized over the centuries. From a throng of textile traders, now with more than 3,000 shops and 26,000 employees Grand Bazaar is one of the world’s largest and oldest covered markets.

Another man named Bekir stands in front of his clothing stall. His face signifies Eastern European features. Curious with his facial features, Alexander poses a question.

“Are you from Turkey?”

“I am” Bekir answers. “But my grandparents moved to Kosovo once, before coming back to Turkey and residing in Istanbul” he quickly adds.

However, not everyone left their homes for Istanbul merely to search for a better living. A man in his early 30s called Aydin who owns a rug store in the bazaar came to Istanbul from his hometown in the heart of Anatolia.

“I left my home when I was still a teenager” Aydin says. “I wanted to live on my own. But no one would hire me because I was too young. Fortunately I finally managed to convince one shop owner to employ me. We got really close over time and he really trusted me.”

But suddenly his voice gets deeper and his eyes speak a confounding message. “One time he decided to move to the States, to the D.C.”

“He wanted to take me along and I agreed. But before leaving for the States, we had a transit in Istanbul. During our short stay here I went to the Grand Bazaar. And I fell in love with it.” Aydin cannot hide his smile, the smile of contentedness, a true one.

“I decided not to come with my boss, because my heart says I belong here. I love seeing the vibrant life in this place and the warmth of the people.”

Some people moved to Istanbul to find a better living, leaving the ordeal back at home. But some others find it their calling to settle in this corner of the world, out of love and passion.




Geenie Lamp?


Exquisite Traditional Patterns


Rose Tea


A Vestige from the Past


Tea or Coffee?


Colorful Tulips


Traditional Lamps


An Ottoman Jug


Alleys of the Grand Bazaar


Spices to Die For


Dried Spices and Vegetables, the Spice Bazaar


Give Your Body Some Love


Traditional Snacks


Soap Bars

Posted by

Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

37 thoughts on “Istanbul’s Bazaars: Beyond Commodities”

  1. What a beautiful post, Bama! All those lamps, spices and alleyways certainly bring out the magic of Istanbul. The story is wonderful too, I especially love how you included the bits of dialogue – sounds like Alexander would make a very good journalist!


    • Thanks James! The ambiance of the Grand Bazaar was truly magical as you can imagine the same trade activities have been carried out for centuries. I have to give the credit to Alexander as he did most of the conversations, and apart from a good journalist I think he would also make a brilliant photographer. You should see his photos!


      • alexander sriewijono says:

        So kind of you Bama. Thank you. 🙂
        It’s a beautiful trip, indeed. I love the way you write those interesting moments.
        As you probably notice, Rumi really inspired me to “be wide as the air to learn a secret”. And it’s true, I got some insightful “secrets’ of life from Aydin and Bekir. We still keep in touch. They are happy to welcome the Spring, soon. -alexander-


      • I thank you Alexander! 🙂
        I really love your article on Istanbul with Rumi’s poetry for the magazine. It’s a very interesting and amazing way to see the lives of the Istanbulites combined with the perspective of a great poet. In many ways, that particular piece of writing inspired me so much how to write richer and deeper posts in the future. As for Aydin and Bekir, I really enjoyed interacting with them. They’re such nice people, indeed.


  2. Your photos and description are superb! The colors and intricate detail on all the artwork…people’s creativity and patience involved is astounding. I can almost smell those spices!


    • Wow thank you Marilyn! I really appreciate your kind words. Visiting a market is always an interesting experience, let alone going to the Grand Bazaar.


  3. Hi Bama, Nice to read about the people instead of just the market itself and the merchadise. And those people had wonderful story to tell. Of course love your shots of the market and the commodities. They bring back fond memories of sights and exotic smell of the Grand Bazaar.


    • Thanks Marisol! Of course the Grand Bazaar is filled with great stuff. But we often miss the story behind those things, the people and the place itself. It was truly an amazing experience being able to listen to some fascinating stories from the vendors.


  4. I would belong to the latter group if i ever migrated, even if the Grand Bazaar was not my favourite place in Istanbul 🙂 Beautiful post Bama – engaging narrative and wonderful images as always – loved it!


    • Thanks Madhu! Life is full of mysteries. We’ll never know what we’re going to get from the choices we made or we will make. But in the end there will be interesting stories along the way, if we embrace life wholeheartedly.


  5. Terrific photos. I’ve been wanting to travel to Turkey for years now, will have to go soon! Did you buy yourself anything at the bazaar?


    • Oh I know you’ll love Turkey, Lydia! I spent a week only in Istanbul and there are places that I have yet to visit. Would really love to go back one day. Actually I’m not fond of shopping. Usually I only buy things when I feel the urge or the emotional connection with them. In Grand Bazaar, however, I bought a miniature of the red tram that runs through Istiklal Street. I’ll give it to my dad when I see him again. 🙂


    • Thanks Nicole! I still have two more posts on Istanbul to go, one of them will be on the food! 🙂
      Istanbul truly is a magical city and I know you would love it!


  6. Aakkk… Istanbul is beautiful! Yak. Saving up!
    Great photos by the way. As much as markets are always inspiring, your pictures capture that inspiration nonetheless 🙂


    • Halo Mumun!
      The great thing about visiting Turkey is the fact that Indonesian passport holders don’t need a visa in advance.
      When you go to Istanbul you really need to explore the Grand Bazaar. It’s really beyond goods.


    • Thanks a lot for dropping by! I guess it’s hard not to get good photographs from the Grand Bazaar. 🙂


  7. Stunning photos! I am only going to Kusadasi on an upcoming trip, I am so disappointed I won’t get to see more of Turkey! I also loved the detail and the storytelling of the post – it is rare to find a blog post that can capture attention for the entire length of the post. Wonderful, thank you!


    • Hi Genevieve! Same here, I spent my time in Turkey only in Istanbul and I wished I could visit more places in the country. And thank you so much for your kind words. 🙂


  8. Bama, gorgeous captures! I got lost in that market long ago. 🙂 I particularly like the captures of the spices, lamps and rose buds. What kind of lens did you use?


    • Thanks Tricia! If I were wandering around the bazaar by myself I would probably have got lost as well. 🙂 I used a 50 mm fixed lens, f/1.8.


    • Thank you for all of your comments! Hopefully you’ll get to see the beauty of Istanbul soon.


    • Thanks for dropping by! Istanbul is truly one of the world’s greatest cities, and it never fails. Good luck with your future plan to visit Istanbul!


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