Istanbul. The only metropolis in the world situated on two continents. Europe and Asia. It might be the largest city in Turkey with a population of 15 million people, but it is not the capital. That is Ankara. Just saying.
With travelling also a favourite activity, this has definitely been one of the most exciting places I’ve been to during all my travels. The historical city of Istanbul, previously known as Byzantium and also Constantinople, located on the Bosphorus strait or waterway.
Some years ago we visited this historical city for seven days. An intense seven days, I can assure you. We packed it with different cultural experiences alternating with some lazy days at the beach, as well as tasting some of the Turkish cuisine. This included their fabulous ice cream called dondurma, sold by fez-capped vendors in beautiful regional dress costumes, with some cheeky selling methods up their sleeves!
The Grand Bazaar
Visiting the Grand Bazaar was one of the most memorable days and also a serious onslaught on the senses. This Bazaar is one of the largest (and oldest) covered market places in the world. It houses over 4000 shops under one roof, around 60 streets of shops. Sigh. When will we be able to do that again?
Since 1461 the bazaar has been a trading centre. Walking those 60 or so streets is a bit like wandering in a labyrinth, you struggle to get to different shops without walking in a circle. And because the businesses that sell the same goods are all grouped together, you are never sure if you have been to a particular shop or not!
During the reign of Sultan Suleiman in the 16th century, the bazaar was enlarged. It also underwent a major restoration in 1894 following an earthquake. Within this Grand Bazaar there are also two mosques, four fountains, two hammams (Turkish baths) and several cafés and restaurants. This excluding all the shops! So be prepared to get lost!
With jewellers side by side, carpet and textiles sellers side by side, spice sellers, ceramic sellers side by side, competition is fierce! But it is so important to chat and haggle. Shopkeepers love that. Many of them have picked up some words in other languages as well, which makes for interesting conversations. When they heard our family speaking Afrikaans to each other, many tried conversations in Dutch or German, which sort of worked!
The Grand Bazaar is such a wonderful and rich experience. It was here that I really came to appreciate Turkish apple tea. If you ever find yourself in Istanbul, don’t miss the Grand Bazaar. You don’t have to buy anything, just take in the people, the smells, the colours, the textiles, the magnificent crafts and the diverse culture. Get lost and enjoy.
And, if you haven’t had enough yet, there is always the spice bazaar, the fish market and more.
Next week I’ll give you more of a cultural experience including some historic cites and ancient ruins in Istanbul. And maybe something on the islands…