Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sunday, May 11, 2014 - 2 comments

How Bazaar, How Bazaar (Part 1: The Hans)

I'm always looking for an excuse to spend time in Istanbul, so when a couple of Canadian friends asked if I'd come up and be their guide for the weekend, I was more than happy to oblige.  

Thanks to this book - İstanbul'da Ölmeden Önce Yapmanız Gereken 101 Şey (101 Things to Do in Istanbul Before You Die) and my own innate Istanbulophilia, I have a bucket list for the city a mile long.  So every time I have a few days up there, I try to explore at least one area I haven't seen much of before.  This trip, I knew we'd be sticking close to the Historic Peninsula and doing a lot of the classic first-time-around stuff, so I tried to come up with something new to do in an area where I've played tour guide more times than I can count.  And another recently acquired book, Istanbul's Bazaar Quarter:  Backstreet Walking Tours, gave me just the inspiration I was looking for.

Despite the fact that Istanbul being Trip Advisor's #1 Must-Visit City has turned Sultanahmet into a place where you can't move an inch without bumping into a Nikon or a pair of shorts, the Bazaar Quarter is still surprisingly Turkish.  (This doesn't so much hold true for the Grand Bazaar itself, but for the district below it as you head down the hill towards Eminönü.)  Locals come to the area around the Spice Bazaar for the city's widest variety of dried fruits, nuts, loose teas, Turkish Delight and, of course, spices.  The Tahtakale district is one of the few places to find paper goods like gift bags and wrapping paper, as well as a dazzling array of henna party costumes and supplies, wholesale candy and specialty household goods.  And the "jewelry street" in the Grand Bazaar is still, so I hear, the best place to get a good deal on an engagement ring.  

What intrigued me so much about the Backstreet Walking Tours book was its descriptions of the hans in the Bazaar Quarter.  These huge stone buildings are mostly two or three storeys with an open courtyard in the middle.  As the citified cousins of the Silk Road's kervansarays, they served as inns for travelling traders and included stables for horses and camels, sleeping accommodations, and workshops.  The hans were often organized according to trade or religious affiliation, and several have small mosques or syangogues inside.  Some have been modernized and are used as shopping centres or storage facilities, but many retain their 200-300 year old faces and are used as workshops for the various craftsmen to this day.  

I've walked past dozens of hans in the past but never realized what lay inside, beyond those huge iron doors.  So, this trip, a few of the main ones made the "places to explore" list.  The Büyük Valide Han ("Grand Han of the Sultan's Mother") was definitely the most impressive, with its medieval archways and multiple courtyards.  Built in 1651, the han has been home to metal and tanning workshops, and, until recently, fabric weaving looms.  The view from the roof of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn was well worth the climb up the crumbling stone staircase.  I definitely plan to go back there when I have more time and see some of the creating still going on inside the ateliers on the upper level.

The Büyük Yeni Han ("Grand New Han") had less activity going in its stalls, but I loved the arched corridors looking down over the courtyard and could easily picture it in its heyday, full of stinky camels and (probably equally stinky) tradesmen.

These are just two of dozens of hans in the area.  I'm already plotting out which ones I want to see on my next trip.  First on the list?  The Kurukahveci Han - "Coffee-Makers Han".  A coffee house that's been around longer than the Republic?  This I have to see.  (And smell.  And sip....)


GREAT photos Jamie! A real gift to be with you that weekend! :)

Thanks! It was a gift to me, too! :) I plan to put up Part 2 tonight, including my favourite pictures from the weekend - the button shop!