Saturday, August 18, 2012

Hidden Spaces of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar

İstanbul's Kapalı Çarşı, or "The Grand Bazaar," has taken on many faces with each time that I return to Turkey. Recently, I returned with camera in hand to explore some of its hidden pockets, backstage infrastructure, and peaceful courtyards.

 Like many newcomers to Istanbul, I initially found the Grand Bazaar to be an exciting and vibrant space with exotic wares and opportunities to bargain over a glass of tea. Ottoman antiquities, carpets, lamps, spices, jewelry, and more are on display, seemingly unchanged since the bazaar opened in 1455.

Kapılı Çarşı's Main Streets
 A few years later, I came to understand the bazaar differently. It started to appear not as an authentic shopping experience, but as a kind of interactive renaissance-faire performance for tourists.  Indian jewelry is rebranded as Turkish. Imitations of old items are passed as one-of-a-kind antiques.  Apparently unique Ottoman detritus mysteriously reappears all over the city.  Visitors arrive with certain expectations of Turkey, and, in turn, the shopkeepers perform what is expected of them. They are character actors in an oriental marketplace that crowds seek in the hopes of experiencing something exotic. This is not where locals come for a deal. 

Küçük Çebci Han
Recently, however, I have taken interest in the Kapalı Çarşı once more. Exploring the surrounding areas and the bazaar's hidden spaces has given me a huge appreciation for the backstage infrastructure that keeps the bazaar alive. In the center of this infrastructure are the "hans," hidden courtyards which once served as inns during the spice trade but now serve as quiet pockets of recess from the chaotic bustle of the bazaar's main streets.

"Cezve" for Turkish Coffee
The hans are home to storage depots, workshops, and restaurants that cater to shopkeepers. They also contain studios that specialize in refurbishing items in preparation for sale. Stores specialize in labels for clothing, empty boxes for jewelry, mannequin parts, and so on.  Intercom systems allow for the quick delivery of steaming hot tea to the shops, a key technique for facilitating sales. A whole secondary layer of trade exists here: a bazaar within a bazaar that functions to support the Kapalı Çarşı behind the scenes.

Murat (Polisher). Çukur Han. 

Tea Intercom at the Bodrum Han Çayocağı
Ahmet. Owner of Bodrum Han Çayocağı
Polisher. Astarcı Han.
High above the Kapalı Çarşı
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