Istanbul Revisited: The Grand Baazar and The Spice Baazar

Returning to Istanbul was one of the best birthday presents I could’ve wished for. I had seen most of the sights last year, except for the Grand Baazar and the Spice Market (which was closed for Ramazan).

I’m not sure why the Grand Baazar was not on my itinerary last year, but after reading an article about a man who goes carpet hunting in this marketplace in National Geographic Traveler, I was eager to see those carpets for myself.

Stepping through the ancient stone-framed entryway, I came into the main thoroughfare Kalpakçılar Caddesı, surrounded by jewelry shops and T-shirt kiosks with cheesy tourist slogans. The historical buildings with high-arched ceilings, displaying intricately designed blue tiles mounted on a gold background, that housed the Grand Baazar, were the highlight of my visit. The actual stores were a disapointment, because they were an exact replica of the gift shops I had seen around the city.

The Grand Baazar seemed too staged, and lacked the authenticity of being a historical place of commerce, and instead just seemed like another tourist destination. Then again I didn’t participate in the art of bargaining, so maybe I would have had a different experience if I had come with the intention of buying.  After wandering through the maze of stores, I tried to find the carpet section, but realized that I had already passed it awhile back, since it was only comprise of a few stores. Total letdown.

The Spice Baazar on the other hand had the opposite effect. The moment I entered the enclosed marketplace, the aroma of spices hit me, a mixture of saffron, sumac, cumin and curry, herbal teas for love or stress relief, dried fruit and Turkish delight. I could walk around for hours just inhaling.