I did very little shopping, or none actually in these areas. Yet these are likely to be on your itinerary if you are visiting Istanbul. The Grand Bazaar because the whole thing is an attraction in itself. The Istiklal avenue because it is a main street hard to miss on the other side of the Golden Horn, in the area of Beyoğlu.
The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul is a maze. Located in the Fatih district within the walls of the city, it is considered one the largest covered markets in the world. With 61 streets and over 4,000 shops, this place is considered to have been one of the first shopping malls in the world. Its development started shortly after the conquest of the city by the Ottoman Empire in 1455 and aimed to give a little push to the local economy. During this time, jewellery and hand-woven textiles travelled from all over the country to be sold here. Incredibly things haven’t changed much, with the bazaar being organised into multiple sections – where you find jewellery, silver, goals, tapestry, food, textiles, home decorations, little cafes and food stalls.
Unfortunately, I did not dedicate the hours you should dedicate exploring its many alleyways. To be completely honest, the constant calling of vendors was quite intimidating to me, especially as a woman alone – all vendors are men. Whilst some of the indoor streets are quite busy at certain times of the day, the reality is that some of them may be almost empty especially if you go early in the day – as I did. If I do come back to Istanbul one day, I’d definitely give it another try. Against my own way of doing things, I’d probably go at the busiest times next time so I don’t call as much attention from the sellers and I’m able to mix within the crowds. Many articles online also mentioned how here is where you can find some of the best souvenirs, but I was so overwhelmed I wanted to escape it. Still managed to take some photos that show how colourful this is – the colours, the smells, the gaggling and the shouting. You do need to be prepared when embarking on the Grand Bazaar.
I visited the Bazaar on my way to the Süleymaniye Mosque. After that, it was time to cross the Galata Bridge to visit another historic, yet much different, part of Istanbul – the Beyoğlu district. Previously known as Grand Pera Avenue, Istiklal Avenue runs from Galata Bridge to Taksim Square. It was renamed after the Turkish War of Independence in 1929 (Istiklal means Independence in Turkish). A little piece of history here – Turkey was an ally of the losing side during World War I and therefore remained occupied by Greeks, Americans, British and French troops.
This part of town is very different from the walled part of the city where I was staying. Western European influence is quite prevalent and this goes way beyond World War I. Before the Ottoman Empire conquered Istanbul, during the Byzantine reign, Venice and Genoa had control of this region during the Latin Empire of Constantinople (1204–1261). the Galata Tower was built by the Genoese in 1348, and it today defines the landscape of the city.
Even when the Ottomans conquered the city, the European presence didn’t come to an end. In fact, I was surprised when I came across a Catholic Church with a Christmas Tree already up (it was the second weekend of November when I visited Istanbul). This is the St. Anthony of Padua Church the biggest catholic church not only in Istanbul but in the whole of Turkey.
Fast forward a few centuries to the 19th century, and this place was bustling with European traders, housing many embassies and becoming the most westernised part of then Constantinople. This was one of the first parts of the city to have telephone lines, electricity, trams and many other innovations. the architecture of Istiklal Avenue is definitely the most European you can see in Istanbul. The buildings include a variety of architectural styles common in western Europe – New-classical, neo-gothic and art nouveau.
Nowadays, clothing and footwear stores dominate the street, including cinemas, galleries and music venues. the old restaurants and chocolateries will also call your attention. I did go to eat some baklava in the beautifully decorated restaurant Taksim Sütiş – which I highly recommend if you want to take a break from walking.
This is one of the busiest streets if not the busiest of Istanbul, with both tourists and locals coming here for shopping, meet ups and entertainment. I was sad to hear that the day after there was a bomb explosion in the street, killing six people and injuring 81. It happened just before my flight, so I only heard the news after landing and with a few messages from friends and family popping up asking me if I was all right. It was definitely a sad end for this trip, with many telling me I had been lucky. well, I suppose we are lucky every day for being alive. Rather than seeing this as a risk of travelling as many may consider, I see it as a risk of being alive. Only one thing we know for sure – our time is limited, and well, memento mori. If anything, it reminded me of the value of how important it is we do what we love, we take risks and leave our comfort zones.