In Hürriyet’s Daily News–despite social unrest, the number of foreign visitors to Turkey rose almost 10% to 33.47 million people in the 1st 11 months of 2013. Now I know why.
In 2011 Travel & Leisure magazine posted “World’s Most-Visited Tourist Attractions”. #1 was New York’s Times Square with 39,200,000 visitors each year. #2 through #9 were all in the United States. #10 was the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey, with 15,000,000 annual visitors. Now I know why Suzanne Swan of Eyewitness Travel said, “Nothing can prepare you for the Grand Bazaar.”
While Ruth and I loved the Spice Bazaar, we liked GB for its atmosphere and eventfulness. An entire network of streets under painted vaults divided into shopping neighborhoods–leather and denim, antiques, workshops, etc.–the Grand Bazaar focused on elaborate lanterns, carpets, dazzling gold jewelry, etc. The merchants standing in doorways tried their best to get us to come in to their shops. The crowd crush was astonishing. We had a map but found it far more fun not to use it. Getting lost was part of the joy. It was a 5 Compass attraction for sure.
Mehmet II of the Ottoman Empire took Constantinople in 1453. Known as The Conqueror back then and a Turkish national hero today, Mehmet had a benevolent side. For example, he protected freedom of worship and guaranteed Greek safety to encourage their return after his successful siege. Triumphantly entering the city, he rode his horse into the Hagia Sophia, ordered that it be spared, and turned it into a mosque. He had 5 wives who apparently liked to shop like Ruth, so he started a bazaar that turned out to be Grand.
The Grand Bazaar had 5 major gateways into a network of seemingly thousands of businesses. They continued into narrow streets all around it. We entered via the elaborate Beyazit Gate and strolled the length of GB’s widest thoroughfare lined with countless jewelry shops. But Ruth wasn’t interested in diamonds and I wasn’t planning on buying an exotic carpet from Central Asia, so we headed for the ic Bedesten, the oldest area that was once a warehouse and found that it also specialized in jewelry. After looking through windows displaying leather and fur coats and into shops selling tourist trinkets, musical instruments, etc., we decided that, although everything imaginable was for sale here, we liked the smaller scale, less luxury-item-oriented Spice Market better.