Istanbul – Cultural musings from a Bazaar

Istanbul – Cultural musings from a Bazaar

 Istanbul – Cultural Musings from a Bazaar


Bazaar, a Persian word, means a trading market. Turkey has long been famous for its textile and agricultural trade. During Byzantine and Ottoman rule, caravans traversed this historic route, across two continents connecting Asia and Europe. Turkish bazaars then, were famous for spice, cloth, gold bracelets, leather goods, books and even slaves!  Today, the bazaar offers an insight into Turkish history. Almost like a museum!

Istanbul, they say, is the tourist capital of the world. It’s unique geographical position, several sieges that changed its history and the straits of Bosphorus, that served routes for trade and navigation, make Istanbul a culture lover’s paradise. For the Grand Bazaar or spice market, draws thousands of tourists, and the quiet Aarasta Bazaar set in the backdrop of the Blue mosque evoke scents and smell of brisk trade.

In the SultanAhmet area, the Aarasta Bazaar is a small, quiet market. Open seven days of the week, it beckons every tourist that passes through its stone arch. Souvenirs, carpets and rugs, Turkish sweets and Ottoman robes line the shops. Locally known as Sipahi Carsisi, the shops, boast antique wooden architecture. They once housed horses and sentry (sipahi) of Ottoman Caliph’s. Trot, trot…clog can almost hear the horses hoofs!



The first shop tucked into the stone arch is a heavily dotted with turquoise blue ware. Ceramic vases, plates, perfume bottles  with flowery nakshi or designs crowd it’s shelves. Can you spot that big glass bead with an eye design? Popularly known as Nazar boncuk or ‘evil’ eye, locals hang it at door entrances – of homes, shops and office, in children’s closets and in cars. A common sight all over Central Asia, it probably originated in the Mediterranean. It was hung on ships and tail fins of airplanes. No wonder, it’s guards the bazaar entrance. 

DSC03761 90px-Nazarboncuk_Turkish_Apotrop_eye_DSCN8621

Turquoise blue, the national colour of Turkey, is the colour of Bosphorus waters. Trade and social activity depended upon this strait, hence its revered. Blue ceramics have a blend of Ottoman arabesque with hints of Chinese elements – probably the Ottoman rulers traded spice and cotton textile with Chinese and in turn, inspired them with blue pottery of Ming dynasty.


Blue ceramic jewellery store

Blue ceramic jewellery store

The next shop lined with tiles will charm any tourist. The geometric designs and floral patterns date back to Seljuk rulers and later the Ottoman period. These ceramic tiles have a white base and high glaze, making them very durable and exquisite. From the 16th century onwards the town of Iznik is synonomous for tiles. Palace walls and hammams are covered in tiled patterns almost forming a carpet.

Want to turn your home into a palace ? Just order a boxful of Iznik  tiles. They will be delivered to your doorstep, anywhere in the world!


“Want to become a Caliph for a day ? Dress like the Ottoman rulers” suggested the young shopkeeper in jeans and blue shirt. My turquoise blue Indian Shalwaar /Khameez attracted attention, and he asked  “India?” or “Pakistan?” Where you come from ?


Turkish men and women wear a shalwar, loose trousers with a long flowing tunic. It’s an ideal dress for the scorching summer. However, the younger generation prefers western wear and jeans. The Pasha caps and Fez caps remind one of bygone years. Made in faux tuxedo or velvet / suede they made a pretty picture, perfectly balanced in a colourful vertical column. Look at the royal colours – indigo blue, gold and scarlet red. For an aristocratic touch add a glitzy decoration. Tassels are a must on the Fez. During Ottoman rule, military people were ordered to do away with cumbersome turban tying. They adopted a Western style – a sign of Ottoman modernity. Today, the height, shape, colour of the Fez is more a fashion statement, often dictated by European influences.

I was lucky to pose with local Turkish women some who wore colourful head-scarves. Whether in rural areas or urban high streets, scarf designs and tying methods make fashion, changing often to suit the wearer.

More textile shops filled the bazaar. Turkey has been home to Anatolian ethnic designs. Long flowing gowns, broadly cut kaftaans with sleeves stitched horizontally, delicately embroidered winter coats with paisley designs or floral motifs and woollen trousers or salwar hung on dispaly. Different historical periods demanded different clothing designs. Nakkashane, a Persian word for design or pattern, wer intricately woven using silk thread. Dyed in various inks for a suitable colour and turning to nature for inspiration – the artisans reached zenith during the Seljuk rule and Ottoman rule. Later western influences changed long tunics into short shirts and baggy trousers to straight cuts, adopted for military uniforms.

Nature inspired flower designs are found on almost every aspect of Turkish life – ceramic ware, carpets, clothing, linen and even sofa covers.

Food is the way to a man’s heart. Not only did the Sulieman’s chefs in Topkapi Palace prepare the most elaborate menus, but rustic, earthy women in every household worked long hours to knead bread dough and skewer meat and fish. The bazaar boasts of a fifth generation sweet shop. From milky puddings, coloured chewy lokum, or varieties of rolled pistachio and nut filled filo pastry and halve – tray laden shelves glisten like ruby and emeralds. Turkish delight and baclava are not the only sweets every tourist must savour.

Tray filled Turkish sweets

Tray filled Turkish sweets

Then, how could I satiate myself with at least a dozen different chewy halve to choose from?

Just then, passing vendors sold fresh seasonal fruit ( or fresh squeezed) juice on hand-carts fitted with age-old hand machines and spout. Fruit thus is important item on family menus: strawberries and cherries in spring, summer produces Anar or pomegranate and peaches, and in winter apples and oranges hang in the home garden and orchards.

For more visit my World Palate recipe section – Turkish Menemen.


Leaving the bazaar, I am happy to take back a page of history, some recipes, and ethnic souvenirs. Conversations with friendly local shopkeepers gave insightful tips about their culture, no book can offer. It was truly like visiting an open-air museum!

Have you had an interesting tour of local culture at any market ? Do share. It makes this blog a richer place. 


All content and images copyright Veena S. (2013 – 2015) Please see copyright disclaimer.

About Veena S.

'Travel broadens the mind.' It's been a wonderful journey through the past few years, living and travelling to many countries. Certainly there were few eye openers, at other times just a comparison on cultures and food and cuisines. My blog is my learning journey to capture and re live these moments, share photographs and use technology. Come ...see the world with me.

6 responses »

    • Thanks dear Aparna.Yes,first was the travel, then the photo albums and later sharing the travel tales. Now its full circle – all in one! I’m addicted to writing now.

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