The changing face of Istanbul


Page 3 of 3

From Eminonu we took a bus to the Grand Bazaar at the centre of Istanbul's vast Bazaar quarter. Located in the Old City about midway between the Golden Horn and the Marmara coast this granddaddy of all shopping malls began trading a few years after the Turkish conquest of Istanbul in 1453. For centuries it was the financial hub of the Ottoman Empire, the place where buyers and sellers from three continents came by camel caravan and boat to do business. In 1461 Mahmet the Conqueror built a massive stone enclosure, the Old Bedesten, around the first few dozen shops. It still stands at the centre of the Grand Bazaar but the market now sprawls over a full city block. It includes more than 4,000 dazzling shops and the whole thing is covered and brilliantly lit.

We spent about an hour wandering through its labyrinth of narrow passages, poking into shops selling everything from antique hookahs to modern cell phones. Vendors hocking glittering knick-knacks and tacky souvenirs compete with chic boutiques offering the latest in high fashion apparel. You can barter for almost anything in the Grand Bazaar but the crush of people is wearing. An hour was long enough.

It's a short bus ride from the Grand Bazaar to Kumkapi, the site of an ancient fishing village on the Marmara coast. Located just inside the old city walls, its cobbled streets are now lined with seafood restaurants and outdoor bars. We arrived at dusk and as the lights blinked on, the tables were already filled with diners - a few tourists but mostly locals out for a night on the town. The food was excellent, the beer and wine plentiful, and as the evening wore on the party soared. Groups playing western jazz and traditional fasil music roam between tables and, not to be outdone by the belly dancers inside, young women in mini-skirts kick off their high heels and perform tabletop dances to the cheers of their friends. It was a riotous evening of booze and fun and I thought; "Too bad Ataturk, the guy who started it all, can't see this." He is reported to have been a tireless party man - he would have had a ball.

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