The Most Powerful Glamorous Scent Ever – Spice Bazaar in Istanbul

Walk Like An Egyptian in the Egyptian Spice Bazaar Market in the old city of Istanbul! The Spice Market & The New Mosque; Look familiar? James Bond had an epic motorcycle chase around in the opening of Skyfall, speeding right through the middle of the Grand Bazaar, which is the market next to the Spice Bazaar and is one of Istanbul’s top tourist attractions. Then; is Spice Bazaar worth visiting? -  Definitely Yes! Not merely to fulfill the urge for the exotic but also truly a chance to see and experience the traditional commercial life of Istanbul – Spice Bazaar in Istanbul! Through fulfilling the romance of Westerners to find the Orient, visiting the Egyptian Spice Market – Spice Bazaar is indeed one of those experiences.

The Egyptian Spice Bazaar in Istanbul; A solid, tangible form embodying the power of being a mythical place needs to dwell on the perceptions of it. Ottoman Stone & Turquoise tiles embellish the walls and floor as they did hundreds of years ago; the views of the Golden Horn from the windows and the calls to prayer from the mosques close by; and the sights, sounds and smells of the Spice Bazaar outside make the atmosphere here almost magical.

Conceived as an agent turning our needs into desires, spice connotes power. The mesmerizing aromas of cinnamon, cumin, saffron, mint, thyme, and every other conceivable herb and spice fill the air, even before entering the spice bazaar. The powerful scent in the air adds much to the liveliness of the space and makes it more engaging.
Egyptian Bazaar has certainly some physical characteristics which contribute to its power as a mythical place. It has its own climate created by the scent of spices and herbs, sounds of people, movement, heat, etc. Scents encapsulated in the space become mixed and densely fill the air creating a microcosm. The aura encourages looking; it rather becomes entrancing which increases the desire for the spice. For centuries, the spice was always considered as a fine substance coming from unfamiliar parts of the world. That's why it was always associated with the adjectives like exotic, expensive, unique, and luxurious which contribute to the perceptions of it as a power from the very beginning. Western thinking always linked spices to Paradise which was believed to be a place in the East.

Misir means "Egypt" in Turkish and it is called The Egyptian Bazaar due to the fact that the spices came from India and South-East Asia to Egypt and from there to Istanbul via the Mediterranean Sea. Extremely long trade routes and high prices of spice made it phenomenal. Longing for faraway places was gratified by the taste and smell of the spices. Between the 11th and 17th centuries, spices dominated the European taste. However, the dishes of Ottoman cuisine were not spicy as the ones in European cuisines during the Middle Ages, Roman in ancient times, or Arabic cuisine. Istanbul was the last stop along the legendary Silk Road. It was the final destination for Asian goods, which were then distributed to Europe. Based on official recorded history, Istanbul had developed a spice trade with the Venetians as early as the 13th century.

History of Spice Market

The coastal side of Eminönü, where the Egyptian Bazaar is located, has always been the most active marketplace since Byzantine times. During those times when maritime business was highly important, Eminonu had an intensive commercial activity. Strategically located between East and West, the Mediterranean, and the Black Sea, Istanbul has always been one of the most active centers of trade in Byzantine and Ottoman times. Istanbul was the center of all world trade and this had continued for many centuries. There was an Egyptian Bazaar by the name of “Makron Envalos” in Byzantine times in the same location as today’s Egyptian Bazaar.

Having served as a coastal city extending from the Balkans and Europe to the North Mediterranean and Arabian Peninsula, Istanbul was on a transit trading route. Products like silk fabrics, spices, gemstones, woven goods, and carpets coming from the East and the Arabian Peninsula would be gathered in Istanbul on their way to Europe. As an Ottoman classical-style complex, the Spice Bazaar, built within the Yeni Camii Complex, is a combination of two bazaars with the feature of being the Double Bazaar. The Spice Bazaar covers an area of 6000 m², giving the plan “L”.
Through the orders of Safiye Sultan, who was the wife of Sultan Murad III and the mother of Sultan Mehmed III, the construction of the New mosque first construction began in 1597. The original architect Davut Ağa, who was an apprentice to the great architect Sinan started the construction and then was replaced by Dalgıç Ahmed Ağa.

Istanbul's Spice Market or Misir Çarsisi was constructed in 1663 in full as a part of the adjacent Yeni Mosque complex in order to generate funds for the upkeep of the mosque. The spice market in Istanbul is the second biggest covered bazaar in Turkey and the biggest spice market in the world. The Egyptian Spice Bazaar is a covered market space containing the spice market. The spice bazaar was originally built as part of the Yeni Valide (New Queen Mother) Mosque complex to act as an economic institution making the pious foundation survive without any help or support from outside.

During the Ottoman Empire, the Pious foundations would be defined as organizations of civil society focused on serving the people in need. Those virtuous institutions were based on the Islamic concept of charity. The spiritual and material integrity of these charities was supported by the large complex of buildings called “imaret” with various facilities surrounding a mosque such as schools, dervish lodges, soup kitchens, drinking fountains, baths, markets, and bazaars.In order to legitimize their power, the revenues of those commercial institutions were assigned for the expenses of the religious foundations. The bazaars of the Ottoman Empire would be organized in such a way as public spheres where all the society came together. These commercial areas, far away from the residential areas, would comprise a covered or open main street or streets where stores and workshops stood in line.

One of the oldest and busiest marketplaces of Istanbul where the historic Silk Road joined the maritime Spice Route,  the Spice Bazaar was first called “Yeni Carsi or Valide Carsi” by earlier chroniclers. It was named the Egyptian Bazaar (Misir Carsisi) as many of the products and spices were imported from Egypt at that time. Although the Yeni Valide Mosque complex was initially planned to have a hospice within, it finally ended up with the mosque, the covered bazaar, the fountain, and the tomb. The construction of this complex of buildings was initiated by the sultan’s mother, “Safiye Sultan” in 1597 and it was completed in 1664 by Turhan Sultan. By the end of the sixteenth century, sultan mothers had started to have political power and they came into the scene as architectural patronesses in the Ottoman Empire.

In light of the dynamics of the Ottoman Empire by the 16th century, the Spice Bazaar is considered one of the rare representations of women’s power through an architectural edifice that created a distinct commercial node and showed the all-powerful position of the sultan mothers in the Ottoman Empire. Based on the fact that this complex of the building was commissioned when the economic realities changed drastically and the dissent about such large spending was voiced as a blatant show of prestige, the land allocated for this monumental complex was among the most valuable lands of Istanbul at that time. A very unique location; The Golden Horn, next to the port and close to Topkapı Palace!

Also, the first coffeehouse was opened in this area. When the construction of Spice Bazaar was completed in 1664, this part of Istanbul was already populated with hundreds of coffeehouses. It is also worth noting that besides spice, coffee was one of the major items of trade as well at that time.

During Byzantine Times

The area of Spice Bazaar also points out the significant trade route during Byzantine Empire. During Byzantine Empire, there was even a bazaar located in the same land. Facing the port frequented by the ships loaded with spice and aromatics from India through Egypt, this bazaar area perfectly punctuates this significant trade route.

Cairo to Istanbul and Bursa

Egypt, which was one of the prosperous lands of the Ottoman Empire, had already been an Ottoman territory for 150 years when the construction of the Spice Bazaar was completed. During the sixteenth century, more than half of the spices imported to Cairo were transported mainly to Istanbul and Bursa. The spice then would have been sent from these cities to the Balkans and to the northern countries.

During the seventeenth century, Venice was in crisis and the conquest of the Spice Islands by the Dutch stopped trade through the Red Sea. Despite these circumstances, Cairo merchants continued to serve the Ottoman market and the spice trade continued through the Red Sea. The first name of the bazaar was Valide Çarşısı (Sultan Mother Bazaar). Because of its relationship to the port, its name was changed to Egyptian Bazaar later.

Egyptian Bazaar, this 356-year-old architectural structure, is part of the imposing mosque complex located along the waterfront of Eminönü where it defines the heart of commerce and trade in Istanbul today. This structure complex provides a total experience of spice, food and space. Egyptian Bazaar is one of the links to Paradise in the Western mind. In every sense of the word, it is so ironic fate that the covered market which was made for the needy once upon a time, exists today as the Egyptian Bazaar which creates or redefines the need today. The spice market certainly continues to inspire people to buy and cook in many ways. In light of this dynamic process, spice stands as a key phenomenon having historical, cultural, and economic significance.
Egyptian Bazaar had always visitors. Now it is one of the hotspot tourist attractions. Additionally, there are also textiles, some jewelry, ceramics, and souvenirs and most tourists usually prefer to shop in Egyptian Bazaar today. 

The Spice Bazaar of Istanbul provides colorful scenes from everyday life in the public, namely commercial spheres, various types of people like sellers, customers, street vendors, and beggars. Also, the accounts of the traveling writers, artists, and merchants are full of descriptions of these scenes. Curious Western outlook extracts information in order to complete the picture of Ottoman life in their mind.

The “L” shaped Spice Bazaar has 6 gates. All the flavors of Eastern cuisine are displayed by the shops with an exquisite sense of color and beautiful arrangement. The more you explore, the more unusual goods you'll likely find; In every sense of the word, the true definition is “human soul taking an adventure” in this mystic Egyptian Spice Bazaar in Istanbul. The Egyptian Bazaar had two great fires throughout its history, yet survived.

Architectural Design of the Spice Market

The Grand Bazaar and Spice Market Istanbul are excellent examples of traditional Ottoman pattern bazaars. The main characteristic of Spice Bazaar is its “L” shape which makes it a “Double Bazaar”. The Egyptian Spice Bazaar is a structure constructed in a traditional Ottoman pattern as a combination of two separate bazaars. Its rows of stone and brick in a traditional Ottoman pattern make it unique. The East–West wing of this double bazaar, arising from the “L” shaped architecture, is comparatively longer than the other. There exists a praying square covered with a cross vault right by the intersection point where long and short branches come together.

The main entrances of the Egyptian Bazaar are the ones on the edges of two long branches. These two main entrances are in the form of two-storied portals with six-arch colonnades. Besides, the gate that leads to Tahmis Street is also in the form of two-storied portals with six-arch colonnades. Two other entrances, facing one another, other than that main entrance are in the middle section of the branch which extends to Makulyan Inn.

There are totally six gates in Spice Bazaar. Two of them are big and the other four of them are small. The entrances on the wedge of two long branches are the main ones of the Spice Bazaar. These two main entrances are in the form of two-storied portals with six-arch colonnades. The gate right by Tahmis Street is in the form of two-storied portals with six-arch colonnades. The other two entrances are in the middle section of the branch which extends to Makulyan Inn.

There are also domed rooms above the colonnades of the edges both branches which could be accessed through the ladders within the bazaar. On the long branch of the bazaar there are 46 rectangular halls and cells, 23 on each side; and on the short branch 36, 18 on each side. And on the intersection point of the two branches, there are 6 rectangular halls and cells, which sum up to 88 internal units in total. In the outside section of the bazaar which faces Tahmis street, there are 18 stores in the outside section of the bazaar facing towards Tahmis Street.

Spice Bazaar What to Buy?

In every sense of the word, a Spice Bazaar tour is truly more than amazing. Visiting the Spice Bazaar, you very easily may find yourself drifting off as you purchase an assortment of spices, alternative remedies for aches and pains, and aphrodisiacs that have been tested through the centuries.
This Egyptian Spice Market is indeed a lesson in smells and tastes. Here is where you can find all manner of Turkish Delight candy (lokum), baklava, teas, and Turkish coffee, and dried fruits. Any Spice Bazaar tips? Definitely, it is a must to visit Spice Bazaar a second time – So that You Can Decide!
For centuries, Spice Bazaar has been the place where dried herbs and a variety of plants not found anywhere else in the city, as well as holistic remedies for every ailment have been sold. Not only spices, but the shops in the bazaar sell confectionery, textile products, essences, gold, silver, and gift items. Spice Bazaar what to buy question never comes to mind in this market. Simply Mind Dazzling!

Spice Bazaar vs Grand Bazaar

Although some merchandise is similar in both bazaars, essentially you must visit the Spice Bazaar for spices and foods. The Spice Bazaar is a bit more "authentic" and more fun. The Spice Bazaar is primarily a spice/food market also selling some souvenir items as well as soaps, oils, and all sorts of aromatherapy items.

How to Get to Spice Bazaar Istanbul?

Spice Bazaar is in one of the oldest neighborhoods of Istanbul, located in the center of the Old City area, Eminonu. It is right in the heart of the walled city of Constantine and it is the place where Byzantium was founded. Spice Bazaar is the center and focal point of an incredibly rich history.  Spice Bazaar is surrounded by the Galata Bridge, the Golden Horn and up on the hill by the Topkapı Palace, the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii), and Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya).

Spice Bazaar Working Hours

The Spice Bazaar is open on weekdays between 8:00  to 19:00, Saturdays from 8:00 to 19:30, and Sundays from 9:30 to 19:00

Frequently Asked Question

Is there anywhere Eese to shop in Istanbul?
Yes, there are other authentic places to shop in Istanbul other than famous Old Bazaars. Even though there are many huge new shopping malls in Istanbul, we know it feels different to go to historically and culturally important shops.
What is the oldest market in Istanbul?
The Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi) is the oldest marketplace in Istsanbul.
What is the most famous bazaar in Istanbul?
The Grand Bazaar and Egyptian Bazaar are two most famous old bazaars of Istanbul.
What bazaars are in Turkey?
Turkey is famous for its bazaars, and there are tens of ancient bazaars like Alacati, Carpa, Grand Bazaar, Kemeralti in the country.
Who built Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar?
The emperor that gave the order to build the Grand Bazaar was Mehmed the Conqueror.