Inns and Bazaars of Istanbul!

While this city is transforming at a fast pace, these structures remain the same. They also keep the door of the world of surprises open to both Istanbulites and foreigners at all times. Istanbul is as much a city of action and abundance as it is a city of history and culture. At every step you take, you listen to a different rhythm of Istanbul life. It is colorful, crowded, and chaotic.

You can understand this better if you are wandering around Eminönü, Mahmutpaşa or Beyazıt. This region preserves its bonds with history thanks to the old inns that are intertwined with daily life. It also has an important role in the development of Istanbul as a result of its commercial mobility.

This region, which is the center for inns and bazaars due to its proximity to the Golden Horn port, is like an open market that has met all kinds of requirement of people over hundreds of years. Although the form of commerce has changed recently and gigantic malls have been built throughout the city, these old inns are still standing as witnesses to time and commerce. We took the opportunity provided by the tour called “Inns and Bazaars of Istanbul” (Wouldn't a walking tour in Grand Bazaar be fun? and took a journey with the guidance of art historian Deniz Esemenli. We met in front of Mısır Çarşısı (the Egyptian Bazaar or the Spice Bazaar).

There is a small mosque ahead of the Spice Bazaar: the Ahi Çelebi Mosque. What Evliya Çelebi says about this mosque, which was built in the 16th century, is quite interesting. The famous traveler sees himself as an itinerant in his dream. In his dream, while he is praying in this mosque, angels appear, followed by the Prophet. The Prophet asks if he has any wishes. Evliya Çelebi tries to say ‘sefaat’ (intercession), but he gets so excited that he says ‘seyahat’ (travel). The Prophet tells him that he is going to be an itinerant and thus Evliya Çelebi finds himself on the road.

Our first stop is the Spice Bazaar

Istanbul’s bazaars are known to be places where guilds and tradesmen selling the same kind of goods generally gather. The Spice Bazaar was a place where spice and cotton sellers gathered. Once you step inside the bazaar, the smell of spices welcome you. This bazaar is ‘a passage that carries the smells of the East to the West’.

Being the second biggest covered market in Istanbul, the Spice Bazaar was built in 1663-64, as a part of the complex of buildings adjacent to the New Mosque in Eminönü. In its first years, it was called the “Valide Çarşısı” (the Mother’s Bazaar) and “Yeni Çarşı” (the New Bazaar), but from the mid-18th century onwards, it began to be known as the Egyptian Bazaar, for the goods sold in its shops came from Egypt. (Why not visit Egypt after your trip to Istanbul?)

The Egyptian Bazaar, or the Spice Bazaar, was at first given over solely to spice sellers, cotton sellers and quilt makers, but beginning in the 1970s, spice sellers were replaced by jewelry shops, butchers, dried fruit shops, dry goods stores and shoemakers. Today it is still famous for its spice sellers and is a favorite of Istanbulites and foreign visitors who are interested in herbs.

After the Spice Bazaar, we move forward to Tahtakale Hamam (the Turkish Bath of Tahtakale) opposite the Rüstem Pasha Mosque on Uzunçarşı Street. This building, which was a Turkish bath before, now serves as a bazaar. Built in the period of Sultan Mehmet the Conquerer, it is known to be one of the oldest Ottoman buildings in the city. Its original architectural structure was very well preserved until the beginning of the 20th century, when it was turned into a warehouse. We leave Tahtakale Hamam behind and walk towards Balkapanı (the Honey Scales). This region is quite crowded, with its daily rush. We walk as a group trying not to lose each other or to overlook anything.


The inn, which was built in a place close to where the sea customs existed in the Ottoman era, was a commercial center where –as the name suggests- honey coming through customs was stowed and dispatched to the public. We should note that the word ‘kapan’ means ‘scales’.

Balkapanı is like a classical caravanserai with a large yard. Although our guide talked about its rooms with arches and corridors, we could only see its yard, because most of the rooms are used as depots. Let us note here that there are two more ‘kapans’ in Istanbul: one is the Unkapanı (the Flour Scales), which we know as a district, and the other one is Yağkapanı (the Oil Scales), which is the Galata-Karaköy region today.

We leave Balkapanı and head for the lively Mahmutpaşa slope. A rushing crowd flows through the street. Some look at the wedding dresses, some at the dowry material. Sellers entice them by telling that the best products are in their stores. After Kürkçü Han, which is the only remaining inn-caravanserai from the Fatih era, we stop by the Big New Inn and the Small New Inn between the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar.

Big and Small New Inns

This inn, lying between Sandalyeciler Street and Çarkçılar Street on Çakmakçılar Slope, is the largest caravanserai-inn structure in Istanbul after the Valide Inn. It is known that Mustafa III had the inn built in the 18th century by the head architecture of that time, Tahir Agha. The fact that there are three floors in this building, which has traces of baroque art, is what makes it different from other similar structures. 

While this inn was a place where weaving looms used to operate, it has now lost this feature. There are many shops in the Big New Inn. These shops are mostly silver shops, towel sellers and kerchief sellers. The Little Inn, which was made of brick and hewn stone, does not have an open yard like the other inns. The most interesting feature of this inn is the mosque on the upper floor that can be reached by the stairs.

Valide Inn


We continue with Valide Inn, which is also known in history as ‘the Inn of Kösem Sultan’. Separated into two parts as ‘the big’ and ‘the little’, the Valide Inn is in between Çakmakçılar Slope and Fırıncılar Slope. It has a low entrance compared with other inns and historical chimneys on its roof.

In the 16th century, Kösem Sultan, the mother of Murat IV and Sultan Ibrahim, and the grandmother of Mehmet IV, is one of the most powerful and richest women of the Ottoman history, who held the position of ‘regency’ (the position to rule the country when there is no ruler or the ruler is too young) in the first years of the sultanates of her elder son and her grandson.

According to legend, the secret treasure of Kösem Sultan is hidden somewhere in this inn. In accordance with the historical sources, there are 366 cell rooms in the inn: it is still unknown how many rooms are being used today.

After listening to the historical facts and the legend of Valide Inn, our path leads us to Çuhacı Inn (the Felt Seller’s Inn). This inn was built in the 18th century by the order of Damat Ibrahim Pasha. The architect of the building, which reflects influences of the Baroque period, is not known. Broadcloth was an important material of the time, and it was used to make winter clothes for the Ottoman army. Broadcloth theft could even lead to capital punishment.

Sahaflar Çarşısı

Sahaflar Çarşısı (Antiquarian Booksellers’ Bazaar) is the oldest book bazaar in Istanbul to have survived from the Ottoman era. It is located between the Fesçiler Gate of the Grand Bazaar and Beyazıt Mosque.

While initially there were hand-written, lithographic and old-language books of historical value in the bazaar, today is sells mostly books for tourists and university students. But you can still come across old or antiquarian books in some shops.

In the glassed-in parts situated at the entrance on the Beyazıt Mosque side of the bazaar, lithographic materials from old printing houses are displayed. There is also a bust of Ibrahim Müteferrika (the first Turkish typographer) at the middle of the bazaar.

Nuruosmaniye Külliyesi

Along with the Nuruosmaniye Mosque, which attracts attention with the baroque influence on its architecture, the kulliye, situated at the entrance of the Grand Bazaar, is a symbol of a new era in the culture of the Ottoman Empire. The construction of the mosque started at the time of Mahmut I, but was finished in the time of Osman III. The architect of the mosque was the Greek Simeon Kalfa. Some of its baroque features are very different from the examples in Europe, let alone Istanbul. If it weren’t for the lighting elements peculiar to mosques and the shrine, you might think that you entered a different building. 

The mosque has a non-quadrilateral inner yard with 14 domes, which is rare in Ottoman mosques. What is more interesting is that the gate of the yard opens to a precipice! The Sultan’s lodge with a platform that helped the Sultan enter the mosque on horseback is another interesting feature of the structure.


We exited the mosque and entered the library in the garden. Nuruosmaniye Library is also one of the unique examples of baroque design in Turkey. There are numerous hand-written books and maps in this library, which is a reflection of Mahmut I’s love for books. The columns within the library were brought from the temples of Bergama. This library is open to the public every day except on Sundays and Mondays.

Leaving the crowded streets behind, we put an end to our tour in front of the Beyazıt Mosque. These inns and bazaars could neither become modernized nor fully preserve their old characteristics. But what remains is their feeling of action and abundance.