Istanbul’s Colorful Entrepôt The Egyptian Bazaar

We think we know it well, but it takes a good two-hour walk to really discover the exotic offerings of the Egyptian Bazaar and its environs.

The Egyptian Bazaar, aka Spice Bazaar
If you think this market had five doors when it opened in 1666, you’re mistaken. But today it has six, each one opening on a different world. The reason why the intersection of the two wings of this L-shaped building is called the ‘praying square’ is that the bazaar shopkeepers once performed their prayers here en masse. From spices and water-pipes to belly dance costumes and shadow theater puppets, there is literally nothing you can’t find in this market whose diversity astonishes even its denizens.

The Flower Market
Adjacent to the Egyptian Bazaar, this colorful market seems bent on sustaining the tradition of the Ottoman imperial garden. Myriad varieties of seeds and plants are sold here alongside exotic animal species such as peacocks, parrots and iguanas. The open-air cafes scattered about the square in front of the market are ideal for a tea break.

The ‘New’ Mosque
Don’t let its epithet ‘new’ fool you; this 300-odd-year-old monumental mosque on Eminönü Square is the last example of Classical Period Ottoman mosques, aka ‘the Grand Tradition’. Its interior is decorated with late 17th century Ottoman tiles and delicate stenciling, capped by a giant dome resting on four grand octagonal columns.

Tomb of the Sultan Mother
One of Istanbul’s largest dynastic graveyards lies at the entrance to Bankalar Caddesi. In this mausoleum, named for Hatice Turhan Sultan, mother of Mehmet IV who completed the New Mosque, lie five sultans together with their wives and crown princes. Built in 1663, this structure with its 47 windows, ivory and mother-of-pearl inlaid entrance, and facade encased in tile panels is well worth seeing.

The Imperial Pavilion
Have you ever wondered what the mysterious building is that rises over a single arch next to the New Mosque? The interior of this three-room pavilion, built to afford the sultan easy access to the mosque, is decorated with Iznik tiles, stencil work, carved ‘kündekâri’ wooden doors, stained glass and gold leaf. For now it can only be viewed from the outside, though its restoration is completed.

The Bazaar Restaurants
Did you know that the restaurants in and around the Egyptian Bazaar are favorites with celebrities from Burt Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn to Tony Curtis and Robert de Niro? You can find choice examples of traditional Istanbul dishes at the century-old restaurants along Tahmis Caddesi as far as Bahçekapı. And a new trend in the area is Turkish coffee flavored with hazelnuts and gum mastic.