Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is one of the most historic and famous tourist attractions of both Turkey and Istanbul. However, sadly an eerie silence has fallen over Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. As we pointed out, it is one of the world’s oldest, largest, and most visited markets. So there, you can encounter a raucous mixture of languages, cultures, and commerce that has buzzed for centuries.
However, there are now signs of life at the market as municipal workers roam its deserted alleys. Within the scope of precautions, they are spraying the floor, columns, and walls ahead of the doors. So, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar reopened on June 1 for the first time in two months.
The Huge Capacity of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar
The bazaar is home to almost 3,000 shops where more than 30,000 people work. It has been close since March 23 as part of measures to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. Officials say it has been the longest closure in the bazaar’s more than 550-year-old history, except for forced shutdowns following fires and earthquakes.
Usually, 150,000 people visit the market every day -and 42 million of them visited last year. And so, traders shout out deals in dozens of languages to lure tourists into their stores. The stores were all shuttered, except for about 20 stock exchange offices and jeweler’s shops. They have remained open due to economic reasons, with only special customers who have got a special appointment. Municipal workers have disinfected the bazaar every Wednesday during the shutdown. Janitors, on the other hand, have cleaned the bazaar every morning.
“God willing we will reopen our market in a healthy fashion on June 1,” Fatih Kurtulmuş, chairman of the Grand Bazaar’s board, told AFP in an interview. He also added that “I have faith that our country will begin receiving tourists from mid-June by paying attention to hygiene rules.”
Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar Waiting for its Visitors
Kurtulmuş added that while they do not expect much activity in the first weeks, “I believe tourists will fly to Istanbul by the end of June because they cannot do without the Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque.” By the way, you can check out our 50 Must-See Places in Turkey article.
The bazaar takes place on Istanbul’s historic peninsula. The peninsula, in the meantime, is home to the Sultanahmet Mosque also called the Blue Mosque. Furthermore, the ancient church-turned-mosque-turned-museum, aka “Red Apple” by Muslim belief, Hagia Sophia, also situated in the Historic Peninsula.
A Brief Background of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar was built in 1455, two years after the Ottomans conquered Istanbul- then known as Constantinople -from the Byzantines. The market thrived, expanding rapidly with the rising Ottoman Empire. So, by the 17th century, it transformed into its current shape, giving the bazaar its Turkish name Kapalıçarşı (covered market).
“Our Grand Bazaar- the heart of the economy, culture, history, and tourism has never been shut down except for natural disasters,” Kurtulmuş said. “We had to take a pause because of the COVID-19 that has shaken the world. We had to prioritize safety and health before the economy.”
After Turkey announced its first confirmed case in mid-March, healthcare professionals carried out health scans on the market’s traders. According to the confirmation, seven had had coronavirus, Kurtulmuş said. He also added that they could have been infected by the many tourists in the packed confines of the market.
The Bazaar Reopened as of June 1 (Just Yesterday)
The bazaar reopened under strict rules laid out by the health ministry. The rules include the mandatory use of face masks and a limit on the number of customers allowed inside. Traders are worried as the bazaar is unlikely to see many tourists for some time, although Turkey is gradually easing its restrictions, including opening shopping malls.
“Tourism is the backbone of Grand Bazaar’s economy. We will see when the tourists will come,” said Ayhan Oğuz, a jeweler on the bazaar’s main alley. “2020 seems to be a year of economic losses for us. If business returns to normal, tourism open and flights resume by September, I believe we will also return to normal,” he said.
Namık, another jeweler, had a gloomier outlook: “We are at a low ebb. How will we pay the rents?” “My shop remains open but there are no customers, there’s no business,” he added.
Kurtulmuş pointed to all the history that the market has survived already. “I have the confidence that the Grand Bazaar will get up a full head of steam. And further, it will compensate for the economic loss by the end of the year.”