on May 23, 2004
While shopping malls may seem like a relatively recent cultural phenomenon to westerners, a trip to Istanbul’s famous Grand Bazaar provides a half-millennium-old counterpoint to that point of view. Acres of stalls, which are really small shops, spill their wares out into named streets in an ancient, covered facility of many acres that is filled with hand-painted archways, heavy walls and pillars. Popular items include colorful dishes, jewelry, silverware, glassware, water pipes, and, of course, carpets.
Merchants in the Grand Bazaar must be some of the world’s leaders in terms of how much merchandise they can display per square foot of floor space. Shop after shop looks like Ali Babba’s cave; filled with colorful, shimmering treasures that beg to be examined. Search out some of the hidden courtyards, where you may stumble into areas where craftsmen are at work or you will find locals relaxing, away from the bustle.
Throughout the bazaar and elsewhere, it seems like half of Istanbul is either selling carpets or shilling for someone who does. And no matter where you live, a good carpet salesman will have a cousin who lives somewhere near you. You may indeed be able to pick up a prize Persian rug for less than it would cost you back home. Still it takes some background to know what you are buying, whether it is worth what you are paying and whether or not you can even count on it being delivered.
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