Spice Market Istanbul


The last station of Europe...

The Spice Market (Egyptian Bazaar) (Turkish: the Misir Carsisi) in Istanbul is the second largest covered shopping complex after the big historical shopping mall Kapali Carsi (Grand Bazaar) as known by most.

The mysterious Orient as pictured in western eyes over the centuries is in many ways epitomized by this market which was constructed in the 1660s as part of the New Mosque; rent from the shops supported the upkeep of the mosque as well as its charitable activities, which included a school, hamam, and hospital.

To this market came the spices of the Far East, and for centuries people came here to purchase a thousand and one ingredients in hope of curing their medical complaints. These associations from the past still linger in the bazaar's exotic image. Ever since it was built, visitors both local and foreign to Istanbul have sought out the Spice Market. Although at first sight, the building might seem typical of classical Ottoman bazaars, its plan and structure distinguish it from others in Istanbul, Edirne, and Bursa. Each of the arched eyvans, originally open at the front, along the covered street of the bazaar, was occupied by a shop, and behind each was a room twice the size of the eyvan. The jars of spices and pharmaceutical drugs were displayed in the eyvan at the front where the customers were served. The rear room, meanwhile, was used for storage and for making up prescriptions. Today, however, the shops have been altered so that the eyvans are enclosed.

The L-shaped bazaar has two large main gates and four smaller and is built of stone and brick, rather than timber like other bazaars of the period, consisting of 88 vaulted rooms, almost all of which are now divided into an upper and lower story. Monumental gateways are at the ends of both halls, with chambers above each entrance way. The market's references the fact that the building was initially endowed with taxes levied on goods imported from Egypt. In its heyday, this was the last stop for the camel caravans that traveled the Silk Routes from China, India, and Persia. At the corner where the two arms meet are a prayer dome and a place from which the call to prayer was chanted. The main entrances at the extremities of the two arms are in the form of two-storey portals with six-arch colonnades. These portals once housed two commercial courts, one to settle disagreements between tradesmen, and the other between tradesmen and customers. The bazaar is part of the complex of Yeni Mosque, construction of which began during the reign of Mehmed III (1595-1603) and was completed in 1663 by the architect Mustafa Aga for Hatice Turhan Sultan, mother of Mehmed IV (1648-1687). It was therefore originally known as the Yeni Bazaar or Valide Bazaar, valide meaning mother. Since the spices and drugs sold in the bazaar arrived by ships from Egypt which unloaded their cargos nearby, in time it came to be known as the Egyptian Bazaar. In the early years, the bazaar was occupied by shops selling cotton as well as pharmaceuticals. It is one of the loveliest classical style bazaars in Istanbul, and its L shape is typical of the arasta type of bazaar consisting of rows of shops devoted to the same trade. The six gates of the bazaar are the main Eminonu Gate, Balikpazari (formerly Tahmis) Gate, Ketenciler Gate, Cicekpazari Gate, Yeni Cami Gate, and Bahce (formerly Haseki) Gate.

Edmondo d'Amicis, who visited Istanbul during the reign of Sultan Abdulaziz (1861-1876) described the bazaar in the following words: 'Entering this, we are immediately assailed by an odour so powerful as to fairly knock one down: this is the Spice Market, where are deposited all the wares of India, Syria, Egypt, and Arabia, which later on, converted into essences, pastilles, powders and ointments, serve to colour little hands and faces, perfume apartments and baths and breaths and beards, reinvigorate worn-out pashas, and dull the senses of unhappy married people.' The pharmacists trained as apprentices and having risen to the rank of master opened their own shops. They not only sold medicinal herbs but also served as folk doctors who prescribed cures for their customers' complaints.

Their myriad store of ingredients included dried flowers, leaves, stems, seeds, tree bark and roots, among them many still commonly used for culinary purposes and home remedies today, such as sage, rosemary, morning glory, hemp, marshmallow, thyme, Momordica, violet, lemon balm, basil, summer savory, nettle, and mahaleb. The pharmacists were at the same time perfumers, who prepared fragrant essences. Today there are just nine shops selling herbs and spices in the bazaar, the others selling such a wide range of goods as jewelry, furniture, meat, dried nuts and fruits, haberdashery, baskets, perfumes, and confectionery. The dried fruit and nut shops are almost as fascinating as the spice shops, with their tempting range of pistachio nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, dried figs, dried peaches, raisins, coconut, and many others. There are also grocery shops selling many varieties of jam - such as quince, sour cherry, apricot, strawberry and fig, delicious cheeses, preserved meats and sausages, and different kinds of honey.

On the upper floor of the portal at the south gate is a famous restaurant, Pandeli, which has been serving Turkish cuisine here for a hundred years. On the walls are proudly displayed newspaper cuttings about the restaurant's famous guests, including Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who came to eat here both during Ottoman times and after the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Other celebrated patrons of Pandeli were the poet Yahya Kemal Beyatli and novelist Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar.

There are also small shops along the outer walls of the bazaar, fishmongers to the north and pet shops and flower shops to the south. So although the character of the Egyptian Bazaar has changed since Ottoman times, the variety of goods to be found here make it if anything more colorful than it was.

Visiting Hours:

Open every day.
Weekdays from 08:00 to 19:00
Weekends from 09:30 to 19:00
Closed on 29th October and during all religious holidays.