The origin of the Turkish word “çarşı” comes from the Persian word “Cahar” (meaning four the number) and “Su” (meaning district, street). Serving as a shopping mall with its wide range of stores, the Egyptian Bazaar is a complement of covered and open streets and squares which are suitably located in well-trodden streets in the center of the city. The temporary ones of the bazaars, located in various streets of big cities, are called as marketplaces. The collocation of the stores according to the goods and products they sell led to the emergence of such names as Shoe Seller Bazaar and Jewelry Bazaar. Comprising of a main street and side streets connected to it, bazaars constitute the most active urban area of a city all day long.
Strategically located between East and West, Mediterranean and Black Sea, İstanbul has always been one of the most active centers of trade either in Byzantine or Ottoman times. Serving as a coastal city extending from the Balkans and Europe to the North Mediterranean and Arabian Peninsula, İstanbul was on a transit trading route. Such commercial products as silk fabrics, spices, gemstones, woven goods and carpets coming from East and the Arabian Peninsula would be gathered in İstanbul on their way to Europe.
Besides, various products coming from the Italian city-states and Europe would also be gathered in İstanbul. In the ports, extending across the Golden Horn from today’s Unkapanı to Sarayburnu, grains, fruits and vegetables, legumes, meat, other animal products, oils, fish, coffee, salt, spices and such fuel products as wood and charcoal would be disembarked. Meeting all food demands of the Ottoman Empire, the products would be distributed from those ports to the surrounding covered and open bazaars and inns.
In İstanbul, which did maritime business with many countries as a result of its natural ports, the trading places, enabling the sales of the embarked products, were located in certain regions not far away from the sea. The locations of those trading places in İstanbul have not much changed since Byzantine times.
It is a known fact from some Byzantine sources that the center of the bazaar during those times started from Hagia Sophia to Beyazıt and Şehzadebaşı following the route of Divanyolu and Çemberlitaş; and extending from there until Aksaray Koska
According to those sources, it is even claimed that the bazaar was also covering the current location of the Grand Bazaar and some part of Sirkeci. And the Ottoman sources tell us that Turkish people extended their network of commerce from the center of the Grand Bazaar towards Sirkeci, Eminönü and Tahtakale. It is obvious that Turkish people achieved a remarkable progress in this perspective.
The urban texture of the Ottoman Empire was divided into such sections as places of worship, commerce and residence. While religious and commercial activities gathered in the center; the residential areas were in the surrounding locations.
The unique architectural pattern of Ottomans, where religious and commercial activities could be performed all together – which constituted the core of social life in the settlement configuration that Ottoman Empire adopted in public spheres – led to the emergence of külliye structures. Within the concept of külliye, there took place such places of worship as mosque and madrasa; social structures as hospital and hermitage; and commercial structures as arasta, bedesten and covered and open bazaars.
Demanding for an extensive economic potential, külliye structures were mostly constructed by men of weight like Padishah, Sultan and Grand Vizier.
The bazaars of the Ottoman Empire would be organized in public spheres where all the society came together. Those commercial areas, far away from the residential areas, would comprise of a covered or open main street or streets where stores and workshops stood in line. The stores, which had a key position in the Ottoman Foundation arrangement, would pay their annual rents of not more than a couple hundred silver coins to their preselected foundations. As those stores had not always been built in conjunction with a mosque or madrasa, pre- or post-built ones could also have been donated to the foundation.
Not soon after Fatih the Conqueror conquered İstanbul in 1453, he initiated the construction works. And it is assumed that the first bedesten to determine the focal point of the city was constructed in the year of 1457. Within this context, with the first bedesten of İstanbul, Fatih had indeed happened to determine the location of the center of trade of the Ottoman City İstanbul which would preserve its importance for the following centuries. Following his first bedesten, he had Sandal Bedesteni and surrounding inns constructed, emphasizing on the potential of the region as a commercial center.
As a result of its wooden texture, İstanbul had witnessed to fires heaps of times and many houses, stores, bazaars and places of worship vanished as a consequence. The recurrent fires in the 18th century had a great impact on the national economy, sweeping away a great number of stores. The old bedesten and the surrounding wooden stores that Fatih the Conqueror constructed in 1695 and 1701; and the later bedestens and inns emerging with the region’s becoming the center of trade had all burned down. As in İstanbul, the wooden structures of centers of trade would cause them to vanish even by a minor spark. And that two great fires had occurred at 5 years intervals made the city face the potential to lose its commercial areas. To minimize the potential damage caused by such kind of fires, the bedestens which preserved their existence in Eminönü for years and yet were on the verge of vanishing were reconstructed. Within this context, the stores were constructed and covered with masonry walls and vaults. As the stores in that region were all small and lined up in rows, they were gathered under the same roof with name of Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian Bazaar, constructed in a location too close to it, represent the primary trade center of the region and the city.
The coastal line of Eminönü, where the Egyptian Bazaar is located, has always been one of the most active market places since Byzantine times. For those times where maritime business was highly important, it is not surprising that that region, one the central points of the İstanbul’s historical peninsula, had an intensive commercial activity. As mentioned by Ptokhoprodromos in one of his writings, there was a Egyptian Bazaar by the name of Makron Envalos in the Byzantine times in the same location of today’s Egyptian Bazaar.
The Egyptian Bazaar was constructed as a part of the Külliye of the New Mosque. The construction of the New Mosque, foundations of which had been laid by order of Safiye Sultan in 1597, the wife of Padishah Murad III., was completed in the year of 1663. This structure is within the külliye of the New Mosque, which has the longest mosque construction period of all time in the history of the Ottoman Empire. While Safiye Sultan sought for the monumental parts of the city for her külliye to be built, all the prestigious parts of the 17th century of İstanbul were already occupied with remarkable structures. As a result of extensive searches, the coastal line of Eminönü was preffered for the construction of the külliye.
With its low elevation and close distance to the sea, the construction site was indeed not appropriate for the construction of such a big külliye; and yet survived until today as a result of the success of Davut Aga, the first architect of the mosque. When construction phase came to the middle of the first raw of windows of the mosque, which was settled on an elevated sub-basement, III. Mehmed passed away and consequently Safiye Sultan, the mother of the Padishah who was the constructive of the külliye, lapsed from grace. With the changes in the throne, the construction of the külliye was halted. And no progress had been recorded in the construction of the New Mosque until Sultan IV. Mehmed period. When Hatice Turhan Sultan, the mother of the Padishah, wanted to construct a külliye, an appropriate location for construction started to be looked for within the city of İstanbul. However, as one of the last monumental parts of the İstanbul’s historical peninsula, the coastal line of Eminönü was already occupied with the unfinished construction of the New Mosque by Safiye Sultan. Following that Hatice Turhan Sultan could not find an appropriate location with a dominant panorama of İstanbul for her külliye, she decided to continue the construction of the New Mosque. She reinitiated the construction of the mosque in the year of 1661 within this context. While the first design of the mosque was prepared by the master architect Davut Aga he was replaced by Ahmet Aga following his passing away one year after the construction. However the construction was halted again with the passing away of the Padishah and reinitiated again 63 years later. Mustafa Aga was charged as the architect in the last construction.
Some alterations had been made in the külliye arrangement of the New Mosque, construction of which was reinitiated in 1661. The original külliye arrangement of Safiye Sultan had included a madrasa; however Hatice Turhan Sultan later gave up the idea of a madrasa. Along with the mosque, the külliye of the New Mosque also included a Hünkâr Kasrı, Darülkurra, Tomb, Arasta, Elementary-Primary School and a public fountain. Following the mosque, the “L” shaped Egyptian Bazaar constitutes the most important part of the külliye. The Egyptian Bazaar itself, comprising of specific groups of stores in particular, was mostly constructed with the intention of monetary assistance to a foundation. When the characteristic of the coastal line of Eminönü as a center of trade is taken into consideration, it would be fair to say that it was the best to exclude madrasa from the külliye arrangement; and to include the Egyptian Bazaar instead. Named as the Egyptian Bazaar shortly after its construction, it was inaugurated in 1663 – 1664.
The Egyptian Bazaar used to be called as the “New Bazaar” and “Valide Bazaar” by the historiographers of the 17th century. However it later earned reputation in mid-18th century with the name of “Egyptian Bazaar” as the spices and goods that were sold in the bazaar were mostly coming from Egypt. More commonly used compared to others, the name of “Egyptian Bazaar” is also read in the travel books of foreign travelers in referring to the structure. In Constantinople by Edmondo de Amicis dated 1874, the Egyptian Bazaar is described as follows: “Entering this, we are immediately assailed by an odour so powerful as to fairly knock one down: this is the Egyptian Bazaar, 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, stupefy smokers, and spread dreams, oblivion, and insensibility throughout the whole of the vast city. After going but a short distance in this bazaar your head begins to feel dull and heavy, and you get out of it as fast as you can; but the effect of that hot, close atmosphere and those penetrating odors clings long to your clothing, and remains for all time in your memory as one of the most vivid and characteristic impressions of the East.”
The Egyptian Bazaar was allocated between herbalists and cotton dealers when it was first constructed. 3 (Fish Bazaar, Mat and Linen Dealers) of the 6 gates were allocated to herbalists; and the rest (New Mosque, Haseki and Flower Market) to the cotton dealers. During that period, while 49 out of almost 100 stores were occupied by the herbalists; the rest by the cotton dealers and quilt makers. The names of the gates have changed in time as follows: Eminönü Gate / Yeni Cami Gate, Balık Pazarı Gate / Tahmis Gate / Hasırcılar Gate, Ketenciler Gate / Tahtakale Gate, Çiçek Pazarı Gate and Bahçe Gate. The master gates on both edges of the Egyptian Bazaar had been elevated on purpose to give impression in architectural terms. While the upper floors of the bazaar were used as Commercial Courts it is a known fact that in either of the edges there used to be Muslim judges handling the conflicts between tradesmen themselves and the public and tradesmen.
On the long branch of the bazaar there are 46 iwans and cells, 23 on each side; and on the short branch 36, 18 on each side. And on the intersection point of the two branches there are 6 iwans and cells, which sum up to 88 internal units in total. In the outside section of the bazaar which faces towards Tahmis street there are 18 stores. Both internal and external stores are covered with vault. When the stores in the Egyptian Bazaar were first constructed they were not in the form and shape as they are today; but consisted of two sections. While retail sale and presentation of spice containers were made in the wooden front section, the back section was used for storing and manufacturing purposes. During restoration, the walls with doors that tie iwans to the backrooms had been broken down and replaced by today’s stores. The wooden pull-down shutters used to be taken down at nights after closure. The space in front of the shops used be prinked up with wooden ornaments; and the spices be stored in glass jars, earthenware pots, wooden or tin cans of various shapes. In the eaves of some shops, there used to be a symbol (fire tower, a little boat, ostrich egg, scissors, tassel and etc.) to get easily recognized. With the assistance of those symbols, people could easily find the intended shop and give directions to others. On the doors of some shops there also used to be such symbols as ship models, ostrich egg, tassel and lantern. The reason behind the idea of symbols on certain parts of shops is that in case a customer buys a product from the Egyptian Bazaar and does not like it he or she can tell the others that I bought it from the shop in the Egyptian Bazaar with lantern or egg symbol on it. Therefore the shops in the Egyptian Bazaar would be recognized with the assistance of their unique symbols. Above all things, those symbols played a key position in the protection of the consumer rights.
The Egyptian Bazaar had two great fires throughout its history. Although not that large-scaled, the fire on 8th March 1688 was recorded on the books as follows: “The fire, which started in a tavern out of Balık Pazarı (Fish Market) Gate in the Golden Horn coast, jumped over the rampart and ever growingly stuck to the external area of the Valide Bazaar (the Egyptian Bazaar). In the external area of the Valide Bazaar, centering the Tahmis Street and leaving the Rüstem Pasha Mosque along the right side, the fire burned down all the inns, shops and cellars of wooden and masonry structure on its way…” Following the fire, while the wooden shops behind the walls of the bazaar (Tahmis Street) were destroyed the internal part of the bazaar did not take much damage. However in the fire set on January 1691 night almost the whole Egyptian Bazaar was burned down. Starting in one of the shops within the bazaar, the fire spread across the bazaar in a short span of time. Only a few shops with iron doors survived the fire which took hold of the whole bazaar area. Causing for major financial damages for the bazaar tradesmen, the fire lasted for two days and the Bazaar went to wrack and ruin.
In an engraving of Grelot’s travel book dated back to the late 17th century, the Egyptian Bazaar is reflected with the New Mosque surrounded by an outer court. According to that engraving, the sea front of the New Mosque, Hünkâr Mahfili and the Egyptian Bazaar was completely blocked by an external rampart and the only connection with sea was through a gate with ladder. According to some sources, that rampart was pulled down in the second half of 19th century as a result of the growing numbers of commercial buildings in that region. Only the castle on which the New Mosque Hünkâr Kasrı is settled remained standing out of those rampart walls covering all types of structures back in the days.
In the mid-19th century, there were spit-and-sawdust shops in the section between the court of the New Mosque and the Egyptian Bazaar. Even if those shops were shot down in the year of 1864 they reentered into service afterwards. The Egyptian Bazaar and the New Mosque were separated from each other with the road constructed within the court of the New Mosque in 1941. The Egyptian Bazaar went through an extensive restoration between the years of 1940 and 1943 by the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality. With the restoration of concern, it is thought that the structure lost its authenticity in terms of shop arrangement and area of usage. In the earlier original form of the bazaar, in each shop there would be the shelves where the products were exhibited and the iwan section where the ottoman couches which tradesmen would sit on took place; and a room behind the iwan which was two-times deeper than the front space with its closable wooden door. Those rooms were mostly utilized for storing purposes. The cell entrances formed a symmetric order with their positioning facing one another. With the last restoration the iwans were connected to the backrooms. The wooden sections separating rooms from iwans were removed; and the space which was once utilized for storing purposes was turned into shops.
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