From www.myistanbulinfo.com | 11/6/2010 12:00:00 AM | Helen Simpson
While the Grand Bazaar maintains a kind of love-hate blend of chaos, inducing either panic or pleasure, the Arasta Bazaar in Sultanahmet is a calmer breed.
While the Grand Bazaar maintains a kind of love-hate blend of color and chaos, inducing either panic or pleasure in its shoppers, the Arasta Bazaar in nearby Sultanahmet is a calmer breed. This elegant open air shopping strip just down from the Blue Mosque is hallmarked by suave carpet sellers with greased hair and sharp wit.
The bazaar was built during the seventeenth century and functioned as stables for many years. A few fires later, it was largely forgotten and left to ruin. During the 1980s, the Istanbul General Directorate of Foundations got their act together and decided to convert it into the bazaar of today, while maintaining its most important historical elements. The income from the bazaar was used to subsidize the upkeep of the Blue Mosque which, at the time, was undergoing an extensive restoration project.
There are now a scattering of well-maintained shops on one main street of the bazaar, housing a selection of jewelry, handcrafts, music, antiques, ceramics, souvenirs, carpets and kilims. Though certainly not free from the “buyurun” (often mistranslated as “yes please”) bunch, there is an air of serenity about the place, at least by Istanbul standards, and the quality of goods tends to be high.
The rules of crazed bazaar shopping can be relaxed here; strides of feigned purpose and avoiding eye and window contact have no place at Arasta. Take it slowly, and enjoy the visual buffet. One morsel which shouldn’t be missed is Cocoon (No. 93), whose fitting slogan, “Seeing comes before words,” does justice to the bazaar in its entirety as well as to the store’s contents. Lining the window display is a vibrant collection of felt hats which resemble something E.T. would wear if he was an Uzbek from a future millennium.
The hats, which are a contemporary take on traditional tribal headwear, remain some of Cocoon’s best loved items and brighten up any bad mood. With other branches in Sultanahmet and in the Grand Bazaar, Cocoon has developed a reputation as one of Istanbul’s finest suppliers of Central Asian textiles and accessories, with a stunning collection of old and antique items.
Other places worthy of mention include Jennifer’s Hamam (No. 135), easily spotted by the large Canadian flag adorning the front. Run by Canadian expat Jennifer Gaudet, the store offers “everything for the Turkish bath and more,” including a large selection of pestemals, towels and accessories, made from sustainable, organic materials.
There are several carpet stores offering high quality goods, including Ernemet (No. 109), with its beautiful, oversized Ushak rugs, and other styles from all over Anatolia, Central Asia, Persia and the Caucasus. Further along – just past the Bazaar’s fountain – is Mehmet Çetinkaya Gallery (No. 151). This striking store is owned by a graduate of the Belgian Royal Academy and specializes in ethnographically and artistically significant weaving and textiles.
The end of Arasta Bazaar opens into a charming courtyard tea garden, complete with comfortable couches and immaculately dressed waiters. After a lazy day’s shopping, this is the perfect place to recline with hot tea and freshly cooked gözleme, or kind of crepe. An exotic bazaar experience of the best breed.
Address: Arasta Çarşısı, no. 107, Sultanahmet
Phone: 212 516 07 33