Istanbul’s 560-year old Grand Bazaar holds first ever board election

Istanbul’s 560-year old Grand Bazaar holds first ever board election

Istanbul’s 560-year old Grand Bazaar holds first ever board election

CİHAN photo

Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest surviving shopping centers in the world, has a new president and board following the first elections in its nearly six-century history. 

The election over the weekend came at a time when the discussion over renovating the facility, a top tourism spot in the city, has heated up. 

The Grand Bazaar has been named the “most valuable spot” in Istanbul, with rent worth around $3,500 per square meter per month, a study by Turkey’s Eva Real Estate Valuation Consultancy revealed in August last year. 

“The Grand Bazaar is one of the most characteristic and oldest bazaars of the world … The Grand Bazaar has always been very popular for centuries, so the rents there are much higher than the rents in other districts,” said Eva CEO Cansel Turgut Yazıcı.

The bazaar boasts stores that sell many traditional goods, while it is also the heart of the gold market in the country.

Police forcefully evicted the renters of several shops inside the historic Grand Bazaar in April last year, just one day after detaining 20 shop owners who refused to leave the bazaar in protest at a renovation project. 

Some 80 shops inside the Sandal Bedesten section of the Grand Bazaar were evicted by riot police on April 22, 2015.

The last major restoration of the complex took place in 1980. Fatih Municipality and the businesses in the facility have been bargaining over a new and large restoration to both give the bazaar a facelift and renew parts that are at risk of collapse. 

Atilla Saraç, the head of an association that represents the tradespeople in the facility, told Hürriyet last month that they expected the restoration to start in January or February. The efforts could take up to five years and local authorities and the Culture Ministry will help in financing the project, he said. 

The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest covered markets in the world with 22 gates, 64 streets and 3,600 shops on nearly 31,000 square meters of land. It is one of the most recognizable and popular tourist attractions on Istanbul’s historic peninsula, attracting between 300,000 and 400,000 visitors a day. 

The construction of the bazaar’s core begin in 1455, just two years after the Ottomans captured Istanbul from the Byzantines, and it was the market for cloth sellers. It developed soon, hosting many other craftsmen and was turned into a foundation to support the Hagia Sophia Mosque.

Guilds, or lonca associations in Turkish, used to control the artisans or merchants in the bazaar during the Ottoman era, as this was the case for all cities under the empire. 

In 2012, the roof of the Grand Bazaar hosted a motorcycle chase scene in the James Bond movie “Skyfall,” triggering concerns about possible damage. During shooting, a 400-year-old wooden building in the bazaar was damaged when the motorcycles that were passing in front of a jewelry shop missed the corner and hit it.
Some 2,461 shop owners in the bazaar were authorized to vote for the first-ever elected management of the facility over the weekend, but the turnout stood at 1,232. 

A list by Ahmet Kökler of the gold company AGG Altın Group won the election with 928 votes, beating his sole rival, another gold businessman, Ali Nezih Yargılı. 

Nine members of the new board will be supplied by Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Fatih Municipality, the General Directorate for Foundations and the Istanbul Governor’s Office.

“The Eiffel Tower in Paris has an 11-member board even though there are no shops in the building,” said Fatih Mayor Mustafa Demir in his inauguration at the election, noting that the bazaar was among the most visited places on earth. 

Speaking before the elections, Kökler said the initiative aimed at solving problems of the bazaar and protecting the site’s historic heritage.