The Bazaars of Istanbul by Isabel Bocking – review

Many thousands of tourists visit Turkey every year. They bask on the beaches, perhaps hire a boat for a holiday afloat and enjoy grilled fish in seaside restaurants. They have a glimpse of Turkey and its people but it is, in fact, just a meeting with the modern globalized facade – a shadow of a rich and ancient culture.

Book review The Bazaars of Istanbul The Bazaars of Istanbul marvellously captures these narrow shopping streets in both photograph (300 colour illustrations) and vivid description. Its 200 or so pages hold a wealth of images of both past and present and show why the bazaars are still, to this day, so captivating.

The authors Isabel Bocking, Laura Salm-Reifferscheidt and Moritz Stipsiez bring history to life as they chart the changing fortunes of the bazaars. They weave a colourful tapestry of turmoil, intrigue, craftsmanship and industry.

Istanbul straddles East and West. It has held strategic importance in many a war and revolution and has lost much of its exotic charm over the centuries, but it still has lots to offer those who are looking for disappearing vestiges of former glory. It’s still there to be discovered and relished.

The city has many bazaars, the most celebrated being the Grand Bazaar. This has been the venue for buying and selling goods from the far reaches of the world for more than 550 years. For those of us who are more used to seeing shop signs boasting “established in 1991” that’s quite impressive!

The bazaar is called Grand because that is exactly what it is. It contains nearly 3500 individual shops, 40 warehouses and has 61 streets and alleys. You’ll be advised to take a map with you (one thoughtfully provided in this book) or, if lost, ask directions from one of the 25,000 (yes, 25,000) people who work there. It’s likely you’ll find a shop assistant when you need one.

The Bazaar has evolved over the centuries. It has been ravaged by fire and earthquake. Many of its original features have been lost but there have also been moves to protect those which remain, and to ensure that the Grand Bazaar does not represent just an extremely big Mall selling designer fakes (they are here in abundance) from neon-garnished boutiques.

There is still plenty to delight the discerning shopper who wants to have a truly Turkish experience. There are rugs to admire. This volume has a page dedicated to the symbols found on authentic Turkish rugs. Take a cup of coffee or tea with the shopkeeper and ask questions. He will undoubtedly want to sell you a carpet but he will likely be equally enthusiastic about telling you of the history of his business.

The Bazaars of Istanbul will have you drooling at the objects on sale. Yes, there are tacky tee-shirts but there are lots of handicrafts still to be found. Leather work, ceramics, intricate metal work, jewellery and prayer beads all compete for the buyer’s attention. Visit a Turkish bath, smoke a traditional water pipe, a hookah, and have a genuinely Turkish meal. The authors even give a selection of recipes for you to replicate the experience in your own home.

The Egyptian Bazaar (only 350 years old!) is the place that will draw you like a magnet if you are a consummate foodie. Here you will find those evocative piles of spices that we so associate with eastern emporia. There are dried fruits and more importantly, tea and coffee. There are many sayings woven around each of these drinks. Of tea it is said, ‘A conversation without tea is like a night without a moon.’ A somewhat less romantic saying about coffee runs ‘Coffee should be as hot as a girl’s first kisses, as sweet as a night in her arms, and as black as the curses of the mother when she finds out.’

The Bazaars of Istanbul is a sumptuous volume which gives a real flavour of the most fascinating part of one of the world’s most fascinating cities. A must for anyone who has already visited or who plans to visit Istanbul.

Book review: The Bazaars of Istanbul
Authors: Isabel Bocking, Laura Salm-Reifferscheidt and Moritz Stipsiez
Published by: Thames and Hudson
Price: £35.00
ISBN 978-0-500-51447-4


Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018