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  • Writer's pictureTerry Richardson

A Brief History of the Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı) in Istanbul

What is the Spice Bazaar?

The Spice Bazaar is a multi-domed, covered market built in the 17th century that still throngs with busy shoppers.

Spice Bazaar

Robot8A, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Spice Bazaar History

Constructed as part of the New Mosque complex, the Spice Bazaar was completed at some point in the 1660s following a great fire which had reduced much of the old city to ashes in July 1660.

An elegant L-shaped building set close to the bustling waterfront of the Golden Horn, the Spice Bazaar is divided into 88 vaulted rooms, with arched entrance ways at either end. The architect was Koca Kasim Ağa, an Ottoman of Albanian origin who had worked closely with the great master architect, Sinan. The patron of the entire complex, including the Spice Bazaar, was Valide Sultan Turhan Hatice, mother of Sultan Mehmed IV.

In Turkish, the Spice Bazaar is known as Mısır Çarşısı. Mısır has twin meanings: ‘Egypt’ and ‘corn’. It’s likely that the Turkish name arises from the fact it was endowed with customs duties raised in Cairo, Egypt, a major source of spices for the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Alternatively, as the part of the city where the Spice Bazaar would later be built had been a corn trading district in the Byzantine period, it’s also possible that it’s named after its location.

Today, the softly lit bazaar continues to sell the spices which have made it so famous, with colourful and aromatic mounds of cumin, coriander, turmeric and chilli flakes piled high in front of the dozens of shops competing for business. Other items that might draw your eyes include pistachios and walnuts, strings of dried peppers and aubergines, Turkish delight, sugared almonds and honey.

The streets around the bazaar are equally enticing to shoppers, with long queues forming outside Istanbul’s most famous purveyor of coffee, Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi, right beside the western entry to the Spice Bazaar, and shoppers jostling to buy the best value and most delicious olives, cheeses and dried fruits from stalls lining the outside of the market.

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