Take a deep breath and plunge into this maze of 65 winding, covered streets crammed with 4,000 tiny shops, cafés, restaurants, mosques, and courtyards. It's said that this early version of a shopping mall is the largest concentration of stores under one roof anywhere in the world, and that's easy to believe; it's also easy to believe that some of the most aggressive salesmanship in the world takes place here, which is why you should take that deep breath and also put up your guard before entering. Oddly enough, though, the sales pitches, the crowds, and the sheer volume of junky trinkets on offer can be hypnotizing, and you'll probably find it hard to spend less than a couple of hours wandering through the maze. Originally built by Mehmet II (the Conqueror) in 1461 over the main Byzantine shopping streets, the Grand Bazaar was ravaged twice by fire in relatively recent years—once in 1954 when it was almost destroyed, and previously in 1943, in a smaller conflagration. In both cases,
the bazaar was quickly rebuilt into something resembling the original style, with its arched passageways and brass-and-tile fountains at regular intervals.
The amazingly polylingual sellers are all anxious to reassure you that you do not have to buy...just drink a glass of tea while you browse through leather goods, carpets, fabric, clothing (including counterfeit brand names), brassware, furniture, ceramics, and gold and silver jewelry. A sizable share of the goods are trinkets tailored for the tourist trade, but a separate section for antiques at the very center of the bazaar, called the iç bedestan—once a secure fortress in the heart of the bazaar for the most expensive items—always has some beautiful items on offer; look for the double-headed Byzantine eagle over the door. Outside the western gate of the bazaar and through a doorway is the Sahaflar Çarşısı, the Old Book Bazaar, where you can buy new editions as well as antique volumes in Turkish and other languages. Remember, whether you're bargaining for a pair of shoes or an antique carpet, the best prices are offered when the would-be seller thinks you are about to slip away.
To help find your way around, look at the signs overhead, which state where you are and what streets and exits are in which direction—though you'll inevitably get lost, so don't worry too much.