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Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar Is Getting a Makeover

The bazaar has withstood at least seven fires and several major earthquakes

Shoppers walk down a corridor in Istanbul's fabled Grand Bazaar. (Bob Krist/Corbis )
smithsonian.com

Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is the world’s most-visited tourist attraction—a cacophony of haggling vendors and tempting goods. Its management estimates that it attracts more than 91 million visitors each year, all drawn by the unique experience of one of the world’s oldest covered markets. But in recent years, the bazaar has started to show its age. That’s about to change thanks to an upcoming facelift, reports the Agence France-Presse.

Structural problems and wear and tear have done a number on the bazaar, which was built around 1455. Filled with tunnel-like shops and vaulted hallways, it resembles an intricate maze. It’s big, too: Istanbul’s tourist bureau writes that it spans more than 333,000 square feet and employs upwards of 20,000 people.

The bazaar is known for its vaulted hallways filled with alcoves and shops. In recent years, the increasingly tourist-friendly focus of the bazaar has caused controversy. Some of its shopkeepers have been evicted to the chagrin of locals who say that that the government, which oversees the bazaar, is eroding its historic value.

That fiercely guarded history—and the huge size of the Grand Bazaar—will present quite a challenge to renovators. The AFP reports that it will likely take a decade and tens of millions of dollars to make over the bazaar, which will be funded both by shop owners and the city itself.

Not everyone is excited about the renovations. The Associated Press reports that some shopkeepers worry the restoration will not be faithful to the original. But though the bazaar seems timeless, it’s always been a dynamic place.

Just think back to its early days: The bazaar has been ravaged by at least seven major fires and multiple earthquakes in its day and it still stands, beckoning tourists and locals alike with the promise of one of the world’s most memorable and historic shopping experiences.

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