Shops in Istanbul are officially open Monday to Saturday, 9:30am to 7pm. In practice though, it is rare that a shop in Sultanahmet will be closed on Sundays. Shops along Istiklal Caddesi are open on Sundays; shops in the passageways along Istiklal Caddesi (the Galatasaray Fish Market, for example) share the same hours as shops along Istiklal Caddesi and are open on Sundays.
Outdoor Markets -- Local markets offer a window into the vibrancy and color of the neighborhood, and provide a priceless experience in interaction with the locals. Istanbul has more than its fair share of outdoor markets, selling the usual assortment of fresh produce, household staples, sweatshirts, and maybe the odd antique. A walk through one of these provides yet another opportunity to witness another facet of this complex culture. The major markets are the Çarsamba Pazari ("Wednesday" market), held next to the Fatih Mosque, and the Sali Pazari ("Tuesday" market), Mahmut Baba Sokagi, Kadiköy on the Asian side. There is also a flea market between Sahaflar and the Grand Bazaar, and down at Eminönü every Sunday, and a daily antiques market in Horhor (Horhor Cad. Kirk Tulumba, Aksaray). With Feng Shui taking hold of the consciousness of Istanbul's upper crust, it's no surprise to see organic produce close behind. The Ekolojik Pazari, a new organic market in Feriköy (in the car park on Bomonti Cad., Lala Sahin Sok.; take the metro from Taksim to Osmanbey), fills the niche. It's open every Saturday from 8am to 5pm.
When in Istanbul, my days are filled with powwows with carpet dealers proud to show me the thank-you letters received from Washington, D.C., insiders, foreign dignitaries, and vacationing journalists. I could easily list a handful of stores where I go regularly for a cup of tea, but that wouldn't be fair to the shop owners that I have yet to meet. And just because I gave my business card to someone as a courtesy in passing doesn't mean that I endorse his (and in the rarest of cases, her) shop. In fact, just because I mention a shop in a previous edition of Frommer's Turkey doesn't necessarily mean I endorse them now.
Finding an honorable carpet seller is even more elusive than tracking down an honest car salesman. In a country where the minimum wage produces between 455YTL ($396/£173) per month, the business of selling carpets promises the equivalent of the American Dream, attracting the ambitious and sometimes immoral on the trail of easy money. This doesn't diminish the value of the carpets, nor does it mean that all carpet sellers are dishonest. In fact, Istanbul is full of carpet salesmen whose singular goal is to sell the finest quality, most beautiful specimens for the absolute highest price they can get. The challenge for the potential buyer is not so much about avoiding fakes and scams, it's about not getting scalped. This is, after all, a business. And it's your business to be an educated consumer.
My dilemma is that as soon as I recommend a carpet seller, you will automatically be at a disadvantage, because 1) you and many others will move heaven and earth to buy at this location, thus tipping the scales of demand in favor of the seller, and 2) the seller will therefore lose the incentive to compete. The result? You lose. So what's a shopper to do? Recognize that buying a carpet is an extremely labor- and time-intensive activity, and rest assured that these salesmen will find you. Your best, and only defense, is to go armed with the best information you can get, and to recognize in advance that no matter what you do, you're going to pay more than you should.
Deconstructing the Turkish Carpet -- Turkish tribal rugs are divided into kilims, which are flat, woven rugs, and carpets, which are hand-knotted using a double or Gordian Knot, a technique unique to Anatolia that results in a denser, more durable product than the single-knotted carpets found abroad. Kilims are probably more recognizable, as they are inexpensive and sold abroad.
Four types of carpets are currently produced in Turkey. Wool-on-wool carpets represent the oldest tradition in tribal rugs and are representative of a wide range of Anatolian regions. The earliest examples display geometric designs using natural dyes that were reliant on local resources like plants, flowers, twigs, and even insects, so that the colors of the carpets reflected the colors of an individual region. Blues and reds are typical of designs originating around Bergama, which derive from the indigo root and local insects. Reds seem to be dominant in carpets made in Cappadocia. The oranges and beiges of the Üsak's are also becoming more popular among consumers.
Today the business of carpet weaving has been transformed into a mass industry. Weavers have for the most part switched over to chemical-based dyes, although the tradition of organic dyes is experiencing a rebirth.
The second type of carpet is the highly prized silk-on-silk samples, which developed in response to the Ottoman Palace's increasing desire for quality and splendor. Silk was a precious commodity imported from China that few could afford. In the 19th century the sultan established a royal carpet-weaving center at Hereke that catered exclusively to the palace. Today silk-on-silk rugs continue to outclass all others, using silk from Bursa woven into reproductions of traditional designs. (Note: Silk threads cannot hold natural dyes.) Silk rugs are also produced in Kayseri, but these have yet to attain the high standards set by the Herekes.
A more recent development in carpet production has been the wool-on-cotton, which, because of the lower density of the weft, accommodates a higher ratio of knots per inch, and therefore more detail in the design. Carpets of this type come from Kayseri, Konya (Lakik), and Hereke. Cotton-on-cotton is an even newer invention, duplicating the resolution and sheen of a silk rug without the expense.
Sales tactics include an emphasis on Anatolian carpet and kilim weaving as a high art. This certainly applies to rare and older pieces, which command hefty sums. But modern samples -- albeit handmade copies of traditional designs -- are created from computerized diagrams.
Finally, unless you're an expert, you should avoid buying antique rugs, which cost significantly more, and will present some challenges with Customs. The bottom line is that only antiques experts are equipped for a proper appraisal.
Caveat Emptor! Carpet-Buying Tips -- "Where are you from?" seems an innocuous enough question from a carpet dealer, but answer it, and you're on your way to being scalped. Questions like "Where are you staying" actually tell the salesperson about your economic status, as do "What do you do?" (How much money do you earn?), "Where do you live?" (Hey what a coincidence! My cousin lives near you!), "How much time will you be staying here?" (How much time do you have before you have to make your final decision?), "What are you looking for" (Do you even have any idea about carpets?), and "How long have you been here?"(How much have you already learned about our sleazy ways?).
First rule of thumb: Lie about where you're staying. Take note of the name of the humblest pension near to your actual hotel, and file it away for future use. Also, they know that Americans are among the biggest spenders of any other nationality visiting Turkey, and easily one of those with the least bargaining prowess. This is where fluency in a foreign language may come in handy. Above all, do your homework and know what you like before you arrive so you don't waste precious bargaining time overpaying for the "best sample in the shop."
Visitors traveling in groups inevitably wind up at a large roadside production center. Although these are interesting from an educational and cultural point of view, don't be had: Your tour guide, your tour company, and, hell, the bus driver, are each going to earn a hefty commission off of your sale. (Actually, the same commission system applies to almost everything you buy.)
Yes, buying a carpet in Turkey can be a very daunting task. But this is not meant to diminish your admiration of the pieces, only to arm you for the negotiations, which ultimately will get you an exceptional souvenir of a wonderful country and its wonderful crafts.
Carpet Buying -- With consumer prices rising in Turkey, carpet vendors have been traveling far and wide to collect the less expensive Turkic carpets from Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Özbekistan, Afghanistan, and the other stans. Before you fork over thousands of dollars or pounds on one of these admittedly stunning pieces, compare prices at places like IKEA and at Worldstock, Overstock's site for global handicrafts (www.overstock.com).
Antiques & Collectibles
Objects dating to the Ottoman period make up a popular category for roving antiquers. As a rule, all items displayed can be legally purchased and exported to your home country (unless the piece is unique, in which case you need documentation from a museum director to buy it). Objects dated prior to the Ottoman period are considered fruit from the poisonous tree. Where carpets are concerned, the cutoff is 100 years -- you'll need a certificate from the shopkeeper stating the age, origin, and authenticity of the carpet. (This is standard practice anyway.) So if you're serious, your first stop should be the neighborhood along Çukurcuma in the extremely hilly neighborhood below Beyoglu and Taksim.
Something Smells Fishy -- Beware of anything labeled caviar. Turkey is notorious for its illegal trade in smuggled caviar, as well as for representing this lower-quality replacement fish roe as high-quality caviar using counterfeit labels copied from reputable brands.
Olive Oil: Anatolia's Black Gold -- Turkey's olive oil really doesn't get the kind of respect it deserves -- an absence of effective marketing has deprived the rest of the world of one of the country's most treasured resources. But that is changing, by the looks of the gourmet shop in the airport's duty-free area. If you've been bewitched by the flaxen temptress at the bottom of your meze bowl, pick up a bottle at any local convenience-type store. The grocery store chains carry some basic brands; opt for Komili.
Malls & Shopping Centers
You'd really have to have a lot of time on your hands in Istanbul to wind up at one of these shopping centers, but sometimes the lure of the fluorescent lighting and the chill of overtaxed air-conditioning is just too much to resist. The Akmerkez Mall, in Etiler, was actually voted the best shopping mall in Europe several years back. But clearly that wasn't enough: Last year saw the opening of Istinye Park, an urban re-creation of a village catering to those accustomed to the stratospheres of commerce. Even newer than Istinye Park is City, an indoor emporium of top brands (Gian Franco Ferre, Roberto Cavalli, D&G, Jean Paul Gaultier) in the tony neighborhood of Nisantasi. The outdoor Kanyon is only a couple of years old, a Guggenheim-esque swirl of tasteful Turkish franchises and one-of-a kinders in the smart neighborhood of Levent. Other shopping malls include Capitol Shopping Mall in Üsküdar, Carousel Shopping Mall in Bakirköy, and Galleria Shopping Mall near the airport. Olivium is a newish outlet mall located halfway between the airport and Sultanahmet, where you can find various middle-of-the-range name brands at discounted prices.
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