January 07, 2015

Forgotten Gems Abound in İstanbul’s Old City

The lower end of the old city is loaded with interesting shopping opportunities that offer an escape from the banality of the shopping mall and the packed, touristy feel of the Egyptian and Grand Bazaars. Amid the winding labyrinth of Tahtakale lies Şark Han, informally known as the Chinese Bazaar due to its heavy concentration of Chinese-made goods. Şark Han is a paradise for collectors of cheap knick-knacks, with floor after floor of unusual gift possibilities. The Tahtakale Commerce Center -- or Electronics Sellers' Bazaar -- housed in a beautiful century-old building with slightly compromised integrity due to its soulless modern sign, is a one-stop-shop for electronic needs. In the corner on the ground floor there is even a shop selling sunglasses and umbrellas, polar opposite products that indicate the desire of the proprietor to remain seasonally competitive.

Tahtakale's compact streets are full to the brim with shops selling jewelry materials, curious storefronts that shower one's field of vision with the gleaming multi-colored hues of beads and tassels. A stark overabundance of small stands selling fake Viagra and similar contraband makes one wonder about the actual demand for such products, or if there is something else going on behind the scenes.

The area is architectural splendor that is home to hundreds of gorgeous century-old buildings that are mostly ignored or even totally vacant. The Deutsche Orient Bank building, or Germania Hanı located past Tahtakale toward Sirkeci on the other side of the Egyptian Bazaar, is one of İstanbul's underrated heroes and looks to be completely unoccupied save for an overzealous hustler of cheap umbrellas operating from its front steps. The elegant art nouveau building is topped with a melancholy turquoise dome that charmingly accentuates the old city skyline and stands out while observing the view from a Bosporus ferry.

It was designed by August Jachmund, a German architect better known for being behind the nearby Sirkeci train station. Jachmund and his apprentice Kemaleddin Bey, who blossomed into a renowned architect in his own right, are responsible for a wealth of architectural splendor in the area. Kemaleddin designed the adjacent İstanbul Birinci Vakıf Hanı building, as well as the İstanbul Dördüncü Vakıf Hanı, which now houses the five-star Legacy Ottoman hotel.

Past the İstanbul Dördüncü Vakıf Hanı is the Nazifpaşa Optometrists' Passage, featuring several stories of kiosks where one can pick out a pair of frames, haggle for the price and go home with their new spectacles the same day. Nearby is the Doğubank İş Hanı, a sparkly, hallucination-inducing gadget depository selling laptops, flat-screen TVs and robotic vacuum cleaners that look like R2D2's cousin.


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