The Hidden Hans of Istanbul

I found a fascinating book about Istanbul, called "Istanbul's Bazaar Quarter - Backstreet Walking Tours", by Ann Marie Mershon and Edda Renker Weissenbacher. The book explores the hidden Hans around the area of the Grand Bazaar. The Hans were small caravansaries within the city walls, where travellers and merchants could safely spend the night, along with their pack animals.

Typically, a Han is an open courtyard, surrounded by rooms on two or three levels. The upper floors were usually for lodgings, or for workrooms, while the ground floor was used for stabling, or for storing merchandise. Today, the rooms are used as shops, or for artisans practicing a wide variety of crafts.

There are 4 different walks outlined in the book, and I intend to explore all of them eventually. My first walk was the one behind the Grand Bazaar. Although we passed all the Hans mentioned in this particular walk, we didn't go into all of them, because of time restraints.

The entrance steps to the Zincirli Han. It is difficult to believe that the noise
and bustle of the Grand Bazaar is only a few steps away from this peaceful oasis!

We began at the Zincirli Han, which is inside the Grand Bazaar itself. This picturesque Han dates back to the end of the 18th century, and is often overlooked by the hoards of tourists passing by, scouring for bargains.

Notice the ancient stones in the  Zincirli Han's courtyard

The Ottoman fountain in the middle of the Zincirli Han,
which is still in use today.


 The Kizlar Agasi Han, or Eunuch's Han.
Note the original fountain to the left, and the Sultan's seal above.

Another interesting Han is the Kizlar Agasi Han, or Eunuch's Han. This was built by Sultan Mahmut I's chief
eunuch, who also built a mosque near the Topkai Palace. The rent paid by travellers staying there, would
probably have been his retirement pension. Each Han tends to have its own specialty, and this one's is in
melting gold, and producing ribbons and wires of it, ready to make into jewellery.

This, the Hidiv Han, is interesting because it was built by Ali Pasa, the Viceroy of Egypt,
and later donated to the Red Crescent, who now receive all the income from rents.

The outer courtyard of the Sağir Han

We were intrigued as to why one of the Hans was called the Sağir Han, as the word "sağir" means "deaf" in
Turkish. It wasn't difficult to understand, however, once we reached the top of the outside staircase, and heard the clatter of the machines spinning thread onto reels. The noise really was deafening!

The noisy workshop in the Sağir Han

One of the quieter workshops in the Sağir Han.
This man is an expert dyer. He dyes buttons to match fabrics exactly

The entrance to the Buyuk Valide Han

But my favourite Han is the Buyuk Valide Han. It is One of the most popular Hans to visit, mainly because of the amazing view from its roof.

View of the Galata Bridge and the Yeni Camii, from the roof
of the Buyuk Valide Han

The view from the other side of the Yeni Camii.
You can see all the way down to the Bosphorus Bridge.

Before getting access to the roof, you have to find the caretaker with the keys

The word "valide" means "mother", and refers to the mother of both Sultan Murat IV, and his successor Sultan Ibrahim, who commissioned the building of the Han. On entering, the Han looks dark and forbidding, but everyone we encountered was welcoming, and were happy to show us their workshops.

One workshop specialises in these beautiful, hand-made lamps

It is fun to visit the workshops and see the many craftsmen at work

If ever you are in Istanbul, take time to explore my blog first, so you can visit those parts of the city most other tourists don't get to see!

Elizabeth Coughlan

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