Istanbul – The Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market

The Gold Bullion Dealer

Midday – the air is sultry and still in the little back office on the upper level of the galleried courtyard of the Jewellery Quarter. The proprietor has succumbed to the gentle arms of sleep after a little too much lunch. His family look down on him with a benign gaze from their simple frames above his desk. Apart from the specialist calibrated weighing scales, which somewhat resemble a microwave oven, there is little evidence to prove his occupation but I dared not enter to investigate.

The Sleeper

Meanwhile, on the ground floor the Tea Boy is setting off yet again with a metal tray of six tea glasses, each with its own spoon, set out in a circle, accompanied by a  dish of sugar cubes and carried from a brass hoop.  He is supplying all the tiny stalls in the vicinity, being paid in red and orange plastic tokens, some square, some round, thrown down on his tray or left for him on the clutter of a window sill by a stall-holder occupied with a customer.

tea boy

His father makes the tea and washes the glasses in their diminutive kitchen,  his younger brother is the apprentice, fetching and carrying and getting under their feet. The equipment is ranged within easy arm’s reach, every single thing in its right place except for the electrical cables which swoop and swerve like a trails of birds.

teaboy 2In another sector of the bazaar there is a narrow alleyway between the arcaded shops, which mostly goes unnoticed by the shoppers dazzled by the wares on offer all around. In this alley the walls have been polished by bodies that have bustled through the corridor going about their business, now they reflect all comings and goings of the traders and the changing light.  A tea boy enters the alley and sees me lurking with my camera at the opposite end, he signals to me, at first I see it as a dance-like gesture, its only when I review the image later I realise he is saying “Yeah, take my photo!”  He stops when he reaches me and I show him his photograph, “verry niiice” he says in a rich Turkish accent, smiles and nods and is gone before the tea gets cold.

Istanbul if full of people with striking faces, out of the ordinary types, women with narrow faces and dark eyes, men with black hair but eyes the colour of the sea.

This man’s face is so familiar, it seems to come straight from the Sunday School bibles of my youth, faded posters in church hallways and mosaics in lofty church vaults. And yet he is a modern man, an animated spice salesman with his perfect cones of colourful powders to accommodate every culinary and medicinal requirement.


This proud figure striding through the market caught my eye, she’s not browsing through bags or scarves or rugs, she is purposeful. She and her daughter make a bright and colourful image even in this multicoloured world of the bazaar.


This young girl is not yet old enough to be wearing the hijab, she must be an expert at reading her mother’s eyes without seeing her full expression – she is watching her so intently. eyes

In the square near the Spice Market sits a woman reading, each day she comes here for an hour or so’s peace from her busy life serving others. Here she can hide amongst the crowds and let herself be transported into other worlds through the books she reads. Her daughter supplies her with volumes left behind by tourists in the hotel where she works. Lets call her Ajda, over the years she has taught herself English, French and German,  she has read  some of the great writers and many of the more populist novels – The Beach, Harry Potter and more. Sometimes she is joined by her daughter and her grandchildren but they leave her alone to enjoy her own secret travels.

The Other Reader

Istanbul – The Galata Bridge

The Galata Bridge bears witness to all sorts of stories every day, little dramas and patterns of activity. Tucked away under the start of the bridge and the below the road, is a dismal, dirty corner where a boy sits on a tan leatherette-covered chair, the same colour as his arms. He sits reversed on the chair, using the high back as a chin-rest whilst he reads the paper. Perhaps he is a guarding something that is not apparent at first sight or maybe he is just whiling away time. A little further along a figure sits leaning against a red electrical supply box, one leg up on the concrete ledge, the other supporting him on the floor. He is asleep, he has been asleep for some time, hoping to pass a few more hours in oblivion. deadtime

I return the next day curious to know more, I find the same dark corner, the same chair but a different boy and another figure in place of the sleeping man.
another boy

The elaborate  ironwork, once a delicate sea green is rusting and stained now and has become a collector of forgotten items.


Fishing is a universal sport wherever there is water but here especially as the water is deep and full of mackerel, eel and mullet.  Amateurs and experienced fishermen crowd the balustrades catching around 76 tonnes of fish per year.


Below the road and tram-way there is a lower level full of restaurants and bars, quiet in the mornings and raucous at night with revellers singing and dancing after they have dined.

new Mosque

At FISH POINT, one of the four identical staircases,  a third of the way over on the East side, the waiter gesticulating whilst talking on his mobile phone is annoyed because he has no customers, the boy on the stairs can’t find his friends, they’re probably on the opposite side of the bridge. The women looking out to sea – are they wondering what it would be like to sail away to foreign lands. Meanwhile the back wall under the sign of Fish Point, is protected by buffers which appear to be gigantic McVities shortbread biscuits.fishpoint

Along the centre of the bridge at this lower level runs a service corridor, a functional, dour place lit by fluorescent tubes and yet two men choose to spend their lunchtime break there rather than on the outside. service corridor

On the other side of the bridge I see a boy cowering on the steps, crying. I wonder if he belongs to the woman in the foreground or the man behind but later I pass by again and he’s still there. In London a boy alone at that age would be a worry but in Istanbul children are everywhere out on the streets selling trinkets or guide-books. I do wish I had spoken to him though.

lost boy

I stood for quite a while watching people climb these stairs, their heads would appear and disappear tauntingly, some shorter people visible at the bottom, only reappeared right at the top once they were back on the flat.


Galata Bridge, looking back to the New Mosque, in a previous incarnation around 1910, much lower and made of wood. There are no trams, no cars and no horses, I presume like in present day crowded hilly bustling Istanbul, most local movement of goods is done by men with carts, trolleys or shoulders.

Galata Bridge, Istanbul (Constantinople)

Istanbul – The Nut Boys

Nut BoysThese two brothers arrived at the bottom of the market street around midday and set up their stall. They’d obviously spent the morning preparing their bags of cobb nuts for sale, taking each nut from its fringed greenery and putting them into paper bags for 2 TL each bag. I bought some and tried to ask them where they were from but they spoke no English and I have no Turkish. We sat in a cafe nearby eating the delicious fresh nuts, probably picked earlier in the day as the green fronds were not at all limp. Later I wandered over again and asked if I could take their photos. They were happy for me to do so but I couldn’t get them to smile. I was struck by how alike they were, their faces and body language, the only difference was their height.



Visiting Istanbul with a camera has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me. I have been establishing which kind of images I really want to capture and have come to the conclusion that although the architecture is of course sublime, it is the people that have drawn me in.
Here are a few of my favourite scenes, some may inspire me to write stories others are simply enough in themselves.

The Reader

The Other Reader

The Sleeper

That face