Most visitors to Istanbul will find themselves in a market sooner or later, and while shopping meccas like this are my idea of hell, there is one little known aspect to them that are well worth seeking out; the hans. And when I say seek, I do really mean seek, because if you didn’t know they were there, well, you wouldn’t know they were there.
Long ago the hans functioned as small inns, places where the travelling merchants who supplied the markets with goods from far and wide would stay for a night or two. These days they are workshops for what’s left of Istanbul’s craftsmen. If you’re brave enough to wander down passages off the main isles in places like The Grand Bazaar, The Spice Bazaar and the Old City Market, you’ll no doubt soon find yourself in a han. Here you’ll get to see workshops where men practice skills passed down for centuries to make textiles, shishas and probably most of the items you’ll see for sale out in the main thoroughfares of the markets.
While the hans are not exactly sign posted for tourists to find, don’t be shy, there’s nothing stopping you walking around and having a look. Some people will be busy and not want to be approached, but if you whip out a smile and a hello, many will be happy to show you what they are doing and let you take a photo. These men are true artists and their skills are dying out, almost as quickly as the hans themselves are. With parts of a roof missing here, chunks of a wall falling apart there, there’s such an ancient and authentic feel to them, but they certainly wouldn’t be passing any health and safety checks.
The han in the pictures above is called The Great Mother Han and it’s found in amongst the chaos of the Old Town market. I was shown how to get there by a local, so unfortunately have no idea how to explain it to you. Just look out for any old passage and see where you end up. You might even find your very own as yet undiscovered han.