It seems incongruous in this age of motor transport that men can still earn a living acting as beasts of burden, but in the back streets of Istanbul they can and do.
After you’ve had your fill of the Grand Bazaar, and assuming you haven’t ended up weighed down with purchases, treat yourselves to a genuine exploration of the back streets of Istanbul where tourists rarely tread.
Simply take an exit from the back of the Bazaar and head down hill through the crowded streets. This is the area where working class Turks come to shop and is also the home to wholesalers of many products. Whole streets will be lined with shops selling socks, or Turkish wedding supplies, or party decorations – there is no end to the variety of goods you will see. Trick is to keep going down hill and eventually you will emerge somewhere in Eminonu at the bottom of the hill near the Golden Horn.
On the way look out for any old building entrance with ‘Han’ in the name over the door. The hans were the distribution points for goods brought to the city on camel or horseback in the old, pre-railway days. There are some very impressive Hans in this part of Istanbul and you should stumble across them if you head down hill through the back streets from the Bazaar. Don’t be shy, go in and have a look around. Many of them are pretty decrepit and almost all have had alterations so you have to look hard to find the original arched colonnades which usually formed the ground floor. No-one will mind you wandering around – you may be invited to take tea with some of the han’s current residents.
Another archaic feature still very much in evidence in this area are the porters or ‘hamals’. These are men who have a kind of saddle on their backs on which they carry loads, sometimes incredibly heavy loads. It seems incongruous in this age of motor transport that men can still earn a living acting as beasts of burden, but in the back streets of Istanbul they can and do.
By the way, if you have time, you can repeat this adventure taking a different exit from the Bazaar and, we guarantee, you’ll see a whole different set of crowded back streets with another set of characters and, as long as you keep heading downhill, you will emerge safely on the main road at the bottom.