Old Constantinople was an artist’s dream of a city with its skyline of minarets and there are a fabulous range of original and reproduction old maps and prints that you can hang on your wall as a daily reminder of your travels. There are also plenty of reproductions of Ottoman miniatures and illuminated manuscript illustrations on sale. Prices for an original map or drawing can skyrocket into 500TL or beyond depending on rarity but the reproductions are much more wallet-friendly. If you buy frame-less you can easily pick up a small piece of art for around 20TL. It’s also much lighter and easier to carry if you purchase this way.
Look out for fine pencil drawings of the city’s panorama looking over the Bosporus and for Ottoman miniatures with scrolling calligraphy work and vibrant colours depicting traditional court scenes from the lives of the sultans. As well as reproductions and old prints there has been a revival in miniature as an art-form in recent years and there are some excellent original modern works being produced.
Where to buy old maps and prints
The Istanbul Handicrafts Market (Kabasakal Caddesi, next-door to the Yesil Ev Hotel, Sultanahmet) is a good place to look for reasonably priced miniatures. The best hunting grounds for quality art (both old original pieces and reproductions) are across the Galata Bridge in the Tunel and Cukurcuma districts.
Artrium (Tunel Square, Tunel; open Mon-Sat 0900-1900) has a wonderful range of miniatures, prints and maps to browse through.
Ottomania (Sofyali Sokak, Tunel; open Mon-Sat 0900-1800) has plenty of old maps and cheaper prints that would make stunning souvenirs for your walls.
Glinting copper pots and bowls and jugs are stacked up metres high outside merchant’s stores. Whether newly made or old, there’s a huge amount of copperware to choose from in Istanbul and all of it is handmade. Copper samovars and water jugs make great shelf decorations to jazz up your kitchen or living room with but be aware that if you actually want to utilise your copper for cooking or serving (rather than just have it looking pretty on a shelf) you need to purchase the more expensive internally tinned versions. It’s also possible to get your copperware purchases tinned yourself (the copper merchant you’re buying from can point you in the right direction or can organise this himself).
Prices depend on size, workmanship and age. There’s a vast amount of antique copperware to be bought as well as new. You could pick up a small piece for as low as 10TL-15TL but bigger old pieces with excellent workmanship can fetch well over 100TL.
Where to buy copperware
A copperware search should begin at the Grand Bazaar (off Cadircilar Caddesi, Beyazit; open Mon-Sat 0830-1900). The two best sections within the bazaar for copper are the Ic Bedestan (off Konlancilar Caddesi if coming from Kurkculer Gate) and the Cebeci Han (off Yaglikcilar Caddesi).
L’Orient Handicrafts (Ic Bedestan, Grand Bazaar; open Mon-Sat 0830-1900) is one of the city’s most knowledgeable antique metal-ware dealers and his shop is a treasure-trove of teapots, pitchers, trays, bowls and bells.
Felt making is alive and well once more in Turkey thanks to a revival of interest in the fuzzy fabric as a funky material to be used in the manufacture of slippers, accessories, clothing and toys. Totally quirky and original handmade gifts of dolls, shawls and outrageously cool hats as well as fun jewellery are just a few of the felt gifts that can be picked up in the city. A cute felt bangle will cost about 20TL while a one-off hat that will have heads turning, or a pair of colourful slippers, will cost about 60TL.
Felt making is an ancient textile practice and its earliest application as a fabric was in Anatolia. During the late Ottoman period the traditional turban was replaced by the felt-made fez as the male headgear of choice but the nation’s once bustling felt industry fell on hard times in the early days of the Republic when the fez was banned by Ataturk.
Where to buy felt
Cocoon (Kucuk Aya Sofya Caddesi, Cankurtaran, Sultanahmet; open daily 0900-1930) is a drop-dead gorgeous store full of sumptuous textiles including an excellent range of felt products.
Ak Gumus (Gani Celebi Sokak, Grand Bazaar; open Mon-Sat 0900-1830) is a cute little place stuffed to the brim with felt hats and delightful felt toys as well as stocking a range of jewellery.
Art.I.Choke (Faikpasa Sokak, Cukurkuma, Taksim; Mon-Sat 1000-1900) is a felt buyer’s delight with a huge array of slippers, accessories, clothing and homewares all in bright colourful designs.
This city’s architecture boasts many a fine example of sumptuous Arabic calligraphy work and despite the script no longer being used for the Turkish alphabet the art-form is far from dead. The arabesque scrolling motifs and stylised lettering of Arabic calligraphy made into swirling patterns make highly original and surprisingly contemporary works of art to take home and frame. You can pick up a small piece of calligraphy art for as little as 15TL but obviously, as with all artwork, some of the more original and detailed larger pieces will have much higher price-tags.
The Turkish language was written in Arabic script up to 1929 when Ataturk, the founder and first President of the new Republic of Turkey, introduced an entirely new Latin script as the basis for Turkish. As an art-form though, Arabic calligraphy has continued to flourish with Turkey producing some of the most revered names in Arabic calligraphy in modern times.
Where to shop for calligraphy
The Istanbul Handicrafts Market (Kabasakal Caddesi, next-door to the Yesil Ev Hotel, Sultanahmet) has a range of calligraphy on display and you can watch the artists as they work as well. You’ll also find lots of calligraphy work for sale in the Grand Bazaar (off Cadircilar Caddesi, Beyazit; open Mon-Sat 0830-1900) and across the Galata Bridge in the Tunel and Cukurcuma districts.
The taste of Turkey for me is pomegranate sauce – wickedly sour-sweet and layered over a Turkish salad of chopped tomatoes, cucumber and parsley or dribbled liberally over lahmacan. For others it’s a deliciously sweet cup of apple tea served piping hot in a delicate tulip glass, or the decadent ropes of dried figs and plump dried apricots eaten with walnuts, or the strangely addictive bowls of salty olives for breakfast.
Turkey is a foodie’s delight and plenty of the preserved goods can be brought back home so you can experience a little taste of Turkey every day. Turkish apple tea is always popular with visitors and won’t set you back more than 5TL which make it a budget-friendly gift as well. Dried fruit and the chewy sheets of flattened dried apricots are also good value. Most preserves (such as honey, pomegranate sauce etc) will only set you back between 3TL-10TL depending on size.
Where to buy Turkish preserves and foodstuffs
The Egyptian Spice Market (Eminonu Square, opposite Eminonu Quay, Eminonu; daily 0830-1830) is one of the best places to pick up dried fruits, jars of honey and other preserves. The hilly narrow streets of the Tahtakale district (behind the Egyptian Spice Market) are another area packed full of surprises for foodies. Products like apple tea can be bought in any supermarket or at any of the souvenir shops which line Alemdar Caddesi (from Sirkeci up to the Aya Sofya) and Divan Yolu Caddesi (from the Aya Sofya up to Beyazit tram stop).
Vefa Bozacisi (Katip Celebi Caddesi, behind Sarachane Park, open daily 0800-2400) may be a little out of the way but is the place to come to pick up bottles of pomegranate sauce and vinegars.
Backgammon (tavla) boards
The lovely wooden backgammon boards inlaid with mother-of-pearl that you’ll see everywhere in the city make a great souvenir for any difficult to buy for people in your life and the smaller boxes are also easy to pack away and light to carry. You can pick up small boxes for as little as 5TL but be aware that the cheaper models all use plastic for the inlay not mother-of-pearl. Real mother-of-pearl inlay work takes time and costs money so if you want the real deal expect to part with at least 30TL.
Backgammon as a board game originally spread to Turkey from Mesopotamia and its roots can be traced back to about 5000 years ago which makes it the oldest recorded board game in the world. In Turkey it is an extremely popular pastime and the clack of backgammon counters and the clatter of rolling dice is the soundtrack to an evening of cafe hopping.
Where to buy backgammon boards
You’ll find a huge variety of backgammon boards of all sizes and qualities for sale in the shops that line Alemdar Caddesi (from Sirkeci up to the Aya Sofya) and Divan Yolu Caddesi (from the Aya Sofya up to Beyazit tram stop) as well as in the Grand Bazaar (off Cadircilar Caddesi, Beyazit; open Mon-Sat 0830-1900) and the Arasta Bazaar (behind the Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet; open daily 0900-2100).
If you’ve whiled away a few hours, during your Turkey travels, relaxing in a cafe while puffing on a nargile (a hookah or water-pipe) you might want to take one home. There are several sizes to choose from ranging from tiny ornamental models to the larger, two foot tall, nargile such as the cafes use. Luckily all the components can be unscrewed and packed into a nifty bag so it’s not unwieldy to carry. Costs vary on size and workmanship. A small one for ornamental purposes will cost about 10TL. Larger models start at around 70TL. You can find some absolutely gorgeous nargile with hand-painted glass base, engraved bowl and windscreen and decorated hose which are real statement pieces.
Nargile smoking is thought to have its origins in Persia (modern-day Iran) and has a long history in Turkey. Today it continues to be a pastime for both young and old. The tobacco comes in plenty of fruit-flavours with apple (elma) being particularly popular.
Where to shop for nargile
Alemdar Caddesi (from Sirkeci up to the Aya Sofya) and Divan Yolu Caddesi (from the Aya Sofya up to Beyazit tram stop) as well as in the Grand Bazaar (off Cadircilar Caddesi, Beyazit; open Mon-Sat 0830-1900) and the Arasta Bazaar (behind the Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet; open daily 0900-2100) all host plenty of shops selling nargile.