Istanbul: crawling across the rooftops of Büyük Valide Han

Buyuk Valide HanIf anyone doubts that Istanbul is a city in which having the sense of adventure and exploration is still posible, simply enter the maze of streets and lanes that extend and branch out as a large open market communicating the Grand Bazaar with Tahtakale market. The whole city is plenty of curious places and full of history that will be at your fingertips if you dare to leave the beaten track, crossing the passage leading away from the bustle, entering into that courtyard that can be glimpsed in the background or climbing the stone steps you do not know well where it will lead you to. They are spaces that seem to mimic among the many shops and people crowding the streets, so if you are not seeking them will go unnoticed.

Of course, you have to be careful and respectful. I insist on it because the vast majority of these places are around very commercial streets, but in very old fifteenth century and later buildings, which are in poor conditions. When entering these places one has to be clear that you do so at your own risk.
I refer to the Han, who are still home of a thousand different guilds and in whose dark stays artisans make all kinds of items that soon will see displayed for sale on the streets.
Mapa de la Ruta de la SedaBut what are the Han (pronounced jans)? The origin of the khans, hans, or caravanserais, as you like, was the Silk Road. At first they were buildings that provided shelter or refuge for the caravans of merchants, pilgrims and soldiers who circulated through this mythical first “highway of commerce” which ran through Eurasia by contacting the markets of cities in Europe with distant and proverbially unknown lands. In all the cities on this route, therefore you shall find it. In the westernmost branch of the Silk Road, several paths journeyed from Istanbul to head towards the Mediterranean and north of Europe, whose markets received enthusiastically exotic and oriental products. That is the reason why there are son many hans in Istanbul. However, everything passes, and with the rise of maritime commerce, these buildings were lapsed and forgotten.


The Bükük Valide Han

Istanbul is full of hans, which throughout the centuries have been recycled for variousBuyuk valide han uses, you just have to wander around the area of markets for meet them. More clearly when the shops have closed. And you see, there are dozens. Some are in very old brick Ottoman buildings with small grey domes, and whose access is through a huge wooden door. Others in newer buildings. Historically, the most important in Istanbul was the Büyük Valide Han (Han of the Queen Mother) Panorámica desde el tejado del Buyuk Valide Hancommissioned in 1651 by the Valide (Queen Mother) Sultan Kösem to finance maintenance of the beautiful Çinili Camii, or Tiles Mosque. This was used to store goods from the ships in the Golden Horn and as an inn for merchants. One of the most curious urban legends about the Büyük Valide Han tells the fact that Kösem Sultan hid all her jewels in the depths of the Byzantine tower that now seems an extension of the building. Since then, countless treasure hunters have visited the han, before and after the invention of metal detectors.
The Hans are normally distributed around one or more courtyards and have two or three heights. Büyük Valide Han is like that as well. Inside you find piled up goods, many junks and artisans performing their jobs in an almost novelistic atmosphere. So much that has already been the scene of some movies like “The Water diviner” or “007 Skyfall”.
Interior del Buyuk Valide HanI had read that it was possible to access the roof, and thinking how awesome it would be the views, we set out to find it. A task of “location” and “research” that paid off, not only to locate the place but to get find the person in charge of the key that would allow us to raise the roof. We had written a short speech in Turkish in which we mentioned we were looking for this person, and asking here and there we met him. We accompanied elderly Mr. Mehdi Bey to what seemed an office, so old and dusty as the same building. There he kept dozens of keys.Mehdi Bey, the caretaker
If you wish to climb, the first you have to do is find him. He will not ask you for anything, but a small tip (5TL-10TL) is always welcome in compensation for the inconveniences and for his time and because as you will check the views are memorable and well worth it.

The condition of the roof is really worrying, skylights are broken and patched with various materials threaten to collapse if one steps on, and weeds grows from every crack that time has inflicted on the building but the views of the city, the Bosphorus, and especially of the buildings of the bazaar are privileged, for the perspectivet andIMG_1447 because obviously there will be nobody but you. In a half-ruined room we found a huge abandoned weaving loom covered with dust and dirt. Mr. Mehdi Bey, bearing fifty years living and working here, who made his attempts to communicate, commented regretfully as the arrival of mechanization and products made in China, had ended dramatically with that activity. The han is still a working building mainly occupied by metalworkers as turners, polishers, foundry men and jewelers, and for small sewing workshops (manufacturers of hats, ironers, and a dyer) but the rhythmic sound of the huge looms is now only a distant echo. Only this museum piece testifies that time.

Telar de confecciónWitnesses of the past half century at Büyük Valide Han recall the presence of leather workers, dyers, carpet weavers, traders, manufacturers of cardboard. Today, the few shops in it sell wholesale clothing and other products. On the second floor, pretty grim, where most of the dwellings are empty and closed up tight, few workshops still operating. Here are the workshops of metal workers and press rooms. Some have been in between 30 and 40 years.

If you are interested just across the Büyük Valide Han, there are two other large hans, Büyük and Küçük Yeni Yeni Han, both of the eighteenth century. And for those that are willing for more, a book: Istanbul’s Bazaar Quarter, by Edda Renker Weissenbacher and Ann Marie Mershon, with different routes by the hans of Grand Bazaar.

In this link you can see a video with images of Istanbul, the infinite city

By Ana Morales © Copyright 2015 – All rights reserved

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  1. Avatar

    Extraordinario blog, enhorabuena!

    El Büyük Valide Han es un lugar por el que muchas veces se pasa de largo y que bien merece una visita.

  2. Ana Morales

    Muchas gracias por tu apreciación, tu blog también está lleno de artículos interesantes de la vida y las costumbres turcas.
    Aquí tienes una nueva seguidora!

    Un saludo

  3. Avatar

    Estambul es un museo a cielo abierto lleno de rincones por descubrir, que a pesar de haberlo recorrido en multitud de ocasiones nunca deja de sorprenderme. En mi blog tengo algunas entradas que hacen referencia a lugares donde comer en Estambul:

  4. Avatar

    Genial! sin dudas lo tendré en cuenta en mi próxima visita a la ciudad!!
    Gracias por compartir y felicitaciones por tu blog!

  5. Avatar

    Its such an awesome place, its too bad that the roof is closed now though

  6. Ana Morales

    Hello Josh,

    Thank you for the update. I had no idea they finnally decided to restore. It is really necessary so it is good news after all.
    Best Regards

  7. Avatar

    Gracias por tu hermosa entrada, me ha gustado mucho toda la historia del caravasar y también la entrada sobre los últimos artesanos de Estambul. Se nota que compartes información de primera mano y que conoces bien el lugar.
    Me he quedado con muchísimas ganas de poder visitarlo pero veo que está cerrado según tu última nota. Tienes alguna noticia más de cuando lo vayan a reabrir?


  8. Ana Morales

    Hola Alejandra,

    El han está abierto, sigue habiendo tiendas y artesanos que trabajan allí, sin embargo el tejado es difícil saber si alguna vez lo abrirán. No era, o mejor dicho, no debía de haber sido nunca una atracción turística, por lo que dudo de que lo abran, para ello tendrían que rehabilitar prácticamente todo el edificio, pero quién sabe.
    El problema es que la gente subía allí sin tener en cuenta su propia seguridad, haciendo cualquier locura para hacer la foto más espectacular ( ya sabes, la fiebre instagram y redes similares) saltando incluso sobre la fragilísima estructura del tejado, que hay que estar realmente loco para hacerlo. Finalmente el sitio acabó por ser un peligro real, y de ahí que el ayuntamiento tomase cartas en el asunto. Es mejor así, cuando la gente no se sabe comportar ni respetar un patrimonio tan antiguo como este, es mejor echar el candado para evitar desgracias.

    Un saludo y gracias por tus amables palabras


  1. Estambul: gateando por los tejados del Büyük Valide Han i am travel blogger - […] Ver artículo completo aquí … […]

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