Istanbul’s iconic Grand Bazaar, a 560-year-old covered market, reopened its doors on Monday after its longest closure in history due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The huge complex made up of some 60 covered alleys and almost 4,000 stores offering spices, souvenirs, jewelry, ceramics and kilim rugs, had been closed since March 23 as part of measures to contain the spread of COVID-19.
The doors to the Bazar were hurled open after a short prayer and merchants piled in to tidy and clean displays and arrange merchandise.
Business, however, will not resume until at least June 10, when Turkish airlines start bringing foreign visitors into the country again.
Only jewelers can expect some trade since giving away gold is a must when attending a Turkish wedding although the economic crisis has meant many have delayed celebrations and parties.
On a normal day, the Grand Bazaar welcomes over 200,000 visitors, but the closure of borders ground tourism to a halt, leaving the atmospheric shopping hall deserted.
The market was created by Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II in 1461, a few years after conquering Constantinople which was a duty-free trading hub thronging with foreign merchants, especially Genoese and Venetians. The city may well have been the first free zone in history.
Since ancient times the Bazaar has retained traditions whereby businesses are handed down the generations by families that represent the rich melting pot of cultures and religions that were typical of Ottoman society.
“In two weeks, when there are flights, we will start selling. Right now we can only wait,” Selim, a worker at a silk scarf store, tells EFE.
He has not been paid in the last few months and, although he won’t earn an income until customers return, he prefers to return to the store over staying at home.
“At home I get bored. The whole family is there, and they don’t stop talking all day. Better to be here, even if there are no customers,” he says.
Selim does not think there is much risk of contagion in the Bazaar: “all precautions have been taken.”
On Saturday, the complex was thoroughly disinfected by a team of municipal employees sporting white protective hazmat suits.
They patrolled the alleys with high-pressure water hoses, chemical solutions and cleaning utensils to spruce up the venue for its long-awaited reopening.
At the entrance arch, where for years a security guard has passed a metal detector over the clothing of the visitors, now a second official will take visitors’ temperatures checking for fevers.
Turkish authorities hope that economic life will normalize soon.
Istanbul airports operate normally on Monday with national flights in operation after restrictions on travel between provinces were lifted and all public employees return to work.
However, those aged 65 and over still have to stick to a curfew, except on Sundays and under 18s can only go out on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Turkey with a population of 80 million inhabitants recorded 4,540 deaths and 163,942 infections according to John Hopkins University.
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