In a city known for its overwhelming array of artisanal crafts, the only question is: Where to begin?Here, a native’s guide, neighborhood by neighborhood.
A favored destination for Japanese royalty and Gulf princesses, this boutique—named for its owner—sells peerless, one-of-a-kind dresses inspired by Dervish silhouettes. Made from refined, antique Ottoman-era cloth, Gonul’s creations have increased in price over the years as the material has become harder to find. Outfits now cost between $6,000 and $12,000. Artistry runs in the family: her brother, Sahin, helped design the store’s fabric-lined furniture, and another brother, Dogan, runs a nearby gallery of late-Ottoman landscape painters. 6/A Atiye Sokak, Tesvikiye; 90-212/236-0209.
Launched in 1993, the Iznik Foundation hired chemists and academics to excavate the historic sites of the original Iznik kilns, which functioned roughly between 1450 and 1650. The foundation gradually resurrected early ceramicware techniques, and today its showroom retails some of the country’s best neo-Iznik pottery (not to be confused with the more touristy Kutahya products). Located close to the original kilns, the store offers lovely glimpses of the water and the Asian side of the city. 7 Öksüz Çocuk Sokak, Kuruçesme; 90-212/287-3243; www.iznik.com.
Mum (pronounced "moum") means "candle" in Turkish. Though a lesser-known craft in Istanbul, the time-honored art of candlemaking has always flourished here: down the millennia, Greek temples became Roman, then turned into churches and mosques, all of them lit by votives large and small. Having studied under master craftsmen, the artisans of Sedef apply patented techniques to meet contemporary demands. Their intricately sculpted and aromatic wares include candles in the shape of the Hagia Sophia, in the color of the Blue Mosque, and with imprinted calligraphic signatures of Ottoman sultans. The wax artifacts make perfect portable gifts. 50 Irmak Caddesi, Dolapdere; 90-212/253-5793.
Nezih Basgelen, the owner of this antiquarian bookshop, art gallery, and café, has offices nearby and pops in and out. He knows every inch of Turkey’s excavation sites mound by mound, and has published hundreds of books on such topics as Hittite friezes, Roman walls, Greek stelae, Ottoman gravestones, and the Library of Ephesus. Old books and guides—especially antique prints of Istanbul, and of Ottoman folk outfits—are catnip to collectors, and not cheap, but Nezih sells affordable new offset versions. Yeniçarsi Caddesi, 16/A Petek Han, Galatasaray; 90-212/293-0378; www.arkeopera.com.
Polisajci Brothers Antique Show
In a delightful hidden piazza off the main drag, Nizam and Tevfik Cholak stock Ottoman and other antique metalware—copper bowls, jugs, pots, and the like—once used in hammams and kitchens. Expect limited English, and the authentic conditions of an old coppersmith: the premises are dark, sooty, and almost Dickensian. 37-39 Yaglikcilar Sokak, Ic Cebeci Han; 90-212/526-1831.
Known for its handmade soaps, this Turko-Californian-style spa shop also sells unique raw-cotton and raw-silk shirts and tunics (modeled on garments that lay dormant for years in the trousseau chests of peasant women), as well as handcrafted Turkish caftans. Owner Tayfun Utkan boasts that such threads are longer and more absorbent than any machine-made variety. A sumptuous, if slightly bulky, souvenir. 33-35 Keseciler Sokak; 90-212/514-4525; www.dervis.com.
The Grand Bazaar’s oldest family antiques dealer carries Ottoman silver, exquisitely painted trays, and jewelry from old Ottoman families. Chalabi senior, now deceased, epitomized the mysterious polyglot worldliness and personal charm of old-world Istanbul gentlemen. Today, his son greets guests and chats in English, French, and Italian, suggesting the Vienna-meets-Bokhara-meets-Alexandria heritage of elite Levantines. It’s worth stopping in just for the atmosphere. 6 Sandal Bedesten Sokak; 90-212/522-8171.
A one-stop shop for Turkey’s only indigenous stone, the pale-blue, semiprecious chalcedony. You’ll find raw rocks, smooth stones, and assorted jewelry. The shop’s owner, Bersin Gercin, has exported the stuff for years and recently opened this showroom opposite Hagia Sophia’s back garden wall. Stop in for a lecture on the healing powers of this rare mineral, said to draw off negative energy and soothe chest ailments. 2 Ayasofya Caferiye Sokak; 90-212/527-6376; www.kalsedon.com.tr.
Mehmet Çetinkaya Gallery
On any given day, you can run into the world’s top rug dealers and collectors at Mehmet’s three-story boutique gallery just off the historic Arasta Bazaar (an open-air arcade of domed shops encircling a museum of Byzantine mosaics). Years ago, Mehmet defied his family’s orders by studying design in Belgium, and he never looked back. His collection, an array of antique ikats, as well as Suzani, Turcoman, and Sarkoy kilims—none cheap but all glorious, museum-quality textiles—is a feast for the eyes. Küçük Ayasofya Caddesi, 7 Tavukhane Sokak; 90-212/517-6808; www.cetinkayagallery.com.
Quartz comes in many colors and some of the world’s bluest is mined in the Eskisehir region of Anatolia. Deriving its name from Chalcedon, a district on the Asian coast of Istanbul (now Kadikoy), the stone remains a popular and affordable souvenir at Chalcedony in Sultanahmet. The shop’s owner, Bersin Gercin, is eager to impart the healing powers of this rare mineral — said to draw off negative energy and soothe chest ailments — and sells it as earrings, necklaces, pendants, carvings, or rough stones.
Just west of the Grand Bazaar’s central chamber (ic bedestan), this literal hole-in-the-wall shop specializes in silk, mohair, cotton, wool, and fur products like towels, bathrobes, caftans, kerchiefs, duvets, and rugs — all sourced from handcrafters in villages throughout the country. Bath products are another favorite item and include copper bowls, wooden clogs, skin scrubbers, and scented olive oil soaps, often embossed with ancient Roman, Greek, and Ottoman motifs. With premium products, however, come premium prices. Fans include former first lady, Laura Bush.
Polisajci Brothers Antique Show
Located in the Grand Bazaar, home to more than 4,400 shops, the Polisajci Brothers Antique Show is a small operation selling antique metalware once used in 16th-century kitchens and hammams. The shop is owned by Nizam and Tevfik Cholak, and its inventory consists primarily of Ottoman pieces, such as copper pots and bowls. Much like a working blacksmith shop, a layer of soot often hangs in the air here, creating a dark and somewhat intriguing look. The staff speaks very little English, so a translator might be necessary.
Located in the Beyoğlu district, this artisan shop sells handmade candles in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Translating to “pearl candle,” Sedef Mum uses patented production methods and European candle-making traditions to ensure quality, one-of-a-kind products. The inventory ranges from simple candlesticks and flower-shaped votives to intricate candles in the shape of religious landmarks, such as Hagia Sophia, and mythological figures like Hermes and Medusa. Some candles are also covered in photographs or prints of famous paintings.
At her combination museum-shop, owner Gönül Paksoy turns everyday objects into pieces of art and creates hand-dyed silk coats with vintage beads.
Mehmet Çetinkaya Gallery
As one of the top souvenirs, hordes of salesmen troll the streets for customers to buy carpets. Top threads can be found just behind the Blue Mosque at Mehmet Çetinkaya Gallery. A graduate of the Belgian Royal Academy for art and graphic design, Çetinkaya has amassed an impressive collection of antique and rare textiles and weaving from Anatolia and Central Asia including chapans, embroideries, panels, and bags. Meseum quality doesn’t come cheap and most of the products, especially the 19th-century rugs, run in the thousands of dollars.