Büyük Valide Han


One of the things that I love about living in such a historically steeped place as Istanbul is the contrast between old and new. It is a contrast that is exaggerated once you cross over the Golden Bridge to old town, the well-known monuments like Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Grande Bazaar historical exclamation points. However, even the antique feel of those are lessened by the tour charter buses and guides that are ever present in the area, or the cell phones being held against the ear with one hand while the other beckons you to come check out the wares.

Time’s modern fingers have interlaced with the old in “old” town, making it less so. However, today the IWI photo group and I trekked into an area of old town that felt not so touched but, rather, forgotten by modern age. We visited the “han” just behind the Grand Bazaar, Buyuk Valide Han.

A han is an Ottoman commercial building, although “building” doesn’t really give the correct impression. It is more a massive structure with hallways and tunnels that, on one side, boast doors leading to workrooms and, on the other, are great openings to the outside. Along the walls are narrow stone staircases leading up to more doors, more workrooms.

(Unheated, I might add, minus the fire stoves or small electric heaters peppered here and there. I can safety assume the rooms aren’t air-conditioned either, although between the massive stone walls and the gaping “windows,” A/C probably isn’t needed.)





IMG_3799Buyuk Valide Han was used to store goods that had arrived by ship. Today, although the hallways felt almost deserted and many of the lovely iron doors were locked closed, there were still some men at work. The ones we saw were involved in the process of lamp or plate making.

Despite the somewhat lost feel to it all, we were welcomed politely by all workmen. They kindly obliged to having photo lens poked this way and that for a good picture. One gentleman unlocked the large, iron door that opened up to a crumbling staircase leading to the rooftop where a fabulous – if not cold and rainy – view of the city awaited.

(A somewhat uncomfortable feeling descended upon us, though, when we heard the unmistaken sound of that same door slamming shut. And, yes, it locked automatically. Luckily we didn’t have to mimic any Skyfall moves and jump from roof to roof to escape. Mehdi Bey, the doorkeeper, heard the door shut and returned to open it before panic set in.)


(How do you find the man who opens the door, especially when no Turkish you do speak? Mehdi Bey’s name is found on a sign hanging on a door just around the corner to the rooftop door, along with his mobile number. If you can recall the Turkish word for “roof” (çatı) and/or “door” (kapı), it might help, although I think he’ll understand your intention without too much language needing to pass through the mouthpiece. Just remember that it is nice to tip him; we gave him 2TL, or $1, for each person in our group.)

Of course, after all is said and done, one can reflect on the fact that we climbed up on not one, but two, roofs. Roofs without railings, or warning signs, or liability disclaimers.  The unstated “venture at your own risk” was clear, although we didn’t give it one thought, or, at least, I didn’t. Not even when I sidestepped an area of the roof whose “floor” seemed a bit too thin to cross.

Which is another thing I enjoy about being in Istanbul. It is another backdrop against which to view places and spaces and be amazed – again – at how varied, colorful, and contrasting they can be.



2 thoughts on “Büyük Valide Han

  1. Do NOT take Kim to see the colorful boots/shoes….you know why!!
    Amazing photos!!!! Thank you sweetie!
    Love, Mom

  2. Hi there! I have done that very same trek a number of times now and think it is just amazing. You were very unlucky with the weather though – I thought of you that day as I am a member of the Photo Club too – wasn’t it dangerous up there on the roof? But it is an amazing experience and I am happy that you enjoyed it. I am wondering who you are! We must know each other!

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