Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar set to re-open

The silence in Istanbul’s historic Grand Bazaar is set to lift more than a month after it was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic as municipal workers and traders prepare to reopen its gates on Monday, AFP reported.

The 15th century marketplace, one of the most visited and recognisable tourist destinations in the country, closed its gates on March 23 as the government scrambled to contain the novel coronavirus. Its reopening in June marks a symbolic return to business for Turkish traders and for the country’s important tourism sector more broadly.

“Our Grand Bazaar — the heart of the economy, culture, history and tourism has never been shut down except for natural disasters,” Fatih Kurtulmuş, chairman of the Grand Bazaar’s board, told AFP.

Despite the lengthy closure and the continuing threat posed by the global pandemic, Kurtulmuş believes the Grand Bazaar’s halls will be full of foreign visitors again within weeks.

“I have faith that our country will begin receiving tourists from mid-June by paying attention to hygiene rules,” he said. “I believe tourists will fly to Istanbul by the end of June because they cannot do without… the Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque.”

The hygiene precautions include the spraying of disinfectant by municipal teams every Wednesday during the shutdown and cleaning every morning, AFP said.

In June, the bazaar will work according to strict health ministry instructions which limit the number of shoppers inside and require the use of protective masks at all times, the news agency said.

But traders are still worried about the prospects for a tourist season under threat from the coronavirus, and some interviewed by AFP said they expected 2020 to be a low ebb even if the tourist season gathers steam.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made it a priority to keep the economic gears turning throughout the pandemic, and plans to begin what he calls a normalisation process this summer as new infections and deaths from the virus fall. Shopping malls and other businesses returned to work earlier this month.