Flora Montgomery visits Istanbul, famously the only city in the world that stretches over two continents, which has made it a major stopping point for trade travelling from east to west.
Laden with history, craftsmanship and modern design Istanbul is a shopping paradise that caters to every need.
Flora’s first stop is the Grand Bazaar, a beautiful maze of stone and marble that was built in the 15th century by the city’s first Ottoman ruler. It is still among the world's largest covered markets and offers everything from carpets to jewellery, pottery, and tourist tat. The key is to know where to look!
The Osman family has been trading carpets for generations and can judge a piece by just looking at it, but they teach Flora a simple trick to judge the quality of a carpet.
The bazaar is also home to excellent craftsmen and Flora purchases a golden necklace that is based on a 2000-year old design, before admiring the amazing skill of a calligrapher who covers dried leaves with such small writing that it can only be read through a looking glass.
For a bit of respite Flora checks into her hotel, an 18th century mansion right on the Bosporus that was once home to a famous calligrapher before heading for lunch at Matbah, a restaurant that only serves Ottoman recipes as they were served at court. The Ottomans ruled a mighty empire from Istanbul for more than 400 years and they have left a rich culinary heritage, awash with interesting names and unusual combinations.
After a feast worthy of a sultan Flora heads to an old Ottoman school where today some of the ancient crafts are revived, including that of calligraphy, which is said to have been developed to write down the words of the prophet. At the same place she also witnesses the ancient technique of paper marbling, a popular form of decoration used by early Turkish tribes.
Istanbul’s rich heritage makes it a haven for antiques, many of which can be found in the district of Cukurcuma. A La Turca is one of the best shops in the area, offering interior design from Ottoman times, as well as those inspired by the past.
In the upmarket area of Nisantisi the local designer Gonul Paksoy also makes designs inspired by the past. Her creations are clothes that are a true works of art, many of them incorporating antique fabrics.
Ancient designs are used in an array of modern creations, including sun glasses. Flora’s last stop is Murat Optik where she picks up a beautiful pair of handmade sunglasses from a brand that has been worn by Lady Gaga and