In a city of such rich and glorious history as Edirne, one cannot miss visiting traditional, covered bazaars. There are three of them in the town, and each has its unique architectural style. They are Selimiye Arastası, next to Selimiye Mosque, the Bedesten next to Old Mosque, and Ali Paşa Çarşısı. They reflect the splendour and importance of Edirne, first the capital of the Ottoman Empire, and then the favourite city of the Imperial Family. All of them are also currently used as shopping centres.
Although Edirne bazaars are much smaller than the most famous Turkish bazaar - Kapalıçarıı in Istanbul, visiting them is an excellent opportunity to see experience shopping in a genuinely Turkish style. Their undoubted advantage is a much less aggressive attitude of the sellers, allowing you to quietly check the exhibited goods, without feeling the pressure to buy them immediately. In addition, you can count on more favourable prices. Of course, as in every Turkish bazaar, you should haggle about the final price.
Conveniently located along pedestrianised Saraçlar Street, Ali Pasha Bazaar was erected in the years 1568-1569 by the famous architect Mimar Sinan. Unlike the other two historical bazaars of Edirne, this one has no apparent connection to a mosque. There are some claims that it was built to gain revenues for the construction of a mosque in Kirklareli. Certainly, the bazaar served as a place that united the tradesmen selling valuable goods under one roof to ensure their protection. Initially, it accommodated all jewellery shops in the city.
The bazaar is named after the Grand Vizier Hersekzade Semiz Ali Pasha who performed this function during the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Unfortunately, Ali Pasha died four years before the bazaar was erected, so he could not appreciate the final effect. There are two things we can learn about Ali Pasha just by studying his full name. 'Hersekzade' means that he was born in Herzegovina (tr. Hersek) in the Balkans, then the part of the Ottoman Empire. Born as Stjepan Hercegović, he was taken hostage by the Ottomans, converted to Islam and entered the service of the Imperial Court. He was the first one of the long and successful line of aristocrats of Balkan origins at the Sublime Porte. Moreover, his nickname 'Semiz' means very fat and tall so he must have made his presence felt. Like other Ottoman period dignitaries, he was the sponsor of many public buildings, not only in Istanbul but also in other cities of the Empire.
The building commissioned by Ali Pasha is 270 meters long. The shopping street, which is the backbone of the bazaar, is covered with a traditional arched ceiling. On both sides of this street, there are around 130 shops. The interior is lit by windows on the sides and top gallery. As Saraçlar Street is slightly uphill, the arcade has some flights of stairs to follow the street level.
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, an English aristocrat, described Ali Pasha bazaar in one of her letters from travels to the Ottoman Empire. In 1717, she wrote about it as a building "half a mile in length, the roof arched and kept extremally neat. [...] 365 shops [are] furnished with all sorts of rich goods, exposed to sale in the same manner as at the New Exchange in London."
The building underwent a thorough renovation in the years 1994-1997. At present, the bazaar is home to the sellers of clothes, footwear, bags, and household items. Traditional souvenirs from Edirne sold at the bazaar include fruit-shaped soap (tr. meyve sabunu). They look like plastic or real fruit and are unique to Edirne. Edirne soap is not used to wash with but to decorate and add sweet aroma to interiors. Other typical souvenirs of Edirne are small brooms with a small mirror attached that are known to bring good luck. The broom represents purity and the mirror - beauty.
This extensive, covered bazaar is located along Saraçlar Street. There are six gates to the bazaar, some of which are on Saraçlar Street, and others - on Osmaniye and Talat Paşa streets. The bazaar is right in the heart of the city, within walking distance to Old Mosque, Üç Şerefeli Mosque, and Selimiye Mosque.