Istanbul has been a shopping destination for hundreds of years; the famous Grand Bazaar in Sultanahmet was founded by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror in 1461 and still pulls in shoppers in the 21st century. Open-air markets selling groceries, household goods and clothing are held regularly around the city and are a fixture of Istanbul life. Modern malls took hold more slowly, however: the first, Galleria, only opened in 1988, and for the next decade it had few competitors.
However, Istanbul's shopping scene has been transformed over the past few years by a handful of luxurious, modern shopping centres, in particular Kanyon and Istinye Park. These upscale malls attract shoppers not only with their wide variety of high-quality brands, but also through their design and ambiance, which make them destinations in themselves.
Kanyon, which opened in May 2006 in Istanbul's financial district of Levent, is named for the architectural 'canyon' formed by the curving stone walls of the mall. The four-storey space's organic feel, down to the small pools and gardens on the bottom level, draws visitors in. The mall's unique design exposes its 160 stores to the open air. Its anchor is upmarket British department store in only its fourth location outside the UK and Ireland.
Visitors to Kanyon immediately sense luxury and ultra-modernity. Its innovative design has even won awards, including the 2006 Cityscape Architectural Review Award in the commercial built category. Kanyon was designed by the Jerde Partnership of Los Angeles, known for its placemaking architecture that creates an experience for visitors, working alongside Turkish firm Tabanlıoğlu Architects.
İstinye Park, which opened little more than a year later in September 2007, is on an even grander scale than Kanyon, with more than twice as much retail space, nearly 300 stores, and 40 places to eat. The mall features an impressive array of top local and global retailers, 41 of which have entered the Turkish market for the first time, among them high-end brands including Dior, Prada and Dolce & Gabbana.
İstinye Park's unique design incorporates several different themed areas, from street bazaar to high fashion. The indoor retail area features polished marble and frosted glass, with a domed glass ceiling that allows in sunlight. The lower-level bazaar area takes the traditional Turkish outdoor market and revamps it in an aesthetic and modern indoor setting. Produce, cheeses, meat and fish, sweets, spices and other foodstuffs are sold from stands with green-and-white striped awnings, reminding visitors of street shopping, while a number of small restaurants offer Turkish cuisine, including street foods such as kumpir.
The highlight for many visitors to İstinye Park is Brands Street, an open-air square lined with the mall's most prestigious brands, from Armani, Gucci and Burberry to Paul Smith, Louis Vuitton and Jimmy Choo. These chic boutiques have been designed individually, each with its own unique façade, and feel almost like separate buildings. Cafés in the middle of the square offer a place to take a break, see and be seen.
İstinye Park's facilities promote an entire lifestyle, which encompasses not just shopping, dining, and entertainment (at the mall's cinema) but also sports and relaxation. The Hillside City Club houses a sports centre, beauty salons for men and women, and Sanda Day Spa, complete with a traditional Turkish bath (hamam). The spa is open to non-members of the sports club and is reservations-only, proof that some people come to İstinye Park first for the spa and second for the shopping.
Kanyon and İstinye Park have transformed not only the way people shop in Istanbul, but also the way they relax and have fun. It seems the venerable old Grand Bazaar may have some catching up to do.