Though perhaps not fit for a sultan, top-notch work — both old and new — can still be found for sale in Istanbul if you find the right spot. At Cinar, a shop just outside the Grand Bazaar, expect to find one of the city’s largest collections of modern silk carpets. A lot of these pieces — ultra-shiny and loud — look a little too Dubai. But the shop also produces a number of lovely replicas of old carpets. All who enter here be warned: One piece about the size of a tea towel was going for roughly $3,500.
A legend in the Grand Bazaar is Sisko Osman — or Fat Osman — who counts Hillary Clinton among his clients. Though his shop is said to house exceptional pieces, what we saw were just better than average and not truly spectacular. Yet if you’re buying — as opposed to looking, as I was on this trip — his shop is a must-visit. The prices quoted for an 80-year-old camel-colored kilim and a semi-antique carpet with a charming Western-inspired design seemed fair enough (assuming that you go through the typical bargaining down of at least 40 percent), and the rugs of better quality than at most carpet shops.
Don’t tell him I told you, but make Erol Kazanci’s shop, Gallery Sirvan, in the Grand Bazaar, the last stop on your list, because once you visit, you’ll be spoiled for everything else that you see. Truth is, few but collectors with pockets far deeper than those of a humble journalist could afford what you see. So if you can, just muster up the courage to go in and pretend you belong, because the show in store is not to be missed.
As you sip a glass cup of Turkish tea, his assistants will twirl out a stock of pieces that will make you gasp in delight. Kazanci himself unfurled a room-sized 18th-century Mihrab carpet of such grace and subtlety that my friends and I sat speechless for a full two minutes. When we asked about the price, he coyly replied, “This one is not for sale.”
He later produced a flawless 120-year-old kilim in royal blue and camel in impeccable condition that had me reviewing my bank account balance in my head for a minute. I ventured to ask the price. Before he answered — “I’ll let it go for $7,000” — he whispered a few words in Turkish to a colleague. I later found out that he had proudly boasted, “I picked this one up from a family by the Black Sea last year for about $100.”
Could I blame him? No. The piece was authentic, and he is, after all, a carpet salesman. But this is why, rather than carpet buying, I’ve come to prize carpet browsing just as much — one of the few tourist pleasures here or anywhere that still comes for free.
Faiola is The Washington Post’s London bureau chief.