There wilt thou find, if thou wilt thither post,
Whatever thou on earth beneath hast lost.
There is a place in Istanbul where all lost and forgotten things find their ultimate abode. Italian Renaissance poet Ludovico Ariosto imagined, in his most famous work, that all the stuff you lose on Earth ends up in a valley on the surface of the Moon.
Istanbul’s Dolapdere market (Maps) is much less poetic than Ariosto’s Moon, although it has one distinctive advantage: it is actually accessible without a spacesuit. Ever lost your bag on a night out in Taksim? Wander into the streets of Dolapdere and you will have a pretty good chance of retrieving it. Got your camera snatched from your hands in the seedy alleys off Tarlabaşi boulevard? Come to the flea market and you may get your own camera for as little as half the original price.
Getting to Dolapdere will not be an easy quest. In fact, it is not one of those places you just come upon on a regular stroll through beautiful city streets. Dolapdere market is the bottom of Istanbul, and you must walk a long way off the beaten path until you come across this beauty.
Dominating the dirty streets is Evangelistra Rum Kilisesi, perhaps the creepiest church in the universe, surrounded by a welcoming fence of metal bars and barb wire. Among the goods one can find on Dolapdere market, stretching from the foot of the church into the deepest gutters of the city center, are:
If you fancy an overnight trip, you might as well stay in a local hotel.
Finally, there are the mannequins. Just across the street from Dolapdere market, you will find a whole parade of imaginative mannequins that seem to be living their own happy plastic life.
Of all emotions I experienced on Dolapdere market, nostalgia was predominant. Its ethnic diversity and eclectic range of items, its bold marketing technique (keep your pockets shut and haggle like your life depends on it) reminded me much of the urban jungle of African cities, such as Nairobbery, Kampala, Dar es Salaam. It is a bittersweet feeling mixed with a pinch of shame, when you walk among the piles of unsold crap with your fancy camera and snap pictures of people who are trying to make ends meet.
Dolapdere flea market is not just a place for all lost things. It is also the last resort of all the lost people of Istanbul. Refugees and asylum seekers from all walks of life, stuck in this proudly multinational city without a chance to move on. People from the lowest classes of society, in a perpetual loop of recycling their own life and selling stolen bits and pieces of that other Istanbul, the one you see in travel magazines, on Istiklal street with noisy bars and armies of selfie sticks.
Like any city, Istanbul has its underground currents and utter chaos that never ends up on the pages of guidebooks. Maybe it shouldn’t. But I say: go to Dolapdere flea market and buy some useless piece of garbage as a souvenir. It will remind you that you’ve been to the bottom and may have invested into somebody’s way out of there.