Dolapdere flea market – the bottom of Istanbul

There wilt thou find, if thou wilt thither post,

Whatever thou on earth beneath hast lost.

Orlando Furioso, Canto 34, LXXV

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.

dolapdere
The tilted universe

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.

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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:

wigs
Wigs. Probably natural hair.
shoes
Shoes you wear to a job interview if you are trying to make it in show business.
toys dolapdere
Perfectly normal and racially balanced toys for kids.
music
Vintage music box and disturbing anatomically correct doll.
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Eclectic kitchenware.
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A hipster t-rex.
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An array of unpaired earrings, sex dice, broken chandeliers and whatever else people leave behind in establishments on the dark side of Istanbul.
car flea market
A stoned car.

If you fancy an overnight trip, you might as well stay in a local hotel.

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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.

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A bag of baby hands.
naked cyclist
Naked cyclist.
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Avatar or X-Men?
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One day, they will escape their unjust imprisonment.
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Goldfinger’s job.
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Any of these would look great in the living room when the lights are off.

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.

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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.

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12 Comments Add yours

  1. Brittany says:

    Beautiful article. What a fascinating place. I will add this to my list.

    1. Thanks! I forgot to add a google maps link, in case somebody really plans to visit. Will fix it now!

  2. Fiona says:

    A really piece of travel writing.

  3. BloggerIn50+ says:

    Thank you! A fantastic article!

    1. Thanks, I liked writing it, too 🙂

  4. bigstitch82 says:

    Your blogs are always so interesting 🙂

  5. Fiona says:

    My comment was missing the word ‘beautiful’. (Actually, make that fabulous!)

  6. Fiona says:

    My comment was missing the word ‘beautiful’. (Actually, make that fabulous!)

    1. 🙂 I think the original comment left just enough space for imagination.

  7. psychanaut says:

    What’s funny are the places that are supposed to be cool Tourist spots but actually, if one looks closely, are closer to this. There’s some well known markets in Buenos Aires like that. On the other hand, my favorite markets in Bolivia don’t get much press, just lots of sleeping women among sacks of quinoa and piles of llama gear.

    1. It’s just because some of us still want to feel like they’re exploring the unknown when they travel to a new country. But in fact, I think, to me it happened just twice, when I had the feeling I was the first foreigner to step foot onto this native land in half a century.
      On the other hand, if none of the hippie eco-tourists have come up with the idea of ‘alternative dumpster tourism’, I should. I know some really trashy yet scenic garbage piles around the world.

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