The Ottoman bedestens in Greece

Document Type : research articles


Islamic Archaeology Dep., Faculty of Archaeology – Fayoum University


This paper focuses on the Ottoman bedestens in Greece, by considering the analysis and interpretation of the related texts in the archives and historic references. Evliyâ Çelebi provides a wealth of data regarding the Ottoman bedestens, along with their functions, administrative system and staff. This information underlines that the bedestens were semi-official buildings and were subject to State control and management, reflecting its commercial and economic policy.
This paper discusses the importance of the bedesten as a new architectural creation in the centre of the Ottoman city, and its importance in reorganising and distinguishing the layout of the core of some significant Ottoman cities. As a result, the historic Ottoman cities could be classified into cities including a bedesten and others that didn’t. The study shows the relation between the presence of the bedesten in a city and its commercial and economic value considering the city’s site. This is obvious for cities located on main commercial roads. Along the Via Egnatia, there are cities which have bedestens in Greece. The Ottoman bedestens found in Greece were accounted for, focusing on the surviving examples.
The study concludes that the Ottoman bedesten flourished from architecture and function point of view during the years of Sultan Mehmed II (1451-1481). This study proves that the present-day bedesten in the city of Serres is not the original one described by Evliyâ Çelebi, but it is a later reconstruction. The bedesten of Larissa was also dated in the light of the waqf (vakıf) document of the founder Hacı Ömer Bey, the son of Hacı Turhan to the years before 889 H/ 1484 CE.



This paper focused on clarifying the number of Ottoman commercial buildings known in Greece over time, considering their sites in relation to the main stops on trade routes. Their increased implantations along the Via Egnatia, the main trade route across Northern Greece connecting Istanbul and Edirne with Albania and Italy, are underlined. This is especially notable in the cities of Alexandroupoli, Xanthi, Serres, Drama, Kavala, Thessaloniki, Veria, Larissa, Trikala and Ioannina. The study surveyed the Ottoman bedestens in Greece by the end of the Ottoman rule and now; there were seven bedestens, five of which were within cities located along the Via Egnatia; in addition, the one in Larissa is rather close; the last bedesten was on the island of Rhodes. Only three bedestens still exist, located in Serres, Thessaloniki and Larissa – the latter is semi ruined.

The bedesten is an Ottoman creation in term of urban planning, architecture and function. It characterised the centre of significant Ottoman cities, distinguishing them from the other Ottoman cities without bedesten, and other Islamic cities. It added a fourth characteristic building to the trinity architectural composition of the centre of the Ottoman city, the mosque, the medrese, and the hammam. Hence, the cities which have bedesten show a different visual layout from those without. The almost identical and distinct architectural form of the bedesten emphasizes this visual pattern.

The bedesten’s architecture is strongly connected to its functions. Their architectural form is noticeably similar in the frequent bedestens’ description mentioned by Evliyâ Çelebi throughout the territories of the Ottoman Empire. These iconic buildings are composed of a massive well-protected stone building, covered with lead-sheets domes, with four axial iron gates. The site and characteristics of the bedesten architecture fulfil its traditional and innovative functions. It provides a closed protected hall for the trade of the best kinds of fabrics, jewellery, precious commodities. It also offers private safes for storing and depositing money, important documents and various possessions.

This paper concludes with the following results:

-          The Ottoman bedesten was a semi-official commercial and economic institution; controlled by the State. The structure reflected its financial, economic and commercial policies.

-          The merchants of the bedesten were both Muslims and non-Muslims.

-          Rental revenues of the bedestens, as other commercial structures, were dedicated to cover the costs of the religious, educational and social buildings of the same patron. 

-          The bedesten architecture witnessed a remarkable development and spreading during the reign of Fatih Sultan Mehmed, as also seen in Istanbul and the rest of Greece.

-          The present-day Serres bedesten is not the original structure described by Evliyâ Çelebi, based on his text itself. The now standing building represents a later construction phase dating to the years after the fire of 1718.

-          This study corrected the misdating of the Larissa bedesten by previous authors, and confirmed its construction before the year 889 AH/1484 CE. New archival evidence was published from the Arabic waqfiyeh of its founder Hacı Ömer Bey the son of Hacı Turhan.


Main Subjects


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