A bazaar or souk, is a permanently enclosed marketplace or street where goods and services are exchanged or sold.
The term bazaar originates from the Persian word b?z?r. The term bazaar is sometimes also used to refer to the "network of merchants, bankers and craftsmen" who work in that area. Although the word "bazaar" is of Persian origin, its use has spread and now has been accepted into the vernacular in countries around the world.
The term souk (Arabic: suq, Hebrew: shuq, Syriac shuqa, Armenian: shuka, Spanish: zoco, also spelled souq, shuk, shooq, soq, esouk, succ, suk, sooq, suq, soek) is used in Western Asian, North African and some Horn African cities (Amharic: sooq).
Evidence for the existence of bazaars or souks dates to around 3,000 BCE. Although the lack of archaeological evidence has limited detailed studies of the evolution of bazaars, indications suggest that they initially developed outside city walls where they were often associated with servicing the needs of caravanserai. As towns and cities became more populous, these bazaars moved into the city center and developed in a linear pattern along streets stretching from one city gate to another gate on the opposite side of the city. Souks became covered walkways. Over time, these bazaars formed a network of trading centres which allowed for the exchange of produce and information. The rise of large bazaars and stock trading centres in the Muslim world allowed the creation of new capitals and eventually new empires. New and wealthy cities such as Isfahan, Golconda, Samarkand, Cairo, Baghdad and Timbuktu were founded along trade routes and bazaars. Street markets are the European and North American equivalents.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Western interest in Oriental culture led to the publication of many books about daily life in Middle Eastern countries. Souks, bazaars and the trappings of trade feature prominently in paintings and engravings, works of fiction and travel writing.
Shopping at a bazaar or market-place remains a central feature of daily life in many Middle-Eastern and South Asian cities and towns and the bazaar remains the "beating heart" of West Asian and South Asian life; in the Middle East, souks tend to be found in a city's medina (old quarter) Bazaars and souks are often important tourist attractions. A number of bazaar districts have been listed as World Heritage sites due to their historical and/or architectural significance.
In general a souk is synonymous with a bazaar or marketplace, and the term souk is used in Arabic-speaking countries.
The origin of the word bazaar comes from Persian b?z?r. from Middle Persian w?z?r, from Old Persian var, from Proto-Indo-Iranian *wah?-?arana. The term, bazaar, spread from Persia into Arabia and ultimately throughout the Middle East.
In North America, the United Kingdom and some other European countries, the term charity bazaar can be used as a synonym for a "rummage sale", to describe charity fundraising events held by churches or other community organisations in which either donated used goods (such as books, clothes and household items) or new and handcrafted (or home-baked) goods are sold for low prices, as at a church or other organisation's Christmas bazaar, for example.
Although Turkey offers many famous markets known as "bazaars" in English, the Turkish word "pazar" refers to an outdoor market held at regular intervals, not a permanent structure containing shops. English place names usually translate "çar" (shopping district) as "bazaar" when they refer to an area with covered streets or passages. For example, the Turkish name for the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is "Kapal?çar" (gated shopping area), while the Spice Bazaar is the "M?s?r Çars?" (Egyptian shopping area).
The Arabic word is a loan from Aramaic "q?" ("street, market"), itself a loanword from the Akkadian "s?qu" ("street", from "s?qu", meaning "narrow"). The spelling souk entered European languages probably through French during the French occupation of the Arab countries Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia in the 19th and 20th centuries. Thus, the word "souk" most likely refers to Arabic/North African traditional markets. Other spellings of this word involving the letter "Q" (sooq, souq, so'oq...) were likely developed using English and thus refer to Western Asian/Arab traditional markets, as British colonialism was present there during the 19th and 20th centuries.
In Modern Standard Arabic the term al-sooq refers to markets in both the physical sense and the abstract economic sense (e.g., an Arabic-speaker would speak of the sooq in the old city as well as the sooq for oil, and would call the concept of the free market as-s?q al-?urr).
In the Indian subcontinent the corruption, 'chowk', is often used in place of souk. The term is often used generically to designate the market in any Western Asian city, but may also be used in Western cities, particularly those with a Muslim community.
In the United States, especially Southern California and Nevada, an indoor swap meet is a type of bazaar, i.e. a permanent, indoor shopping center open during normal retail hours, with fixed "booths" or counters for the vendors.
Bazaars originated in the Middle East, probably in Persia. Pourjafara et al., point to historical records documenting the concept of a bazaar as early as 3000 BC. By the 4th century (CE), a network of bazaars had sprung up alongside ancient caravan trade routes. Bazaars were typically situated in close proximity to ruling palaces, citadels or mosques, not only because the city afforded traders some protection, but also because palaces and cities generated substantial demand for goods and services. Bazaars located along these trade routes, formed networks, linking major cities with each other and in which goods, culture, people and information could be exchanged.
The Greek historian, Herodotus, noted that in Egypt, roles were reversed compared with other cultures and Egyptian women frequented the market and carried on trade, while the men remain at home weaving cloth. He also described The Babylonian Marriage Market.
Documentary sources point to permanent marketplaces in Middle Eastern cities from as early as 550 BCE. A souk was originally an open-air marketplace. Historically, souks were held outside cities at locations where incoming caravans stopped and merchants displayed their goods for sale. Souks were established at caravanserai, places where a caravan or caravans arrived and remained for rest and refreshments. Since this might be infrequent, souks often extended beyond buying and selling goods to include major festivals involving various cultural and social activities. Any souk may serve a social function as being a place for people to meet in, in addition to its commercial function. These souks or bazaars formed networks, linking major cities with each other in which goods, culture, people and information could be exchanged.
Prior to the 10th century, bazaars were situated on the perimeter of the city or just outside the city walls. Along the major trade routes, bazaars were associated with the caravanserai. From around the 10th century, bazaars and market places were gradually integrated within the city limits. The typical bazaar was a covered area where traders could buy and sell with some protection from the elements. Over the centuries, the buildings that housed bazaars became larger and more elaborate. The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is often cited as the world's oldest continuously-operating, purpose-built market; its construction began in 1455.
From around the 10th century, as major cities increased in size, the souk or marketplace shifted to the center of urban cities where it spread out along the city streets, typically in a linear pattern. Around this time, permanent souks also became covered marketplaces.
City bazaars occupied a series of alleys along the length of the city, typically stretching from one city gate to a different gate on the other side of the city. The Bazaar of Tabriz, for example, stretches along 1.5 kilometres of street and is the longest vaulted bazaar in the world. Moosavi argues that the Middle-Eastern bazaar evolved in a linear pattern, whereas the market places of the West were more centralised.
In pre-Islamic Arabia, two types of bazaar existed: permanent urban markets and temporary seasonal markets. The temporary seasonal markets were held at specific times of the year and became associated with particular types of produce. Suq Hijr in Bahrain was noted for its dates while Suq 'Adan was known for its spices and perfumes. In spite of the centrality of the Middle East in the history of bazaars, relatively little is known due to the lack of archaeological evidence. However, documentary sources point to permanent marketplaces in cities from as early as 550 BCE.
Nejad has made a detailed study of early bazaars in Iran and identifies two distinct types, based on their place within the economy, namely:
In the 1840s, Charles White described the Yessir Bazary of Constantinople in the following terms:
In the Middle East, the bazaar is considered to be "the beating heart of the city and a symbol of Islamic architecture and culture of high significance." Today, bazaars are popular sites for tourists and some of these ancient bazaars have been listed as world heritage sites or national monuments on the basis of their historical, cultural or architectural value.
The Medina of Fez, Morocco, with its labyrinthine covered market streets was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.Al-Madina Souq is part of the ancient city of Aleppo, another UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986. The Bazaar complex at Tabriz, Iran was listed in 2010 and Kemeralt? Bazaar of ?zmir in 2020. The Bazaar of Qaisiyariye in Lar, Iran is on the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
A temporary, seasonal souk is held at a set time that might be yearly, monthly or weekly. The oldest souks were set up annually, and were typically general festivals held outside cities. For example, Souk Ukadh was held yearly in pre-Islamic times in an area between Mecca and Ta'if during the sacred month of Dhu al-Qi'dah. While a busy market, it was more famous for its poetry competitions, judged by prominent poets such as Al-Khansa and Al-Nabigha. An example of an Islamic annual souk is Al Mirbid just outside Basra, also famed for its poetry competitions in addition to its storytelling activities. Temporary souks tended to become known for specific types of produce. For example, Suq Hijr in Bahrain was noted for its dates while Suq 'Adan was known for its spices and perfumes. Political, economic and social changes have left only the small seasonal souks outside villages and small towns, primarily selling livestock and agricultural products.
Weekly markets have continued to function throughout the Arab world. Most of them are named from the day of the week on which they are held. They usually have open spaces specifically designated for their use inside cities. Examples of surviving markets are the Wednesday Market in Amman that specializes in the sale of used products, the Ghazl market held every Friday in Baghdad specializing in pets; the Fina' Market in Marrakech offers performance acts such as singing, music, acrobats and circus activities.
In tribal areas, where seasonal souks operated, neutrality from tribal conflicts was usually declared for the period of operation of a souk to permit the unhampered exchange of surplus goods. Some of the seasonal markets were held at specific times of the year and became associated with particular types of produce such as Suq Hijr in Bahrain, noted for its dates while Suq 'Adan was known for its spices and perfumes. In spite of the centrality of the Middle Eastern market place, relatively little is known due to the lack of archaeological evidence.
Permanent souks are more commonly occurring, but less renowned as they focus on commercial activity, not entertainment. Until the Umayyad era, permanent souks were merely an open space where merchants would bring in their movable stalls during the day and remove them at night; no one had a right to specific pitch and it was usually first-come first-served. During the Umayyad era the governments started leasing, and then selling, sites to merchants. Merchants then built shops on their sites to store their goods at night. Finally, the area comprising a souk might be roofed over. With its long and narrow alleys, al-Madina Souk is the largest covered historic market in the world, with an approximate length of 13 kilometers. Al-Madina Souk is part of the Ancient City of Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986.
Gharipour has pointed out that in spite of the centrality of souks and bazaars in Middle Eastern history, relatively little is known due to the lack of archaeological evidence. Souks are traditionally divided into specialized sections dealing in specific types of product, in the case of permanent souks each usually housed in a few narrow streets and named after the product it specializes in such as the gold souk, the fabric souk, the spice souk, the leather souk, the copy souk (for books), etc. This promotes competition among sellers and helps buyers easily compare prices.
At the same time the whole assembly is collectively called a souk. Some of the prominent examples are Souk Al-Melh in Sana'a, Manama Souk in Bahrain, Bizouriyya Souk in Damascus, Saray Souk in Baghdad, Khan Al-Zeit in Jerusalem, and Zanqat Al-Niswaan in Alexandria.
Though each neighbourhood within the city would have a local Souk selling food and other essentials, the main souk was one of the central structures of a large city, selling durable goods, luxuries and providing services such as money exchange. Workshops where goods for sale are produced (in the case of a merchant selling locally-made products) are typically located away from the souk itself. The souk was a level of municipal administration. The Muhtasib was responsible for supervising business practices and collecting taxes for a given souk while the Arif are the overseers for a specific trade.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, Europeans conquered and excavated parts of North Africa and the Levant. These regions now make up what is called the Middle East, but in the past were known as the Orient. Europeans sharply divided peoples into two broad groups - the European West and the East or Orient; us and the other. Europeans often saw Orientals as the opposite of Western civilisation; the peoples could be threatening- they were "despotic, static and irrational whereas Europe was viewed as democratic, dynamic and rational." At the same time, the Orient was seen as exotic, mysterious, a place of fables and beauty. This fascination with the other gave rise to a genre of painting known as Orientalism. A proliferation of both Oriental fiction and travel writing occurred during the early modern period.
Many of these works were lavishly illustrated with engravings of every day scenes of Oriental lifestyles, including scenes of market places and market trade. Artists focused on the exotic beauty of the land - the markets, caravans and snake charmers. Islamic architecture also became favorite subject matter. Some of these works were propaganda designed to justify European imperialism in the East, however many artists relied heavily on their everyday experiences for inspiration in their artworks. For example, Charles D'Oyly, who was born in India, published the Antiquities of Dacca featuring a series of 15 engraved plates of Dacca [now Dhaka, Bangladesh] featuring scenes of markets, commerce, buildings and streetscapes. European society generally frowned on nude painting - but harems, concubines and slave markets, presented as quasi-documentary works, satisfied European desires for pornographic art. The Oriental female wearing a veil was a particularly tempting subject because she was hidden from view, adding to her mysterious allure.
Notable artists in the Orientalist genre include: Jean-Léon Gérôme Delacroix (1824-1904), Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps (1803-1860), Frederic Leighton (1830-1896), Eugène Alexis Girardet 1853-1907 and William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) who all found inspiration in Oriental street scenes, trading and commerce. French painter Jean-Étienne Liotard visited Istanbul in the 17th century and painted pastels of Turkish domestic scenes. British painter John Frederick Lewis who lived for several years in a traditional mansion in Cairo, painted highly detailed works showing realistic genre scenes of Middle Eastern life. Edwin Lord Weeks was a notable American example of a 19th-century artist and author in the Orientalism genre. His parents were wealthy tea and spice merchants who were able to fund his travels and interest in painting. In 1895 Weeks wrote and illustrated a book of travels titled From the Black Sea through Persia and India. Other notable painters in the Orientalist genre who included scenes of street life and market-based trade in their work are Jean-Léon Gérôme Delacroix (1824-1904), Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps (1803-1860), Frederic Leighton (1830-1896), Eugène Alexis Girardet 1853-1907 and William Holman Hunt (1827-1910), who all found inspiration in Oriental street scenes, trading and commerce.
A proliferation of both Oriental fiction and travel writing occurred during the early modern period.
Many English visitors to the Orient wrote narratives around their travels. British Romantic literature in the Orientalism tradition has its origins in the early eighteenth century, with the first translations of The Arabian Nights (translated into English from the French in 1705-08). The popularity of this work inspired authors to develop a new genre, the Oriental tale. Samuel Johnson's History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, (1759) is mid-century example of the genre. Byron's Oriental Tales, is another example of the Romantic Orientalism genre.
Although these works were purportedly non-fiction, they were notoriously unreliable. Many of these accounts provided detailed descriptions of market places, trading and commerce. Examples of travel writing include: Les Mysteres de L'Egypte Devoiles by Olympe Audouard published in 1865 and Jacques Majorelle's Road Trip Diary of a Painter in the Atlas and the Anti-Atlas published in 1922
The Bazaar, by Alexandre Defaux, 1856
Souk des étoffes, Tunis by Anton Robert Leinweber, before 1921
Inside the Souk, Cairo by Charles Wilda, 1892
Copper Market, Cairo by Edward Angelo Goodall, 1871
The Barber at the Souk by Enrique Simonet, 1897
Bazaar in Samarkand, by Gigo Gabashvili, 1896
Scenery at a North African Bazaar, by John Gleich, 20th century
El Zoco [The Souk] by José Navarro Llorens, 1900
Market Day outside the Walls of Tangiers, Morocco by Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1873
Bazaar in the Old City, by Ludwig Blum, 1944
Nizhny Novgorod, Lower Bazaar by Alexey Bogolyubov, 1878
Vendors in the Covered Bazaar Istanbul by Vittorio Amadeo Preziosi,1851
Entrance to the Souk at Constantinople, by Simon Agopian, 1905
Souk at Konstantynopolu by Stanis?aw Chlebowski, 19th century
The Bazaar at Constantinople, watercolour by J. F. Lewis, Wellcome
The Char Chatta Bazaar of Kabul by A. Gh. Brechna, 1932
Souk Hamareh, Damascus by from D.S. Margoliouth, Cairo, Jerusalem, & Damascus: three chief cities of the Egyptian Sultans, 1907
Moroccan Market Scene by Louis Comfort Tiffany, undated
Bazaar by Vasily Vereshchagin, c. 1870
A Market in Isphahan by Edwin Lord Weeks, 1887
Spice Market, Marrakesh
Souk in Rabat, Morocco
The traditional tagine clay pot, used to cook tajine (dish)
Grand Bazaar, Urumqi, Xinjiang, China