Istanbul-An eerie silence has fallen over Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, one of the world’s oldest, largest and most visited markets, where a raucous mixture of languages, cultures and commerce has buzzed for centuries.

But there are now signs of life at the market as municipal workers roam its deserted alleys, spraying the floor, columns and walls ahead of the doors reopening on Monday for the first time in two months.The bazaar -- home to almost 3,000 shops where more than 30,000 people work -- was closed on March 23 as part of measures to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has killed over 4,300 people in Turkey. Officials say it has been the longest closure in the bazaar’s more than 550-year-old history, except for forced shutdowns following fires and earthquakes.

The market is usually visited by 150,000 people every day -- and by 42 million last year -- while traders shout out deals in dozens of languages to lure tourists into their stores. Now the stores are all shuttered, except for about 20 stock exchange offices and jeweller’s shops which have remained open for economic reasons, with only special customers received by appointment. The bazaar has been disinfected every Wednesday during the shutdown, while janitors have cleaned every morning.

“God willing we will reopen our market in a healthy fashion on June 1,” Fatih Kurtulmus, chairman of the Grand Bazaar’s board, told AFP in an interview.“I have faith that our country will begin receiving tourists from mid-June by paying attention to hygiene rules,” he said inside the historic market. Kurtulmus added that while not much activity is expected in the first weeks, “I believe tourists will fly to Istanbul by the end of June because they cannot do without... the Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque.”

The bazaar is located on Istanbul’s historic peninsula, home to the Sultanahmet mosque, also called the Blue Mosque, and the ancient church-turned-mosque-turned-museum Hagia Sophia.