Discovering Skopje’s Ottoman Influences

Text & photos Copyright © Estrella Azul

SKOPJE IS THE CAPITAL and also the largest city of the Republic of Macedonia (which is often simply referred to as FYROM, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.)

After his brother visited the country and said it was very beautiful, my boyfriend and I decided to visit Skopje for a week for our 2017/2018 winter holiday and also to ring in the New Year.

Stone Bridge, the connection between the Old Bazaar and Macedonia Square

Located on the upper course of the Vardar River, Skopje is definitely not a boring city (more on that in an upcoming article). One of the things I loved most about it was how, in this former socialist city, the Ottoman culture seems to have remained seamlessly integrated.

A mixture of architectural styles

I believe the main reason for this is that Skopje was under Turkish control for over 500 years starting in 1392. The city, known as Üsküb back then, was famous for its oriental architecture, which can still be noticed today especially if one walks around the Old Bazaar.

More of a European feel, but love the colors

Found in the heart of Skopje, and with the Stone Bridge connecting it to Macedonia Square, the Old Bazaar is essentially a labyrinth marketplace which has been the city’s center for trade and commerce ever since it’s Turkish rule. While about 75% of the city was destroyed in earthquakes in 1555 and especially in 1963, and also during the First and Second World Wars, the Old Bazaar was the least affected.

Different streets winding through the Old Bazaar

I loved walking around the labyrinth streets to discover a lively marketplace full of almost anything one could desire. As far as I could tell, each street is dedicated to different trades, such as leather clothing, jewelry, restaurants and sweets shops, carpets and fabrics, etc.

From magnets to carpets, you’ll find it all in the Old Bazaar

Several active mosques, türbes (the tombs or small mausoleums of Ottoman royalty and notables), old inns, baths, two Protestant churches and a clock tower have their home in the Old Bazaar. It spans out to Skopje’s Bit Pazar, which is the largest market—a place to find fresh produce, meat, spices and sweets, tobacco, and also a large range of Turkish clothing.

But it isn’t just a place for tourists. The locals eat, shop and live there.

Hidden gems

Everyone was very friendly, both in the city center and in the suburbs. Younger people generally speak English, at least on a conversational level, but we managed to get along well even with the people who didn’t using only the few phrases we knew and hand gestures.

Beautiful archway to a tiny street in the Old Bazaar

We had tea and coffee at Sloga, on Arhiepiscop Angelarij street, and the most delicious food at Cardak restaurant, on Bitpazarska street. The staff made us feel very welcome. We went back three times during our stay!

Authentic-tasting: coffee at Sloga, and lunch at Cardak

As far as places of worship go, one can see a mosque from nearly any point in the city. I loved that view! They look so elegantly placed among different architectural styles both downtown and in the suburbs.

Mustafa Pasha Mosque standing out from the red rooftops

It was also very interesting to me how every day some of the shops close and people take their praying carpet over to the mosques and, if they can’t fit inside, people start praying in the street.

Aside from the above-mentioned views, I also loved that I could hear mass echoing from all the mosques nearby.

People starting to show up for prayer at Murat Pasha Mosque

I had never been inside a mosque before, so we visited two: the Mustafa Pasha Mosque and Arasta Mosque. They are both really beautiful. The interiors are simple, with beautiful carpets, intricate colored patterns decorating the underside of the domes, and a few windows to let in light.

Mustafa Pasha Mosque

Arasta Mosque

Good to know before visiting a mosque: how to be respectful of the religion. Don’t go in during mass unless invited, take off/leave your shoes on the porch before entering, and keep your head covered. Since we visited during winter it was easy to keep our hats on; however, as an extra precaution, I also covered my head using one of the many scarves kept on hooks near the entrance.

Mosques with a sunset backdrop

The other large bazaar we visited, Pazar Evropa, is in the Šuto Orizari Municipality (Šutka). Our host mentioned this as being one of the best to check out. Visiting it on a Saturday morning, we got the true bazaar feel.

Pazar Evropa is literally situated on each side of a two-lane road, with buses inching their way past vendors and buyers on what is reduced to only one lane when the bazaar is full of people.

Bit Pazar “rooftops”

Exploring the different stands through its narrow alleys was an interesting experience. We bought quite a few clothing items, presents to bring home and, like in the Old Bazaar, we haggled on prices.

Unfortunately, I didn’t stick around in the middle of the remaining lane to take a picture, but it’s on my list for when we visit Skopje again!


Estrella in the Greek Amphitheatre ruins, Taormina, Sicily

Estrella Azul is a young emerging writer, passionate about reading, floral art and photography, with an artistic personality and a soulful outlook on life. She is a Hungarian girl living and writing from Cluj-Napoca, Romania, the capital of historical region Transylvania. Estrella is our European correspondent, she currently serves as the photo editor here at Milliver’s Travels, and she dreams of embarking on a round-the-world trip. To read more of her creative writing, her thoughts and daily happenings, visit Life’s a stage – WebBlog©. Read more of her stories on Milliver’s Travels by visiting Estrella’s story index.

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