The Skopje Old Bazaar is one of the oldest and largest marketplaces in the Balkans and during its hay-days, it was the second-largest bazaar in the world (only behind Istanbul’s Kapalicarsi). It has been Skopje’s trade and commerce hub since the 12th century. Throughout the years, the city developed around the Old Bazaar area and even today, this is still the heart of the city, both literally and figuratively. In addition to its importance as a marketplace, the Old Bazaar is also famous for its historical and cultural significance. Here, you can find some of Skopje’s oldest buildings, including remains of Byzantine architecture, medieval mosques and churches, interesting museums, and even some modern architecture.
With so many exciting things to see and do around Skopje Old Bazaar, you might think you’d need a guide to see everything but that’s not the case. That’s why we wrote this article; to help you explore this historical area of the capital of one of the least visited countries in Europe on your own without missing anything important.
History of Skopje Old Bazaar
The first mentions of the Skopje Old Bazaar date back to the 12th century, making it the oldest bazaar in the Balkan. At the time, there was a large marketplace in this area even before the Ottoman invasion. During Ottoman rule, the bazaar kept developing and even then, it was the city’s main commerce hub. According to numerous historical sources, the bazaar was a lot larger than it is now. It encompassed hundreds of shops, 30 mosques, handful of caravanserais (for merchants to spend the night), between 15 and 20 hammams, and a few medresa schools (among other things).
However, most of the bazaar was destroyed by the earthquake of 1555, the burning of the city of 1689, and one of the largest earthquakes of the 20th century that took place in 1963. After 1963, a portion of the Old Bazaar was rebuilt but today, it’s significantly smaller. However, despite this, the area managed to keep most of its ancient charm. Since 2008, the entire area encompassing the bazaar has been recognized as a cultural heritage site of particular importance for Macedonia.
Where is the Old Bazaar?
The bazaar occupies a huge portion of Skopje’s central area. It expands from the eastern Bank of the Vardar River to the foot of the Skopje Fortress which was historically, the most important part of the city. Inside the bazaar, you’ll find a labyrinth of tiny, narrow, cobbled streets (where you can easily get lost) filled with shops, bars, restaurants, and other eateries. The area is accessible 24/7 but most of the shops close before 8 PM while most restaurants and bars work until 12 or 1 AM.
Things to do at Skopje Old Bazaar
We have compiled the ultimate self-walking tour that covers everything worth seeing Skopje’s Old Bazaar area. You can start your walking tour from Stone Bridge or Kale Fortress, depending on which side you decide to start from. Personally, I’d suggest you to start the tour at Stone Bridge in the afternoon and complete at Kale Fortress for sunset and enjoy a beautiful view of the city.
The Stone Bridge is what connects Skopje’s new, modern city center and the authentic Old Bazaar area. At the two different ends of the bridge, you can see two very different sides of Skopje. In addition to this, the bridge is also Skopje’s oldest living bridge and one of the city’s most iconic symbols. It was built between 1451 and 1469 by Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror.
The city saw some of the brightest and darkest moments of Skopje’s history, including the earthquake of 1555, the burning of the city in 1689, the execution of one of Macedonia’s leading revolutionaries, Karposh who was executed right next to the bridge, and the horrible earthquake of 1963. According to an old urban legend, the Nazis intended to blow up the bridge in 1944 but the command was called off in the last minute.
Daut Pasha Hammam (National Art Gallery)
After crossing the Stone Bridge, Daut Pasha Hammam is probably the first thing you’ll notice when entering the Skopje Old Bazaar. This imposing building is one of two Turkish bathhouses in Skopje that has been renovated to its former glory and since the 1950s, it has been used as an art exhibition space. Since 1948, the building has been used for the needs of the National Art Gallery of Macedonia and there are a few permanent contemporary art exhibitions and many temporary exhibitions. But whatever the case, the entrance costs only 50 denars (around $1).
The hammam was built for Daut Pasha, the Grand Vesir of East Rumelia in the 15th century. The building has fifteen rooms and thirteen domes. If you’re looking for a great photo spot, just climb the stairs opposite South East Europe University and you’ll get an amazing view of the hammam’s led domes with the old bazaar in the background.
Located on the border of Skopje Old Bazaar and Goce Delcev Boulevard, the Skanderbeg Square is one of the newest additions to the Old Bazaar Area. The square features a statue of Skanderbeg on his horse, a plaza, and several Socialist-style mosaics. It’s located just east of the hammam and practically on the way to Destan, so there’s no reason to stop by for a few minutes and click a few interesting photos.
Church of the Ascension of Jesus
Located near the eastern gate of Kale Fortress, this beautiful orthodox church is one of the oldest remaining churches in Skopje. It dates back to the 16th century. At the time it was built, Skopje was under Ottoman rule and no other religious object could be taller than the minaret of Skopje’s main mosque.
This made creative architects to try to find an alternate way to make a church that will still be bigger than the city’s main mosque; they designed a ‘sunken’ building with three naves underground. However, because of this design, spotting the church from the outside can be a bit tricky and you can miss it if you don’t pay attention.
Chifte Hammam is the second bathhouse/gallery you’ll find at the Skopje Old Bazaar. This hammam was built in the 15th century and was divided into two wings (one for men and one for women). This is why it was named chifte hammam (meaning double bathhouse). The building was used as a bathhouse until 1915 which is around the time when the Ottoman occupation of Macedonia ended.
The building suffered greatly during Skopje’s 1963 earthquake but a few years later, it was renewed and since the 1970s, it’s home to the Contemporary Art Gallery and hosts a lot of interesting cultural events. The entrance fee is 50 denars (just like Daut Pasha Hammam).
In case you’re not familiar with the terminology, bezisten is a Turkish word used to describe a covered market. Back in the days, these markets were filled with people and I guess one could say they were a primitive version of most big shopping malls (at least here in the Balkans and Anatolia).
The Skopje Bezisten was built in the 15th century by Gazi Ishak Bey, at the time, regent of Skopje. The bezisten was burned down to the ground during the fire of 1689 but was later rebuilt with the last restoration taking place in 1899. Today, the Bezisten building hosts yet another art gallery and it’s definitely worth checking out.
Kujundjiska, a.k.a ‘Gold Street’
Kujundjiska is one of the rare streets in Skopje that’s still known for the craft of product which it’s named after. Just like in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, streets in the Skopje Old Quarter are named after the craft or product you can find there, in this case, gold. Even today, on this street, you can find a lot of gold jewelry shops because, as shopkeepers say, “gold never goes out of fashion”.
Antique shops are the highlight of the old bazaar and there are a lot of them. As you come out of Chifte Hammam, you’ll notice two adorable souvenir shops right opposite of it and behind the mosque (next to the hammam), you’ll see a tiny alley that’s completely dedicated to antique shops.
Here, you can find paintings, authentic fabrics, antiquities, memorabilia, traditional clothes, instruments, souvenirs, you name it!
Visit Skopje’s last hatter
Unfortunately, the old bazaar is a market of dying crafts. Most small shop owners go out of business because of the increased competition, the decreased interest for authentic handcraft products, and the unwillingness of young generations to learn and master the old traditional crafts that the bazaar is famous for. One such example is Ilco Trajkovski’s shop. He’s the third-generation hat maker in his family and the last traditional hatter left in the bazaar.
Suli An (meaning, juicy, liquid because of its proximity to the river) is another traditional caravanserai that was built in the 15th century. Until the 1950s, the building was abandoned and was greatly damaged during the 1963 earthquake (like most buildings in the area). Shortly afterward, the building was renovated and today, it’s home to the Museum of the Skopje Old Bazaar.
Sure, you can learn a lot of things about the old bazaar in this article but visiting the museum is much better. There, you can find out a lot more interesting facts about the bazaar, learn more about the ancient crafts of the bazaar and the people behind them, and see some rare old photographs that show how the bazaar looked throughout the years.
The entrance fee is 120 denars (around 2 euros) and the museum closes at 2 PM (only works Mon-Fri).
Kurshumli Han (meaning the “lead inn”) was the largest han in the Skopje Old Bazaar area. It was built in the 16th century and its roof was covered with lead, hence the name. The han had a mosque attached next to it and one of the largest hammams in the area. Sadly, both buildings were completely destroyed by the 1963 earthquake while the han itself was also heavily damaged.
Today, Kurshumli Han is in a lot worse condition compared to Suli Han and Kapaan Han. It still is home to the Museum of the Republic of Macedonia and hosts some of the largest cultural events that take place in the Old Bazaar area but the need for a restoration is evident. Nevertheless, I would definitely recommend you to visit.
Mustafa Pasha’s Mosque
Mustafa Pasha’s Mosque is the largest mosque in Skopje and the fact that such a large building was erected in such proximity to the bazaar’s main streets is one of the highlights of Ottoman city planning. The mosque is located right after Kurshumli Han, the third and last remaining han of the old baazar.
The mosque was built in 1492 and was constructed from mainly white marble while the domes are decorated with delicate blue porcelain-like motifs that give the mosque its iconic look. You can visit the mosque any time and even if you’re not a Muslim.
Even though its name translates to “flea market”, Bit Pazar isn’t really a flea market but here, you can get pretty much anything from fresh produce and flowers to different kinds of electronic parts and equipment and the prices are a bargain to say at least. The Pazar is located just outside of the Skopje Old Bazaar adjacent to the boulevard and opposite of the University Campus.
The old Clock Tower is one of Skopje’s most prominent landmarks. It was built in the 15the century. Originally, it was entirely made of wood but the tower top was replaced with bricks in 1902. Technically, the tower isn’t a part of the Skopje Old Bazaar Area but it’s just opposite of it and if you’re passing by it would be a shame not to check it out.
Isa Bey Mosque
And if you’re visiting the Clock Tower, you’ll also inevitably notice Isa Bey Mosque. Built in 1438, this is the oldest mosque in Skopje and home to one of the first Islamic libraries at the territory of Europe. Inside the mosque yard, you can also find the tomb of the Aydinid İsa Bey. This mosque is also known as Aladza (Decorated) Mosque because of the beautiful floral decorations and colorful tiles on its walls.
Finally, if you’re visiting the Skopje Old Bazaar, you’d be a full not to check out the Kale. The city fortress has been protecting Skopje since the sixth century and it’s one of the most strategic points in the city. Excavations are still taking place and the underground rooms of the fort are not accessible for tourists but you can still enjoy one of the best views of the Old Bazaar.
Places to eat and drink
Destan, Skopje’s oldest restaurant
No trip to Skopje is complete without tasting some of Destan’s kebabs. Opened in 1913, this is the oldest restaurant in Skopje that’s still operational. Throughout the years, Destan opened restaurants on a couple of other locations in Skopje too but the oldest one is still right here in the heart of Skopje Old Bazaar.
The menu feaures typically Balkan dishes but my personal recommendation is to try kebapcinja (kebab) with kaymak, chopped onion, hot peppers, shopska salad, and warm home-made bread. You’ll find the restaurant at the bazaar’s main intersection (between Kazandjiska Street and Salih Asim).
In its hey-days Kapan An was one of Skopje’s first han or caravanserai (Ottoman-style inn). The building covers around 1,050 square meters and has a ground floor and a second level. Originally, there were 44 rooms in the caravanserai but most were damaged in the 1963 earthquake. Today, the building has been renovated and it’s home to a few cute teahouses, a restaurant, a school, and one of the most famous clubs in this part of the city.
Pivnica Star Grad
If you’re looking for a place where you can have a refreshing beer, Pivnica Star Grad is a great choice. This is the first craft brewery in Macedonia that specializes in natural and unfiltered craft beers. The brewery also offers light meals and at times, there’s also live acoustic music.
On the backside of the brewery, you’ll discover Jorgandziska, a pitched street that’s connected to Podragje that leads back to Stone Bridge. In the past, this street was dedicated to quilt shops hence, the name (jorgan means quilt) but since this is a dying craft, that’s not the case anymore. Today, this is one of the most vibrant streets in the Skopje Old Bazaar and home to most bars in the area.
Try the Angela Merkel Baklava
You can find a lot of sweet shops and bakeries at the old bazaar but trust me, this one is special. The shop is owned by an old Turkish Macedonian lady who has pictures of Rechep Erdogan inside the shop and a curious sign that grabs the attention of most passersby. What does the sign say? We have fresh Angela Merkel baklava. Apparently, the lady likes and respects the German chancellor so much that she designed a signature dish just for her and to be honest, the baklava is to die for.
Are you planning a trip to Skopje? Then you may want to check out our guide to Matka Canyon.
What to buy from the Old Bazaar?
One of the highlights of visiting the old bazaar is shopping. Even though most traditional craftsmen have left, the old bazaar still offers a wide range of authentic handicrafts, souvenirs, clothes, musical instruments, antiquities, etc.
Here’s a shortlist of my personal recommendations.
- Silver filigree;
- Clay pottery;
- Leather goods (i.e. opinci, traditional Macedonian shoes);
- Authentic carpets;
- Traditional Macedonian ethnic clothes;
- Socialist-era memorabilia;
- And of course, souvenirs from Skopje.
Where to stay?
There are three top choices in the area that are right next to the bazaar and make it very convenient for visitors to explore the area. The first option that comes to mind is Hotel Arka; it has arguably the best view of the old bazaar. The hotel also has a rooftop bar and a restaurant, an indoor pool, fitness gym, and a sauna. Another great option is BH Hotel Hamburg down the boulevard from Hotel Arka, AEN Hotel located in the heart of the Skopje Old Bazaar, and Hotel De Koka near the intersection of Goce Delcev Boulevard and the street leading to the Old Bazaar.
If you’re looking for some tours that will allow you to explore the area, here are some of our favorite suggestions.
Map of the itinerary
Did you ever visit Skopje or the Skopje Old Bazaar? What’s your favorite thing about it? If you didn’t visit, which place would you want to visit first? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!
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