In its heyday, the Skopje Old Bazaar was the second-biggest bazaar in the world (after Istanbul’s Kapalicarsi), making it one of the oldest and largest marketplaces in the Balkans. It has been Skopje’s commercial nerve center since the 12th century.
The city grew up around the Old Bazaar district over the years and continues to serve as the beating, symbolic center of the metropolis to this day. The Old Bazaar is well-known for more than just its function as a marketplace. It is also rich in cultural and historical significance. Byzantine ruins, medieval mosques and cathedrals, fascinating museums, and even some contemporary structures may all be found in this area of Skopje.
You would assume you need a guide to witness all the fantastic sights and sounds of Skopje Old Bazaar, but you can do just fine without one. As such, we penned this piece to guide those who wish to independently explore one of Europe’s least visited countries without fear of missing any important historical sites.
The Origins of the Old Bazaar in Skopje
According to historical records, the Skopje Old Market has been open since at least the 12th century, making it the oldest bazaar in the Balkans. Before the Ottoman invasion, this was a bustling marketplace. The bazaar continued to expand and thrive as the city’s primary commercial district under the Ottoman administration. Multiple historical accounts attest that the bazaar once occupied a much bigger space. Hundreds of stores, thirty mosques, a few caravanserais (where merchants may spend the night), fifteen to twenty hammams, and a few meters of schools all made up the area (among other things).
The earthquake of 1555, the city fire of 1689, and one of the most significant earthquakes of the 20th century struck in 1963, destroying a considerable portion of the bazaar. The Old Bazaar was partially rebuilt after 1963 but is much smaller now than it was. However, despite this, much of the area’s historic allure has survived. The entire neighborhood surrounding the bazaar has been designated as a cultural heritage monument of national significance in Macedonia since 2008.
Skopje's Old Bazaar Has Plenty to Offer
As such, we have put together the definitive self-guided walking tour of the Old Bazaar in Skopje, covering the entire area. Depending on which side of the river you like to explore, your walking tour might begin at Stone Bridge or Kale Fortress. We recommend beginning your journey at Stone Bridge in the afternoon and ending it at Kale Fortress in time to watch the sunset over the city from its elevated perch.
1. The Stone Bridge (near Skopje Old Bazaar)
The Stone Bridge links Skopje’s new, modern city center and the historic Old Bazaar neighborhood. Both ends of the bridge offer strikingly different perspectives on Skopje. More than that, it is one of Skopje’s most recognizable landmarks because it is the oldest still-standing bridge. Its construction was ordered by Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror and took place between 1451 and 1469.
An earthquake in 1555, the burning of the city in 1689, the death of one of Macedonia’s leading rebels, Karposh, who was executed immediately next to the bridge, and a terrible earthquake in 1963 are just some of the highlights and lowlights of Skopje’s history. A historical urban legend claims that in 1944 the Nazis ordered the bridge’s destruction. Still, the order was canceled at the last minute.
2. The Hammam of the Daut Pasha (National Art Gallery)
The Daut Pasha Hammam is one of the first sights when entering the Skopje Old Bazaar from the direction of the Stone Bridge. This grand structure is one of two restored Turkish bathhouses in Skopje and has served as an art gallery since the 1950s. Since 1948, the space has served as the home of the National Art Gallery of Macedonia, where visitors can view both permanent and rotating displays of modern and contemporary art. No matter what, though, it’ll only cost you 50 denars (about $1) to get in.
3. Ascension of Christ Church
4. Spa Treatment at the Chifte Hammam (inside Skopje Old Bazaar)
If you were wondering, bezisten is the Turkish name for a covered market. Many people used to frequent these marketplaces back in the day. We may compare them to a rudimentary form of today’s large shopping centers (at least here in the Balkans and Anatolia).
Gazi Ishak Bey, the regent of Skopje at the time, commissioned the construction of the Skopje Bezisten in the 15th century. The bezisten burned to the ground in 1689 but was later rebuilt, with the most recent repair occurring in 1899. A second art gallery, well worth your time, now occupies the Bezisten building.
6. Skopje Old Bazaar - Shops Specializing in Antiques
The old bazaar is known for its abundance of antique shops, which are a significant draw. Two cute souvenir stores greet you as you exit Chifte Hammam. A small lane behind the mosque (next to the hammam) is devoted entirely to antique shops.
Everything from art to antiques to mementos to traditional clothing to musical instruments to tourist trinkets may be found here.