A Day Trip in the Skopje Old Bazaar
Have you ever wanted to get lost in the narrow streets of a past life? Have you ever asked yourself what an authentic Turkish bazaar looks like? Well, you can experience and discover both of these things at the Old Bazaar in Skopje, located in the Capital of North Macedonia and dating back to the 12th century.
Turkish bazaars around the Balkans are known as “Charshija” – a downtown, business district and market where merchants sell goods and products. Many family-owned shops would have and still have apprenticeships to pass down their tradesmanship skills. The Old Bazaar – “Stara Charshija” – is a historical monument by itself – where east meets west; nonetheless, it also offers multiple sights worth-seeing that also have inexplicable value.
Getting to the Old Bazaar is quite easy as it’s nearby the city center. Travelers should simply cross the Stone Bridge from the city square and right after the statue of Phillip II, they’ll see the stairs that lead right towards the bazaar. Once there, the options are many really; you can simply allow yourself to get lost and found, have a nice lunch at one of the restaurants or buy something from the numerous shops. The Bazaar is big on jewelry.
About the Old Bazaar “Stara Charshija”
Where is the Old Bazaar in Skopje?
The Old Bazaar Skopje is located across the Stone Bridge and nearby the Kale Fortress. Geographically speaking, it is situated in the eastern bank of the Vardar River in Skopje, North Macedonia.
What is the old Bazaar?
Just like any bazaar in the world, this was and still is a place for trade and commerce. Its narrow streets are filled with numerous shops as well as restaurants where curious tourists can buy authentic souvenirs, products, and food. It is in a sense a merchant quarter right in the heart of Skopje.
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When was it built/discovered?
There is evidence that this Turkish bazaar in Skopje dates back to the 12th century. It was seriously damaged in the past by fires and earthquakes; therefore, it was reconstructed several times. Its importance was finally recognized by the Macedonian Government in 2008 when it was named a cultural heritage. The population is predominantly Turkish and Muslim in the Old Bazaar, so many mosques will be seen and daily prayers will be heard echoing through the streets of the Old Bazaar multiple times throughout the day.
Things to See in Stara Charshija
Daut Pasha Hamam
Built in the 15th century, this hammam, or a Turkish bath, was constructed by the Grand Vesir. It was made with 15 rooms and it is covered by 13 domes. Currently, it hosts the National Art Gallery and the entrance fee is 60 MKD (1 EUR). Monday is a non-working day.
This is another building that hosts the National Art Gallery. I last visited it five years ago and at the time the entrance was free; however, I believe now the fee could be identical to the one for Daut Pasha Hamam i.e. 60 MKD. This amazing building has two wings, it was used as a bathhouse and was built back in the 15th century. Monday is a non-working day.
Bezisten or the covered market was also built in the 15th century. It is characteristic for its narrow passages and buildings around them. Entering the Bezisten is free of charge.
Built in the 16th century, Kapan Han has a first floor where the cattle and horses used to be hosted and a first floor for the guests staying in it. Today, visitors can see the statue collection of the Museum of North Macedonia displayed at Kurshumli Han. However, during my Old Bazaar Skopje visit in August 2018, I found out that there were restoration works at the Han and it was closed for the public.
Consisting of a first floor that was used as a stable and an upper floor used for guests, the Kapan Han was built in the 15th century. Today, it has a restaurant on the first floor and it used to host a popular nightclub named Kapan Han on the upper floor. You can enter and wander around for free.
Just like most of the other landmarks, the Suli Han was built in the 15th century and has two floors. Currently, the building is the home of the Old Bazaar Museum as well as the Skopje Academy of Art. It is not open on weekends.
Sultan Murad Mosque
Built by Sultan Murad donated money in the 15th century, this mosque lies on top of the Saint George Monastery. It has been damaged and restored a few times; nonetheless, today it stands strong as one of the many Ottoman landmarks in the Old Bazaar Skopje.
First built of wood in the 16th century, the Clock Tower was later upgraded and got a top of bricks. It has an interesting design and it is located north of the Sultan Murad Mosque.
St. Spas Church
St. Spas or the Church of the Holy Salvation was built in the 19th century on top of another, older church. What’s special about this church is the fact half of it is underground as Christian buildings mustn’t be taller than Islamic buildings in order to make sure Islamic buildings would dominate the skyline. Another thing of historical importance for this building is the white stone sarcophagus in which the revolutionary Goce Delchev is buried.
Tips for a smooth visit in Charshija
- Old Bazaar Skopje has cobblestone streets; thus, comfortable shoes are a must
- During summer, it gets boiling and having a hat is highly recommended. You can buy a hat at the bazaar for affordable prices
- Some sights don’t work Mondays, while others are closed on weekends. Therefore, if you want to see everything go there on a neutral day such as Tuesday or Wednesday
- The Old Bazaar is usually crowded with people and tourists. So, it would be smart to keep your belongings next to you and make sure they’re safe
- Be prepared to find a mix of authentic as well as modern life while wandering the Old Bazaar. Many people are disappointed to find out that aside from the old buildings, everything else is quite contemporary
- Wandering around the Old Bazaar Skopje takes about 2-3 hours, depending on your pace as well as whether you enter certain historical buildings or not
Opinion on the Old Bazaar in Skopje
I believe anyone born in Skopje has no option, but to love the Old Bazaar. This mysterious place is deep inside the hearts of all Skopje residents as we all have countless memories of wandering around its streets or partying at the Old Bazaar bars.
I find the bazaar to be the perfect place where old and new meet. All the authentic buildings stand there to remind us of the life that happened many years and even centuries ago. On the other hand, the bars and souvenir shops show how adaptable to change humans are.
All in all, the Old Bazaar is a magical place and everyone visiting Skopje must find time to see it. If not for other reasons, it is one of the spots you can visit in Skopje for free if you decide not to enter any of the buildings.