Guide to SKOPJE

Bit Pazar – centuries long tradition

“The old bazaar, with its centuries long tradition, is an institution that continues to oppose technology and modern life of a metropolis.”

“We measure correctly here” – says a notice on a banana stall in Bit Pazar – the oldest, most famous and busiest market in Skopje. Perhaps a stroke of creativity in order to sell a few more kilos, or could it be spying on the competition? It is hard to tell, but one thing is for sure, such a thing is impossible to see in other Balkan markets or markets around the world. It is a trait found solely in our Bit Pazar.

That line was provocative enough for me to write about this phenomenon in Skopje. Yes, now is the time for Bit Pazar to go out on the new Balkon3 and greet its customers.


It is one of the characteristics that makes Bit Pazar a special, inseparable part of the lives of  so many people. In order to get to know its other features we “go shopping”.

I take my bike because the market still hasn’t got a car park.  The lack of it is the biggest problem for both traders and customers and  nothing has been done in years to solve this issue. That is why we have the tow-trucks as an irreplacable part of the market’s inventory.

I enter through the middle entrance facing Bit Pazar medical clinic. At the very first steps I notice leeks lined as a guard of honour waiting to be inspected by foreign dignitaries and saluting their potential customers.

As I walk into the market I begin to see clearly – yes,  the heart of the city beats right here in Bit Pazar.

The market offers mainly fresh fruit and vegetables. “What’s it like to spend a large portion of your day in Bit Pazar?” – I ask an apple seller at the entrance of the market. “The market is vivid. Each day we have different customers, different conversations but we usually stick to sports and politics.”- says he, measuring three kilos of apples that cost exactly 100 denars.  A kilo is 35 denars and if you want to buy just half a kilo you’ll get the same answer everywhere “Sorry, we don’t measure small quantities. Go to a supermarket.”


During the rule of the Ottoman Empire villages, towns and provinces designated certain places for public services including markets. People who could not carry their products to far away places were able to sell them at the market. Due to decreased transport expences products in the market were sold at rather low prices leading to a great interest in potential customers. The tradition continues to this day. There is only one difference- in the old days the market was set up for just one day a week, whereas now it is open 365 days a year.

I talk about the history of Bit Pazar with Salih Kemal, a 60-year-old seller of dried fruit, nuts, hazelnuts, almonds, chickpeas etc. “I’ve been working here for more than 15 years now but I’ve always known the market. As a child I used to bring geranium plants to sell. We didn’t have stalls then so we had to sit on the ground.” – says Salih.

“It isn’t as busy as it used to be.”- says he, explaining that ever since the big supermarkets appeared, around 2004 according to him, business is not doing very well.

The meaning of its name remains ambiguous. According to some, it derives from the large number of visitors, some say it is because of the wide range of cheap, second-hand products sold at the market. The word “bit” in Turkish means “a louse” and there are many other Bit Pazars found in Balkan countries.


A stroll round Bit Pazar offers an encounter with people from all walks of life, men, women, young, old, of all nationalities living in Macedonia, to be more precise, one meets people from all over the city. While I was talking to Salih a smiling, middle-aged man came to the stall asking about the quality of the black olives and then I hear a wonderful tenor singing in Italian. It was the opera singer Nikola Gagov, one of  Salih’s regular customers. “He is a regular customer and he always sings when he comes round. He even sings loudly sometimes, asking with his tenor voice: Give me some seeeeeds” says Salih.

It’s 4pm and the roar of the day, all that shouting and haggling, colours and smells begin to fade and disappear in the falling darkness. People leave, stalls are empty and abandoned.

All that’s left after dark are cardboard packages, rotten vegetables and fruit, and it’s time for the sweepers to do their job.The centuries old Bit Pazar is left longing for the next day and new adventures.

Husamedin Gina