Guide to SKOPJE

Road to the World of Trade Skopje – Istanbul

Traders have been going back and forth the roads between Skopje and Istanbul for centuries. States and Empires have changed but the strong trade relationship has survived them all. Nowadays, many products sold in stores in Skopje come from Turkey’s largest city. For fans of precise statistics, Turkey is one of the ten largest exporters to Macedonia, with exported goods worth over one billion dollars in the last three years.


A business trip to Istanbul means entering the world of trade on the Bosphorus. It is not the world of shopping, but the world of massive trade where thousands of Macedonian families and millions in other countries earn for a living. It is a world where even on the door of the tiniest little shop you can see the “open ”sign written in Turkish, Russian and Arabic which makes it clear that you are at the crossroads of civilizations.


Where is the trade district of Istanbul? It is everywhere. There isn’t only one location and it is usually just a few hundred meters from the crowds of tourists. As tourists are making the most out of a photo opportunity, a crowd of merchants are making the most out of a trading opportunity in the next street. This is the world that has not changed much since the Middle Ages, or even since pre-Ottoman times. There is a huge complex of many bazaars where lanes are paved with new tiles and buildings have changed the façade, the goods on offer change with the times but the essence remains. This world has surreal characters who have survived through the ages, the kind that we only hear about in children’s stories. .


In the World of Porters and White Bags

Let’s take porters for example. Tirelessly pushing their carts up and down the hilly streets. They move faster than the average pedestrian even though they are carrying a weight of a hundred kilos. They are everywhere and they always have priority in busy traffic. There is no standard fee, so they all haggle depending on how much merchandise there is and where it needs to be delivered. According to their number and how busy they are it looks like there will always be work for a porter in Istanbul.


Apprentices are also interesting characters. Young boys, some as young as 10, are always around ready to help where needed. They make and deliver tea and coffee, buy food, and are even sent as messengers to deliver a message to the neighbors (having mobile phones does not make a difference here).


Istanbul shopkeepers offer tea, coffee or water to every customer who looks tired from the long walk in search of goods, even when they know that they won’t buy anything from them. But a good host is usually rewarded with loyalty from the buyer.

As in every bazaar there are special rules of behavior which may puzzle the casual passerby. For example, everyone has the right, at any time of night or day, to block the street with their car, van or truck to bring goods to their store. Those who come last just turn off their vehicles and wait in line peacefully until it is done. Nobody complains or honks the horn. It is considered rude. They don’t have the right to criticize when they are doing the same thing. Also, they never stay longer than it is needed. There is no tea, coffee or small talk, just unload the car as quickly as possible and move on. Another man deals with the paperwork. The only rule in this case is to leave enough space for pedestrians and porters. Porters are the bloodstream of the markets and must not be slowed down.


There are many other things that make this world modern and medieval at the same time. The shops are very small and crowded with goods even though they are wholesale traders. Despite the lack of space and sometimes feeling like a bull in a china shop, traders skillfully manage to show customers everything they want to see. They boast about their booming business, and complain that they have gotten old really fast because they work every day from early morning until late at night.

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– We have money, but we never find time to spend it. – says a 52 -year-old owner of the shop.

There are hundreds of clothes brands, mainly of domestic Turkish production, so everyone chooses according to their taste and the taste of their customers. The goods are packed into large white bags which are skillfully sealed with duct tape, so there is no chance of them opening during transport. There are many jokes about Istanbul using more duct tape than the length of all the roads in the city.

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The packed goods are taken to a transport centre. From this place they are transported to Macedonia, Russia, Algeria, to the countries of their customers. Just like in the Middle Ages, in the Ottoman era or the modern ages of a hundred years ago, it is the same as today.

Goce Trpkovski