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Macedonian Trades & Crafts 16th-19th century
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16th Century

The construction of trade shops and buildings continued throughout the 16th century, although with a slightly decreased intensity.

The following is what we learn about 16th-century Skopje and its business affairs from the notes of an unknown Venetian, who passed through the city while accompanying Venetian delegate Antonico Barbarigo in 1566: “Skopje is a large city. Part of the city lies on flat soil, and the other one on a scenic hill. The city perimeter is about 28 miles. Its houses are made of mud, as is the custom there, but they are quite nice. There are four beautiful mosques with leaden domes. The Vardar River flows through the city centre. It originates from the surrounding hills and through a narrow valley enveloped with very thick forests.

The main produce of the city is leather, which is treated there. There is also beeswax, which is sent to Lesh, and thence to Ancona and Venice. The Jews in Skopje outnumber the Christians, most of whom come from Dubrovnik. They have bought a lot of cheap land, where they grow vine and then sell wine. Fields are cultivated by slaves bought by Turks, whom they feed and dress in return. There is an abundance of food at very low prices. A water supply system with 40 openings has been built outside the city to enable water supply to the city baths.”

An event of particular significance to the city occurred in 1566 and 1567. A number of copies of “holy books” printed in Venice by Macedonian printer Jakov in the old matrices from the printing shop of Montenegrin printer Bozidar Vukovic and his son Vincenzo were brought to the book store of Kara Trifun in Skopje.

Some travel writers who visited Skopje in this period, such as French travel writer Philip Fren Kone (1551-1610), who stayed there on 4th February 1573, report of the prosperity of Skopje, which they call “a very big city.”

The 16th century marks a more intensive construction of shops within the separate markets (e.g. leather and fur market, tinsmith market, hardware market, linen market, goldsmith market, and others).

During the season, there was an increased use of the port of the Vardar, located on the left riverbank, right next to the monastery garden of St. George-Skoropomosnik. When the snow on the high mountains would melt, the transportation of goods (especially leather and wax) loaded on rafts would start from there on its way to the port of Thessaloniki.


17th century

In the beginning of the 17th century, Skopje was already a developed city, advanced in business and trade. Turkish travel writer Evliya Celebi, who visited Skopje twice in the period between 1661 and 1670, left notes testifying its size and prosperity. He reports, for instance, that the Old Bazaar had 2,115 shops and buildings made of stone or brick, built with mortar over arcs and with domes. He especially found attractive the markets of the guild members -- sellers of silk and cotton, umbrellas, or sellers of slippers and buckles. According to Celebi’s notes, the city had 70 districts over 12,000 single or two-storey houses, around 60,000 inhabitants, 120 mosques, 110 drinking fountains, and 70 public baths (amams). He also mentions the Bezisten, describing it as being “as strong as a fortress.” He further refers to the old Romaoian shopping centre with 15 arcs as one of the most monumental buildings in Skopje.

Another important historical record is that of English traveller D-r Brown, who wrote during his short stay in Skopje in 1669 that Skopje is “a nice and lively place” and that it has a beautiful Bezisten with a leaden roof and a great number of shops. An important note is that the city had 700 leather workshops at that time and that leather was exported everywhere.

18th & 19th Centuries

Trade and craft were in full bloom in the 18th century and would only progress further in the following century. Unlike before, however, most trades and crafts are now controlled by the Macedonian Christians, who did their best to meet the people's needs by financially supporting the opening of schools and other buildings or the renovation of churches and monasteries (St. Saviour Church and Ben Jakov Synagogue were completely renovated).

Among others, French General Consul in Travnik Pierre David (1772-1846) described Skopje of the 19th century: “Skopje is at the intersection of all trade roads between Rumely, Macedonia, and Albania. Trade is mainly with saltpetre and processed leather. Yellow morocco, extensively used in Turkey for making shoes, is also produced here. What makes this city remarkable, though, is its being a meeting point for all the cotton from Smyrna [present-day Izmir in Turkey] and Macedonia intended for Europe, for Thessaly tobacco, Bosnian and European goods exported to other Turkish regions.”

“The great Asian markets, such as those in Bursa, Aleppo, or Damascus, look like vague and ordinary Turkish sights when compared with the Skopje Bazaar,” Victor Rerar recorded in his travel notes in 1896.

The following were the commonest trades and crafts, which although gradually fading, are still present today:

1. Filigree (38)
2. Tinsmith (55)
3. Pottery (45)
4. Quilt-making (46)
5. Blacksmith (47)
6. Goldsmith (59)
7. Fabric Colouring (60)
8. Cauldron-making (63)
9. Saddlery (80)

From Stara Skopska Carsija (The Old Skopje Bazaar) by Kosta Balabanov
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