Whether you’re in the market for fresh fruit, cheap clothing, or simply a rollicking good time, head over to Skopje’s Bit Pazar, at the northern end of Čaršija. This is one of the largest outdoor markets in the Balkans, with a history dating back to the 14th century, when Skopje was firmly within the Ottoman Empire.
Personally, I have dyslexic problems with the name “Bit Pazar” (Turkish for “Flea Market”). Every single time, I refer to the place as the “Pit Bazaar” whether I’m saying it aloud or thinking it in my head, regardless of how I concentrate. So, when we arrived, I expected to see a chaotic bazaar set within the depths of a large pit. But no. It’s chaotic, for sure, but the Bit Pazar is held out on the streets, underneath plastic roofs of tattered canvas. Not inside a pit.
We loved the Bit Pazar, and returned frequently, spending hours walking around the lanes, taking pictures, jumping out of the way of carts loaded with peppers, and talking to the sellers, many of whom could speak either English or German. Tourists seem to be more of a novelty than an annoyance here, and everyone we encountered was friendly. Most of the vendors are Albanian: a minority in Macedonia, but a strong majority in this section of town.
Something which always impresses me about markets like the Bit Pazar is the contagious good humor of the people working there… a far cry from the stale atmosphere inside a modern grocery store. And as it turns out, overt friendliness is an excellent sales tactic. It frequently happened that a vendor would ask us where we’re from, tell us about his son studying in Texas or the years he spent in Dortmund, give us a sample of his cheese or whatever, and slap our backs as though we were old friends from way back. What were we going to do, walk away empty-handed? Even when we hadn’t planned on buying anything, we always left carrying sacks full of cherries, dates, pistachios and more.
The Bit Pazar is held every day, all year round. Over the past few decades, supermarkets have stolen much of its regular business, but the place is usually buzzing with activity. As people re-discover the benefits of fresh, locally-sourced food, it’s safe to assume that this boisterous marketplace still has a long lease on life.