Throughout its long history, Bitola city was known as an important trade center of this part of the Balkans.
Traders from Bitola were well known to the East and West. The Old Bazaar in Bitola, as one of the most vital parts of the city, played important role in its prosperity through the ages. It was not only an integral part of the everyday life of the local residents, but also through it survived a much wider region, and the larger structure of people: merchants, craftsmen, farmers, hann (inn) owners, tradesman etc.
Although trade in Bitola was developed much earlier, the Bazaar as a separate unit, begun to develop during the Turkish rule. It was a distinctive oriental way of trading. Since its birth in the fifteenth century, by the end of the nineteenth century, this living organism grew, evolved, had its diseases, and suffered many accidents, as fires, floods, epidemics, etc.
The Old Bazaar is one of the most important features of Bitola and as a cultural and historical monument. It followed the fate of the city of Bitola. The Bazaar was not only a place for commerce but here was also felt the breath of time, politics, and culture. The Old Bazaar had its own life, philosophy, and respectful attitude towards all people, especially to social phenomena. The money, gold gains from trade of goods, have established very strong human, national, racial, religious and any other kind of tolerance between the Macedonian, Turkish, Jewish and other ethnic groups.
In the Bitola Old Bazaar, in the seventeenth century, there were over 900 stores, and since the half of the nineteenth century this number grew up to thousands trade, craft and merchant stores.
The Bazaar of Bitola (Monastir) was simply a place where you can find anything. The silversmiths, tavern, butchers, shoe makers, gun powder makers, hann (inn) owners, soap makers and others, were known to be good masters, whose products had a high reputation. At special price were the “artistic” craft jewelers, painters, shop owners, masons, carvers, photographers and others.
As for products, especially was traded with: grain, leather, wool, kerosene, tar, salt, cattle, cotton, wax, fat, lead, gunpowder, and silk, sterling silver, precious metals, gold and silver products, watches etc.
Concerning the Bazaar life and bazaar clients, all these people had their own habits and requirements, minor human weaknesses and desires to experience, buy or carry some of the most mannerly city in this part of the Empire.
Apart from trade, as a separate branch of interest was the large Turkish army stationed into the city (Sometimes more than 30.000 soldiers) and later the diplomatic world with the consuls from many European countries.
Of course, these were only a part of the good times of the Old Bazaar. However, due to wars, economic crises, fires and other accidents, the Bazaar suffered a lot during the years of its existence, but yet the most difficult years for the Bazaar were those from the end XIX and beginning XX century. Since then, the glory of Bitola, and by so the glory of the Old Bazaar from Bitola, was in constant decline.
When we speak about the Old Bazaar in Bitola, we mean not only on the Bazaar in its current borders, but many different specialized bazaars, spread all over old Bitola.
The bazaars in Bitola flourished especially during the nineteenth century, when they were spread from “Drven Pazar” (Дрвен пазар – wood market) to “At Pazar” (Ат Пазар – Horse Market), with more than 2,000 stores, many shops, mills, inns, Covered Bazaar – Bezisten. There were over 30 functionally divided bazaars, determined according to the goods being sold: Pekmez bazaar (Пекмез пазар), Cereal bazaar (Житни пазар), Horse bazaar (Ат пазар), Wood bazaar (Дрвен пазар), “Lenski”, Covered bazaar etc. With the migration of Vlachs in Bitola, the Vlach bazaar was formed, and some of the bazaars were named after the name of the street where the products have been sold “Рибарниците” (Fish market street), “Бунар” (Well) and others.
Interesting is the link of the Bazaar with other parts of the city. Despite being located in the downtown area, without interference, through it passed the busiest streets: the north was a hill from which its direction there were more smaller streets (alleys and chikmaci); West-East direction was one of the busiest in the direction the Dragor river, and on the south side, at the Clock Tower and Yeni Mosque, the bazaar was organically linked to the main street in Bitola – Sirok Sokak (Широк Сокак – Wide Street).
The Bazaar in Bitola, repeatedly suffered from large fires. Thus, in 1835 a fire destroyed nearly 2,000 stores; 1862 again were burned 1,800 stores; while in the 1897 Cereal-market and over 200 other buildings were destroyed. this was the main reason why since the middle of XIX and beginning of XX century the stores were build from solid materials: brick, stone, iron, etc., with a massive metal shutters, many of which can be still seen today.
Apart from facilities that were used for economic purposes, through the bazaar there were other massive buildings: mosques, baths, shops, inns, fountains, turbo, etc., of which the centerpiece had the covered Bazaar – Bezisten.
But like everything in life, the glory and splendor of the Old Bazaar in Bitola, started to fade from the ast years of XIX and beginning of XX century. The decline of the Turkish Empire and the emergence of the modern and high-quality European goods produced by industrial means, which were not only cheaper, but also at better quality, have destroyed the manual production.
Many people, regardless of national and religious affiliation, were starting to go abroad, the consuls and many rich people have left the city.
With the start of the disorders in the weaken Turkish empire, the Ilinden upraise, the Young Turk Revolution, the Balkan wars, and the new border with Greece, found on 14 km from Bitola after the peace of Bucharest (1913) and the division of Macedonia, gave many devastating blows to the bazaar of Bitola .
The former city on the crossroads of the Balkans, was now completely closed to trade and communication with former partners from the East and West.
The beginning of the First World War (WW1) had also devastating consequences to the city of Bitola and the Old Bazaar, since during the period of two years 1917 – 18 the city was constantly bombarded, and many of its parts have been torn down. This was the hardest blow of Bitola Bazaar which never regained its previous glory and economic power.
Today, the bazaar continues to live, but at other times, beliefs and social relations. Changed and tired of the burden of years, events and people, “dressed” in new, modern clothes, the Old Bazaar still keeps the memories of former golden times.
Bitola today remains proud of the Old Bazaar, as one of the most beautiful monuments of its rich cultural heritage.