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Korce Market - the heart of the city

January 24, 2018

At a certain hour of the day, people from all over the city still come together and mingle in the Old Pazar, but a look through old photos shows that the atmosphere in the past would have been something completely different.

 

 

Visitors to Korçë today can find small neighbourhood shops and large supermarkets throughout the city, even a new mall. But in the past a pazar (bazaar, market place) was not just a shopping centre, it was a vital meeting point.

 

 

As in so many cities in the Ottoman Empire, people of different religions and ethnicities could meet here, regardless of whether they were aristocrats, middle or lower class. It was where the famous artisans and wealthy traders of Vithkuqi, Voskop, Voskopoje and Mborja would sell their wares, meet people from home and abroad, and strike new deals. The pazar was very much the heart of the city and of the surrounding plains and mountain villages.

 

 

Before the Ottoman times, Korçë was a small village, dwarfed by neighbouring Voskopoje, but it grew to become one of the most important artisanal and commercial centres in the north-west of the empire. Sultan Bajazit II (1447 – 1512) gave the land as a gift to one of his mirahor (generals), Iliaz Xoxha, and named him sanjak-bey of Korçë. When he, in turn, built the grand Iljaz Mirahori mosque and made the lands freely available as waqf [1] for those who wanted to settle, Korçë soon attracted people from all over the region. No longer a local meeting point it was added to trade routes with Yanina (Ioannina in modern day Greece), over and around the foreboding Grammos and Pindos mountains, and the road then called the “Xhadeja”, which connected cities such as Ohrid and Manastir (today’s Bitola) with the Adriatic at Durres, Vlore and Ionian ports. By the beginning of the 20th century over 800 shops and stalls were operating in the pazar. 

 

 

 

 

Products

Records show that since the 17th century merchants in Korçë were importing cloth from the Venetians and exporting wax, leather and wool to other regions of the Venetian and Ottoman empires. Guilds began for tailoring, butchery, blacksmiths and shoemaking, which ran as centres of learning for these crafts and issued permits for their students to exercise the profession. Local women were famed for their soap, raki (‘grappa’, ‘tsipuro’) and textiles from local wool, with the quality of the socks and rugs of Korçë spoken of in Istanbul. The farmers also began to produce pottery items and woodcraft products, together with their agricultural goods.

 

 

Location, design and architecture

The pazar was built in the south-western part of Korçë with the Morava River [2] passing through. It was divided into separate parts, with a large and small grain space and then markets for horses, sheep, fish, vegetables, dairy and wool (see map below).

 

I.Big market; II. Small market; III. Livestock market; IV. Fish Market; V. Dairy market; VI. Bedestan [3]; VII. Butchery; VIII. Tinsmith; IX. Leather market; X. Horse equipment market; XI. Bells market; A. The blacksmith Street; B. The shoemaker’s street; C. The tailor’s street; 1. Han [4]; 2. “Misiri” Hotel; 3 - 15. Han; 16. Mirahori mosque; 17. Clock tower; 18. Radeneci tap

 

 

As trade grew stables and accommodation were needed too, but in general the old pazar was not known for any special or unique architecture. Shops were small, made of wood and with three floors. The upper floors were used as a workshop and storage for the shop downstairs, with further storage in a basement. The shops were placed together around small squares, intermingled with hotels and 'han'. After two fires (1822, 1858) which badly damaged the pazar, in August of 1879 a great fire burned it for the third time. Four years later the pazar was rebuilt, but this time mainly in stone.

 

An old 'han' (inn and stables) now restored and used as a venue space

 

 

Life changes of course, and today only a small part of the old pazar remains. It has recently been restored again but today it is used more as a recreational area than a trading point, with the food markets now housed in large modern warehouses. But no matter how the city has and will evolve, the old pazar will be a constant reminder of Korçë’s past glories.

 

 The market today

 

 

 

Korce district, with the towns of Voskopoje, Voskop and Vithkuq marked with red dots. Towns that are today tiny villages.

 

 Looking east over the now diverted river and market

 

 A solider in 1917 looks over the city

 

 

 

[1] waqf (Arabic: وقف‎), also known as habous or mortmain property, is an inalienable charitable endowment under Islamic law, which typically involves donating a building, plot of land or other assets for Muslim religious or charitable purposes with no intention of reclaiming the assets. (Source: Wikipedia)

 

[2] The Morava River used to pass through the city. Whilst dry during the summer it used to flood the area in the early spring as the vast snows on the surrounding mountains melted. Because of the lack of a sewerage system it also used to cause health problems such as cholera. It was finally diverted in the early 1980s.

 

[3] A bedestan (variants: bezistan, bezisten, bedesten) is a covered market usually for haberdashery and craftsmanship. They were built during the Ottoman Empire and their design is based on that of mosques. (Source: Wikipedia)

 

[4] A han was a roadside inn where travellers and caravans could rest and recover from the day's journey.

 

 

 

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