Travels in Europe

Balkan City Trip: Tetovo in Macedonia

On the Balkans there are much more cities worth visiting than just the capitals (even though there are many intriguing capitals to see). A couple of weeks ago my Mum came to visit me in Macedonia. To show her not only the capital with its undoubtedly picturesque, yet fake and politically corrupted city center, I was glad that a friend from Tetovo invited us for a tour.

It takes about 1 hour North to get to Tetovo and the city is well worth a day-visit. Tetovo is, like all places in Macedonia, ethnically mixed, Albanians dominate though. This situation leads to quite absurd situations: You see streets where Albanian coffee places line up – crossing streets with Macedonian coffee places advertising their offers in Cyrillic letters. You have Albanian music and Turkish coffee in the one places, and Macedonian music and espresso in the next one.

Tetovo has roughly 50.000 inhabitants, is home to two universities and about 30 minutes to 1 hour away from Skopje. Just outside the city is an enormous amount of construction happening using red bricks from the surrounding stone pits. It is built on hills which means you have a mountain panorama wherever you look which is nice. The city was under Ottoman rule from the 15th century until the early 20th century and the Ottoman empire has left its footprint on the city. Unfortunately, as all over Macedonia, historical buildings are rarely being conserved. Luckily, international funds have helped to restore one of the most stunning buildings in Tetovo: The colourful mosque (Шарена Џамија/ Xhamia e Pashës).

The Colourful Mosque 

The painted, or colourful, mosque was built in the 15th century and is a small mosque right by the centre of Tetovo. It was financed at that time by two sisters who are buried right by the mosque in a tomb. The mosque was painted with a technique to mix egg yolk with colours which made the restoration quite challenging. It is not easy to find artists nowadays still knowing this technique. The mosque looks stunning from the outside already, but the real beauty is hidden inside. Not a single spot is left plain and the paintings feature a city portrait of Venice (with some Mosques added), different scenes and thousands of flowers. Except for the minaret it also distinguishes itself architecture-wise from other Ottoman mosques. It definitely is a rare beauty to see!

Right across the river from it is an old Turkish Bath, a Haman, which is not in use anymore, but which still is a picturesque part of the Tetovo centre.

My friend guided us through small streets uphill pointing out old architecture (mostly rotten) and new architecture which he is not a huge fan of. He showed us the differences between Macedonian and Albanian style houses, but he mostly gave us an introduction to the Albanian wedding culture.

Albanian Wedding Culture 

Whoever thought a marriage is all about love, you were wrong. A marriage is business – tough business.  Mostly, a marriage is really expensive, especially for the man’s family.

It all starts with the engagement ring. In Macedonia the art of the gold smith is still very valued, if you walk through the old town of Skopje you see gold and silver displayed in every second shop window. Whoever hopes to make a cheap deal in conflict-ridden, poor Macedonia is wrong – the jewelry is not cheap. Every day you see young women dragging their boyfriends from window to window pointing out all the gold they want to have. The engagement ring is the first step towards an even more costly endeavor.

Together with the engagement the groom-to-be’s family gifts the bride-to-be a hand-embroidered fabric of which she will have her wedding dress tailored. I have to admit, I like the idea of the custom tailored dress, still – expenses are enormous. From that point it only adds up – clothes, jewellery (including at least 1 metre of gold-chains, but the necklace better measure 2 metres so nobody will think you are not worth the gold). And that doesn’t even include a venue and catering for 100+ guests during the two-days wedding. The up-side of this? It’s a pretty sustainable income for a lot of people from Macedonia.

After the wedding craziness it was about time to enjoy the sweet side of Tetovo!

Sweets from Tetovo 

Apparently, Tetovo serves the best sweets in Macedonia. I approve – but at the same time it also gives you an instant sugar shock. I like sweets, but I also like my sweets not so – sweet. Tetovo is the wrong address for this. A dessert is good if it is soaking in sirup, made out of sugar and topped with sugar. Well, you can’t always be healthy and you really don’t want to be, just looking at the heavenly desserts displayed in Tetovo’s cafes.

Tetovo is definitely an interesting place to see and home to very friendly people. Since it is quite easy to see Skopje in a day or maybe a day or half, Tetovo is worth a day visit. Since it is a small city it is easy to just walk everywhere by foot. Make sure though to get off the bus before the final bus stop. You will see a Vero-Center. From that point you just walk straight until you are in the center already, make a left turn and you find yourself right by the colourful mosque. Enjoy!


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