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A Forgotten Ottoman Jewel

Anybody drinking coffee in the centre of Stip, the informal capital of the eastern part of Macedonia, or walking along the quay of the small but powerful river Otinja, cannot but notice the beautiful although partly derelict building overlooking the town from the nearby hill. The first gaze would not instantly tell one if it is a church or a mosque, or even a bedesten or hamam. Actually, as it happened frequently in the Ottoman Empire, it is a mosque built on the foundation of the old Christian church devoted to St. Elijah.

Stip was an important regional centre in the time of the Ottomans. After they took over the city in 1395 it became a nahiye, a separate administrative unit as part of the Kyustendil sanjak (a larger administrative division). In the 15th century, after the Jews were expelled from Spain and Portugal, many families finding refuge in the Ottoman Empire settled in Stip. A document from 1519 reports 38 Jewish families or 200 people. In 1620 the town is also mentioned as an Episcopal seat, which leads to the conclusion that people from all dominant religions lived in the town and were adequately served by the right to freely exercise their faith. The census from the same period counted around 3000 inhabitants, with 200 Muslim and over 300 Christian families. The famous travel writer Evliya Celebi described Stip in 1661 as a kadiluk, which means an area with its own judge, “with guarded fortress on a hill, mosques, baths and caravan-sarays next to a small river.” The town population grew to over 20 000 people by 1899. Read more …