Скопска Котлина – Skopska Kotlina

The area of the Skoplje upper Vardar valley (Skopska Kotlina) entails several microregions: the hilly Black Mountain (Karadagh, Skopska Crna Gora), Torbešija, Karšijak, Derven and Blatija. The last two are defined by the Vardar river valley and its tributaries, Treska and Markova Reka.

Skopska Kotlina_POLJE
Skoplje Plain – Blatija, From Trifunoski, 1954

The valley has been part of four empires: Byzantine since the time of Justinian: Bulgarian, under both Simeon and Samuilo; Serbian, under Dušan Nemanjić, his son Uroš, and the Mrnjavčević kings Vukašin and Marko; and finally Ottoman, until the rule of Mehmed VI, its last emperor. Skoplje itself was the site of Dušan’s coronation, the elevation of the Serbian Archbishopric to a Patriarchate, and the proclamation of Dušan’s Law Code. The legacy of Dušan was kept alive for centuries with pride, and until not long ago Dušan’s Bridge remained a surviving reminder of his medieval empire; currently, the bridge is being promoted as the Stone Bridge, to erase this part of Serbian history.

Skopska Kotlina_DERVEN
Derven – Trifunoski, 1955

Skopski Derven is an area immediately east of Skoplje, by Zeden mountain, on the southern bank of the Vardar. The term comes from the Turkish derben, meaning a narrow mountain pass.

High degrees of Albanization and Islamization occurred here after Albanian brigand incursions and deliberate settlement under Ottoman rule in the first half of the nineteenth century. Kučkovo natives tell the story of two brothers in the village of Kopanica: one became Muslim and remained, the other stayed Orthodox and left for Kučkovo, which is considered the last Orthodox village of the Derven.

The lowlands lying roughly between the mountainous Polog and Skopska Crna Gora areas define Skopska Blatija. It is the lowest elevation of the Skoplje valley, encompassing flat lands lying on either side of the Vardar river. It gets its name from the word for mud, blato, a reference to the many marshlands found there. A few Blatija villages are found on hills in the north of the district, and a number lie between the Treska and Vardar rivers, in a microregion locally called Sredorek. Most of Blatija is southeast of Skoplje.

Despite processes of assimilation and dispersion, a Serbian population is still found in villages across Skopska Derven & Blatija. Major villages are Kadino Selo, Sindjelić (former Asanbegovo), Madžari, Ognjanci, Ržaničani, Marino Selo, Stajkovce, Bardovce, Butelj, Miladinovce, and Kučkovo.


Staro Skoplje
Various costumes of the Skoplje Valley as shown in postcards from circa 1918. (personal collection, A.S.)

Customs of the region reflect some of the oldest Slavic traditions. The Slava, locally called Služba, is an important part of family and village life. Wedding and marital customs are elaborate and mystically archaic. At Christmas, many of the traditions are the same as among other region, but  a unique custom is practiced, the decorating all homes with tiny crosses formed from the splinters of the yule tree, badnjak. From Christmas to Theophany, groups of carollers called džamalari, sirovari or vasiljarci visit homes and sing songs wishing prosperity in the new year. Much of the custom has very little to do with the Nativity per se, and instead evokes pre-Christian rituals of magical protection and evocation of fertility. They enter the home and strike at the badnjak burning on the hearth. During this, members of the household silently make wishes. As sparks fly out, they exclaim, ”Koliko klinci, tolko sinci! Kol’ko željke, tolko ćerke! Kol’ko troške, toliko tovari žita!” – “As many splinters, so many sons! As many wishes, so many daughters! As many sparks, so many wagon loads of grain!”

Spinning wool in Skopska Derven. Postcard c. 1930. (personal collection, A.S.)

The textile material culture of the area centres, as it does in neighbouring Kosovo and South Morava, on hemp, linen, and wool. Costumes differ greatly between Torbeši, Macedonian Muslims, and the Orthodox population. Despite proximity, costumes of the Blatija and Derven area are very different from Skopska Crna Gora. The one exception is the Derven village of Kučkovo, whose costume and and traditions are very similar to those of Skopska Crna Gora. They belong to the Vardar ethnocultural zone, and to the Upper Vardar type of costume, defined by a few key elements, such as long white linen dresses, embroidery predominant in red, black and gold, highly stylized and geometric motifs in both embroidery and weaving, and elaborate aprons. These aprons are indeed the central element of women’s costume, play a significant role in identifying village origin, marital status, and social standing.

Modesty dictated that the apron (skutača, vuta) was always worn, both inside and outside of the house. It was considered shameful not to. A woven skutača was a customary gift from a bride to her mother in law. In preparing a dowry, the girl indicates that she is ready to marry when she weaves a bridal apron (nevestinska skutača), an archaic form very different from general ones.

When in mourning, women wore their skutače reversed for 40 days. Used in the casting of healing spells, bajanje, i.e. a woman too ill to go to a healer (bajačka) sends her apron, over which the spell is performed, and which she later wears in hopes of recovery.

Skutače were woven on a horizontal loom warped with cotton thread, using a weft of woolen dyed yarn. The cloth was woven as strips, pole, roughly 30 to 40 cm wide, and a pair of them, dipli, would be sewn together to make a skutača.The predominant colours were red (aleno), black (crno) and white (belo).  Other colours of wool included blue (modro, ačik mavi, temno mavo), orange (krvavo šopska, krvunjava), bordeaux (đuvezna, crvena), purple (morava, moravlijasta), and yellow (žuto). Gold or silver threads were often included as well. A nice composition was said to be “pogodeni šarka na šarka” – roughly, “you got each motif right on!”, or “dika” “dik stoji” (proud, you wear it proudly) or “kako mraz” – like frost, referring to the unique and elaborate patterns nature gives frost and snowflakes. An ugly apron was subject to ridicule, called “namestičava”. As with other elements of costume, as women aged their aprons shifted to more subdued tones and simpler designs, free of additional ornaments such as beads (manistra) sequins (molskavci) or laces and ribbon (optoka, popovski širit) sometimes found on the aprons of young women.

Weaving designs were mainly geometric, occasionally highly stylized flora and fauna

The design names are taken from nature and from common objects around the house: žabinje (frogs), lozički (vines), vučkini nogi (wolf’s paws), češalj (comb), soalka (loom shuttle), fildžan (Turkish style coffee cup). Lines divided the skutača designs and could be straight (prava), zig-zagged (zubaljčina) or stepped (krškanka). Triangles represented amulets (amajlije), and diamond shapes were referred to as kolo (circle).

Typical Ornaments: 1. Krškanka (jagged line) 2. Češalj (comb) 3. Kukačka (hooked rings) 4. Čeparaška (grate) 5. Fildžan (coffee cup) 6. Volčini nogi (wolf paws) 7. Soalka (loom shuttle) 8. Oroplanče (airplane) (drawing A.S. 2017)

Two interesting examples should be noted. One is the type of apron called skutača kalendarka (calendar apron), shown in the illustration given here. It is representative of a calendar: the twelve months are represented by twelve rhombi in the left and right margins, and the larger krilci (a hooked version of the kolo element) represent phases of the moon known in folk life. A second is the design element known as oroplančinja. It is a larger version of krilca, the with hooked “wings” on each of the points of the rhombus. These are meant to represent the wings and propellors of an airplane. As airplanes became a more frequent part of the skies over the Balkans, women adapted a more ancient design to a new thing: aeroplan (later replaced by the French word avion, for plane) became oroplan, or collective plural oroplančinja.

Examples of the oldest types of Blatija aprons, the skutača type. Top row, L to R: Koljlija (With Rings) – full description “na jedno kolo s’s fildžani i čember jabuki” (Single ring with coffee cups and apple border), Zmijarka so češlji (Snakes and combs), Pravi Šarki s’s tanki kolca i čeparaški (Vertical Ornaments with thin rings and grates). Bottom Row, L to R: Bardovka na pet kola s’s kukački i volčini nogi (Five Ringed type from Bardovo, with hooked rings and wolf paws), Krstajlija (With Cross), Kalendarka (calendar) (illustration by A.S., 2017)

The other major element of costume was a long, open, sleeveless vest. In older times this was the ćurdija, sewn from heavy woolen klašnja cloth and decorated with wool and felt applique. In the late nineteenth century the jelek or elek came into use. Sewn from striped cloth, almost always red, it was decorated with passementerie on the bodice and hem. Both were worn together from the interwar period onward.


                 L., Young woman shown wearing the ćurdija, c. 1918. (personal collection, A.                    R., Bridal costume with ćurdija and oldest form of bridal apron (photo courtesy of Saša Ivković)
Elek collage
Upper left: Postcard showing Blatija costume with jelek or elek. Notice that the apron is not the old skutača type, but the emergent futa or vuta type, with embroidery. Lower Left: Back view of jelek. Right: Pattern for jelek. (LL and R photos courtesy of Saša Ivković)

Men’s costume in this region is known for its white linen or hemp cloth garments, over which are worn woolen vests, socks and sashes. Elements of the male costume include:

  • Košulja, Ajta – white linen shirt with very small embroidery at collar and cuffs
  • Benevrek – wide linen pants worn tucked into the socks
  • Čakširi – winter trousers of dark woolen sukno cloth.
  • Toska, Fistan – pleated kilt worn over the shirt and trousers
  • Jelek, Gunja – vest, either open or foldover style, trimmed with silk braid
  • Pojas – wide, long woolen sash sometimes decorated with woolen applique
  • Čarapi – high multicolour socks with elaborate knit and embroidered designs
  • Opanci – rawhide shoes, s’s remeni (with buckles) or s’s oputice (with straps)
  • Dolama – long winter over-vest made of woolen klašnja
  • Kožuv – lambskin vest worn in winter
  • Fes, Šubara, kapče – various headgear


Muska Nosnja Blatija
Blatija men’s costume: L, Ensemble Tanec promotional postcard; R, cabinet photo of two brothers and their sister, c. 1920. (personal collection, A.S.)

Female costume elements from the Blatija and Derven districts are the following:

  • Košulja – linen embroidered dress similar to Dinaric zone dresses.
  • Saja – linen light vest, decorated with embroidery
  • Elek – heavy festive vest, decorated with passementerie
  • Ćurdija – archaic long vest with woolen ornaments
  • Kožuv – winter garment made from lambskin
  • Alen pojas – red woolen sash
  • Krpče – handkerchief with sequin or coin trim
  • Šamija – long kerchief, generally of a finer material
  • Čarapi – multicoloured knit and embroidered socks
  • Opanci – rawhide shoes, in both variants like the male costume
  • Skutača – the woven aprons for which the region is famous
  • Futa – from about the 1930s onward, simpler embroidered aprons slowly replaced woven ones
  • Pafti, čaprazi – metal buckles with a thin sash
  • Crnetica, Crnogorka – bridal dress embroidered in black thread, similar to the Skopska Crna Gora costume
  • Kavrak, the bridal silk headscarf
  • Ledenik, silver coins sewn onto cloth strips worn on the bodice.
Blatija Bride
Bridal Kerchief, nevestinska marama or Kavrak. Acquired 2009.


Blatija Costume full
Costume of a young girl from Blatija, comprised of elements acquired in the 1992 – 2009 period. Provenance includes villages of Bardovce, Kadino Selo, Sindjelić , Stajkovce.

While men’s costume is essentially the same throughout Skoplje Valley, the Blatija woman’s costume is more vibrant than the Derven costume. In Derven, specifically Kučkovo, the vest is called z’ban is virtually identical to that of Skopska Crna Gora. It is made of white woolen klašnja, and is heavily fringed. The apron is called bovča here (similar to the terms bojče and bošča among Serbian women of Kosovo region). They tend to be decorated with very small designs arranged vertically, na pravi šarki. Embroidery differs in that the bodice is heavily covered in designs executed with less detail than Blatija, but again, akin to the style of Skopska Crna Gora, the only difference being colour palette. In ethnography, the Kučkovo costume is considered a transitional form between Blatija and Skopska Crna Gora. As there was a habit of women adopting the costume of their husband’s village, and given that Derven brides began marrying into Blatija villages (as Derven became predominantly Albanian), the Derven costume slowly was replaced by Blatija’s.

Blatija Full 2
Newer version of the costume, from villages of southern Blatija. The apron is now embroidered with stylized flowers. Women in villages toward the south of the district tended to wear dark kerchiefs, tied at the nape of the neck (or under the chin in mourning). Pieces acquired 2000 – 2015


Kučkovo costume represents the last of the Derven type costume and a transition between Skopska Crna Gora style of costume and Blatija costume. Like Skopska CG, the vest, zobunče, is white woolen cloth with fringes, and the apron has minute vertical ornaments; in this case, it is pravi šarki i soalki – vertical designs and shuttles. Apron and dress acquired 2013. Vest is a reconstruction I made based on drawings and descriptions in the cited literature. 2017


Many thanks to Mr. Saša Ivković for his shared photos and images, and his enthusiasm for the folk costumes of the Balkans.

For Further Reading:

Filipović, Milenko S. Običaji I Verovanja u Skopskoj Kotlini: Grada. K. 24 ed. Vol. LIV. Beograd: Srpska Kraljevska Akademija, 1939. Srpski Etnografski Zbornik.

Krsteva, Angelina. Narodnata Nosija od Skopska Blatija. Skopje: Muzej Na Grad Skopje, 1998.

Petruševa, Anica. Pregače Iz Skopske Blatije.  Ed. Spiro Kulišić. Glasnik Etnografskog Muzeja 22 – 23 (1960): 21-32. Ethnographic Museum, Belgrade.

Reid, Julie Jirel. “Macedonian Festive Women’s Dress of the Areas of Skopska Crna Gora and Skopska Blatija.” Thesis. Oregon State University, 1974. Dr. Florence Petzel, Dept. of Clothing, Textiles and Related Arts.

Trifunoski, Jovan F. Skopski Derven: Antropogeografska Ispitivanja. Vol. LXVII. Beograd: Naučna Knjiga, 1954. Srpski Etnografski Zbornik.

Trifunoski, Jovan F. Skopsko Polje: Antropogeografska Ispitivanja = Le Champ De Skoplje: Recherches De Géographie Humaine. Vol. LXIX. Beograd: Srpska Akademija Nauka, 1955. Srpski Etnografski Zbornik.

Zdravev, Gjorgji. Typology and Classification of Folk Costumes in Macedonia. EthnoAnthropoZoom/ЕтноАнтропоЗум. Institute for Ethnology and Anthropology, University of Skoplje, 01 Jan. 1970.