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By Julia Van Peer
"Surrounded by nothing but mountain scapes, with a hustle-and-bustle equal to Skopje’s Old bazaar, North Macedonia's fifth-biggest city is a vibrant town you can not miss."

Planning a trip to North-Macedonia? Do not miss Tetovo and its charming neighbour Bozovce. In this post I cover the story of Tetovo’s pride and joy: the Painted Mosque, with an additional link to Bozovce, Macedonia’s most beautiful and authentic tiny village. 


Surrounded by nothing but mountain scapes, with a hustle-and-bustle equal to Skopje’s Old bazaar, North Macedonia's fifth-biggest city is a vibrant town you can not miss. An ancient Ottoman settlement taken over by Albanian minorities, the town is best-known for the Painted Mosque and the Arabati Baba Teke Monastery, two of North Macedonia’s most famous religious sites. Meanwhile the Tetovo Hamam, Tetovo Fortress and the Old Stone Bridge are some of the lesser known treasures, however not less worth visiting. 


Barely 50 kilometres out of Skopje and compact enough to explore by foot, Tetovo makes for the perfect destination to turn into a unique day trip.With some more time to spare, the town is a gateway to the beautiful Mavrovo National Park and authentic little Bozovce.


Read on to discover more about Tetovo and its remarkable highlights. 

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The Painted Mosque is the centre of religion in the town of Tetovo.


Now that you’ve gotten to know North-Macedonia a little bit better, it’s time to discover its religious municipality. 


Tetovo has a long history, dating back to the 14th century, when the settlement Kalkandelen was founded under Ottoman rule. In the centuries to come the Ottoman empire would see the end of its era and the town would come under Albanian regime, only to be taken over by the Serbian Army shortly after that. Later the Bulgarians ventured their chance to reign the city, but World War II threw a spanner in the works and Tetovo came under the rule of Yugoslavia. On September 8, 1991 North Macedonia became an independent nation. Nowadays you can still see the Turkish influences in the form of mosques, bathhouses, and bazaars. 


Once known as Kalkandelen, these days Tetovo thrives.

With a history intertwined with ‘The Land of Eagles’, today the city is a stronghold of Albanian residents who found their way into North-Macedonia. Almost everyone living in the current Tetovo and its surroundings had to run away to escape Albania’s bloody communist-reigned regime. This multi-ethnical connection gives Tetovo a rich atmosphere, which can be seen in its architecture, religion, and traditions.


Located near the border with both Kosovo and Albania, perched in the Polog Valley amidst walls and walls of Sharr mountains, Tetovo is an interesting town, in terms of both its religious heritage and alluring countryside. The phenomenal Painted Mosque, Arabati Baba Teke Monastery, and other unique landmarks are located within walking distance of each other. On the other hand Tetovo makes for a perfect gateway to continue your adventureeven more north or south, respectively to the lesser known but most welcoming village of Bozovce, or to the remote hills of Mavrovo National Park.


The most remote village of North-Macedonia, Bozovce.


The highlight of Tetovo is the 1495-built Painted Mosque, also known as Sarena MosqueColourful Mosque or Pasha Djamija. Once part of a greater complex, including a caravanserai, a stone bridge and a hamam, today the mosque stands proudly in the central part of town. The beautiful courtyard in front of the monument comprises a cleansing fountain and a Türbe, containing the remains of its two female benefactors.


Not only was it designed by the Ottoman governor Ishak Bey, it was restored under a new Albanian name (the Pasha’s Mosque) after a devastating fire in 1833, and ornamented with frescoes designed by inhabitants of Ohrid – multi-ethnic is the word! The mosque embodies Ottoman-era architecture, making it one of the most beautiful religious buildings I have come by during my travels through the Balkan. 


The beautifully ornamented exterior of the Colorful Mosque.

The 15th-century mosque is unique for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is one of few mosque’s lacking an exterior dome, or so it seems. There is in fact a dome, which you can marvel at from the inside, however it is not clearly visible from the outside, making the roof look flat. Furthermore, as the name suggests, the Painted Mosque’s exterior is decorated with nothing but extraordinary wall paintings, making it the town’s most impressive landmark.


The frescoes that decorate Tetovo’s house of worship both from the inside and out are astounding. What makes these murals especially unique is the process with which the paint was prepared. No less than 30 000 eggs were combined with various pigments creating a unique treat for the eye. 


After marvelling at the exterior frescoes, make your way inside the mosque to find even more vivid patterns. Where you will normally find more sobermotifs inside a traditional Islamic mosque, the Colourful Mosque is characterised by its perfectly symmetrical gold and amber coloured decorations. The white marble minbar (pulpit where the imam preaches on Fridays) and mihrab (the niche pointing in the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca) almost disappear into the colourful floral arrangements, Arabic writings, and delicately painted houses.


Both the walls and the ceiling are a treat to the eye.



When visiting a mosque keep in mind:

  • Visitors are allowed (and welcomed) to enter the mosque outside of prayer times (which is 5 times a day). The locals are truly very proud of their temple and are very willingly to give you some more information about the stories that hide behind the walls. 

  • Friday is the day that muslims come to the mosque en masse for praying, as this is a special day. It is an interesting sight how many worshipers come and go around prayer time.

  • Inside, in the window niches, you can admire the delicately adorned Quran and accompanying prayer beads (or Misbaha). 

  • As in any other mosque the women’s prayer balcony is upstairs, solely reachable via a narrow staircase.

  • Everyone is required to remove their shoes before entering the mosque. If you are a woman it is expected that you cover your hair with a scarf. 

  • Entrance is free of charge, however you can always leave a small donation at the box inside.

  • As you enter the courtyard, the first thing catching your eye is the ablution fountain, a place for worshippers to cleanse themselves before entering the mosque.


Another remarkable sacred building is the Arabati Baba Teke (aka The Dervish Monastery or Dervish House), meaning ‘holy temple’. With a history dating back as far as 1538, it is one of the best preserved Bektashi tekes in the Balkan. Originally built around the Türbe of its founder, Sersem Ali Baba, it served as the centre of the Bektasian Religion. Although many myths circulate about how the monastery came into being, no one knows which one is the original one.


Decades passed and after losing its initial glory it was redone in 1799, by Recep Pasha. Adding a library, kitchen, prayer room, fountain, stables and a cemetery, he established the current grounds of the Teke. Recep’s remains lie next to Ali Baba’s in the Türbe.


It truly is the 'Religious Capital' of North-Macedonia.

Another century later, the Bektashi were banished from Tetovo by the Ottoman army, and for a second time around the Teke lost its luster. Transformed into a hotel and museum under Yugoslav reign, its initial religious atmosphere faded away. For the last two decades, the ICM (Islamic Community of Macedonia) has wrongly reclaimed the teke as to be of Islamic origin. Luckily, the Bektashi community, still not recognised by the Macedonian government, has regained holding of the monastery and has set renovations in motion.


Embedded in a beautiful courtyard with lush flowers, today the monastery features iconic oriental ornaments. Although many of the buildings have been deserted and are in bad shape, there is a light at the end of the tunnel with the upcoming restorations. 


With some more time to spare other interesting sights are:

  • Tetovo Hamam – Once part of the Painted Mosque complex, today the bath house represents the Gallery of Visual Arts. Located on the left bank of the river Pena, in front of the mosque, this limestone building features four impressive domes. 

  • Mehmed Bey’s Mansion – If you’re interested in the design of a house from bygone days, owned by a wealthy family, this residence is a perfect pick. With similar rooms as in a present-day house (i.e. a kitchen, a basement, sleeping rooms and guest rooms, etc) yet decorated in a much more beautiful oriental style, who wouldn’t have want to live here. Together with the Painted Mosque, the Tetovo Hamam and the Stone Bridge, it depicts an impressive entity. 

  • Tetovo Fortress – Strategically positioned on a hill above the town, the fort gives you a panorama of the entire Polog Valley. Built two decades after Arabati Baba Teke, Recep Pasha also has this magnificent monument to his name. It took 20 years to erect the fortress, yet it only took 1 year to damage it greatly during the Balkan Wars. 

  • The Old Stone Bridge – Connecting the two sides of town, the bridge is thought to have been built in the 15th century. Legend says there was a dispute on where to construct the new bridge over the river Pena. When they couldn’t find a solution, they decided to drop a stone from the top of the hill and the place where it would touch ground would be decisive. Today you can still see the 500-year old stone in the bridge. 


Another look inside the famous Painted Mosque.


There are two options to undertake the journey to Tetovo: 

  • By car – There is only one main road connecting Skopje and Tetovo, and it will take you about 50 minutes. The road is in fairly good condition and includes two tolls. 

  • By bus – The bus drive takes about one hour each way and will cost you no more than 250 denars (around 4 €). The Gostivar-bound bus departs at Skopje bus terminal, the first one as early as 4.15am. This is a very popular route, with buses leaving every 30 to 40 minutes. The return journey is as easy as getting there, with Tetovo’s main bus station as departure point. Note that the last bus leaves Tetovo at 9.55pm. Check bus times here and here.


  • On Boris Kidrikj there is something for everyone, ranging from delicious grilled meat to happy hour-cocktails. Ideal for people watching an enjoying a lovely afternoon with some friends.

  • Restaurant Bakal – Not only are the food and atmosphere truly amazing here, in summer you can enjoy your meal in the stunning garden. The carte du jour includes many delicious dishes, all of which are homemade. 

  • Sharri – To eat the best oven baked bread, Shopska salad, grilled steak, and much more, find yourself a seat in the charming Sharri restaurant. The presentation may not be on point yet, but that only adds to the charm!


Like any big town, Tetovo counts endless accommodations ranging from the budget hostel to a mid-range airbnb and luxury hotels. Sites like,, and make your search much easier. These are few of many options: 


  • YAL Hotel – budget

  • Hotel Lirak – Mid-range 

  • Hotel Arka – Mid-range 

  • Mercure Tetovo – Luxury 


  • Instagram
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Hi there!

I'm Julia, a Belgian native who loves to travel and explore off the beaten places all over the world. Discover more on how to fill your travels with adventure, warmth, and colour. Learn more about me here.

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