Novi Pazar is a historically important and culturally vibrant city located in the Raška District in southwest Serbia’s Sandžak. Seated at the confluence of the Raška and Jošanica rivers, the city is home to many of the country’s oldest and most significant historical monuments and religious buildings, including Sopoćani Monastery, Altun-Alem Mosque, and the Church of Saint Peter. Today, Novi Pazar features an eclectic mix of cultures, histories, and architecture, highlighting the city’s transition from medieval Raška to the Ottoman period, and from communist Yugoslavia to modern Serbia. Taking the time to explore the sites, cafés, and streets of the city helps visitors learn more about the long and fascinating history of this part of Serbia and understand the people and cultures that make up Novi Pazar today.
Founded in 1461 by Ottoman general Isa-Beg Isaković, Novi Pazar was initially known as Yeni Pazar in Turkish or “New Market.” Consistent with its name, Novi Pazar was an important trading point for merchants, conveniently located along the way between the major trade hubs of Dubrovnik and the Adriatic to the west and Istanbul and Thessaloniki to the east. Buildings like the Amir-Agin Han served as a resting place for merchants on the road. Previous to the city’s official founding, the area around Novi Pazar was the location of Ras, the capital of the medieval Serbian kingdom of Raška. Sites such as the Church of Saint Peter were constructed during this time.
As the city continued to grow and prosper over the following centuries, Novi Pazar eventually became the capital of the Sanjak of Novi Pazar, an administrative unit of the Ottoman Eyalet of Bosnia. In the late 19th century, as the Austro-Hungarian Empire expanded southward into the region, the Ottoman Empire reorganized the administrative structure of the area, with the city of Novi Pazar falling under the jurisdiction of the Kosovo Vilayet in 1879. The Sandžak region was a major point of contention among neighboring states as it maintained an important position for the Ottoman Empire as a connection between Ottoman Macedonia in the south and Bosnia and Herzegovina in the north, while it served as a dividing block between Serbia to the east and Montenegro to the west.
After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the First Balkan War, Novi Pazar became a part of Serbia in 1913 and subsequently a part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1918. During World War II, the Battle of Novi Pazar pitted local forces under the control of Nazi-occupied Serbia and mayor Aćif Hadžiahmetović against Chetnik troops, with Hadžiahmetović preventing the city’s fall to the Chetniks. Tito’s Partisans eventually took Novi Pazar on November 28, 1944. After the reunification of the country in the form of Tito’s Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Novi Pazar became a part of the Socialist Republic of Serbia. In the 1990s, after the break-up of Yugoslavia, the city experienced an economic windfall thanks to its dominance in the textile and particularly the jeans industry.
Today, over 550 years since its founding, Novi Pazar maintains a key geographic location at the crossroads of trade through the Balkans and serves as a cultural capital that brings together influences both ancient and modern from across the region. For a more in-depth history of Novi Pazar and the local region, see The Sandžak: A History (2013) by Kenneth Morrison and Elizabeth Roberts. For a general history of Serbia, try Serbia: The History of an Idea (2002) by Stevan Pavlowitch, and for a history of the Balkan region, see The Balkans: Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers (2012) by Misha Glenny or The Balkans: A Short History (2002) by Mark Mazower.