Local Craftsmanship as Intangible Cultural Heritage

Categories: Local Craftsmanship



The craftsmen play an important part in traditional cultural and urban mosaic of Niš and have substantially contributed to development of once the province under Ottoman rule into a modern European city. Local craftmen have preserved a specific business morale always relying on their own strengths and skills even in the most difficult times while educating their descendants to take over the family tradition.

The craftmenship in Niš was flourishing in the second half of the 19th century, immediately after the liberation from the Ottoman rule, although even under Turkish occupation various crafts were developing in the local bazaar in accordance with the needs and customs of that time. However, those more attractive and profitable trades were always reserved for the Turks, while the Christian, Cincar and Jewish populations were engaged in those less lucrative  jobs. As it is often the case, people who are marginalized develop specific social skills, which can become useful for their future prospects and career and so, after the liberation from Ottoman rule, Serbian, Cincar and Jewish craftsmen quickly began to progress, opening their own shops, uniting and helping the economic development of the city and the surrounding area.

Stevan Sremac, a famous Serbian 19th century writer, in his novel "Zona Zamfirova", describes the local context through  a love story between Mane, an ordinary goldsmith, and Zona Zamfirova, from a rich family whose wealth was declining. Only few people know about this love story deeply rooted in urban legend of Niš, however, a sentence from the novel describing the rise of a new well-off class in the XIX century, class of craftsmen,  remains: "Some climb and others go down the ladder and nothing is eternal."

It was exactly those who climbed the ladder of social status who strongly pushed the development of Niš during that time. The old crafts needed for the development of the then oriental town, such as bućmedžija - silk cord makers, mutavdžija – twine makers and papudžija - repairing and making slippers, were dying out, but the new crafts were emerging, such as candlemakers, licitar makers, shoemakers and locksmiths who learned their skills and crafts either from their countrymen across the Danube and Sava or directly from the masters in Budapest or Vienna.

New residents were gradually settling down in Nis, which became the second capital of Serbia. They were coming from the north and west but also from the south and southeast and were mostly craftsmen contributing to multiethnic and multicultural character of the city which is a feature still preserved and reflected also in urban architectural heritage that includes Catholic and Orthodox Churches along with the Mosque and Synagogue in the city center.

Between the two wars, traditional crafts in Nis were further strengthening, with various craftsmen founding their associations and celebrations, their customs and codes of conduct, their taverns... They pay taxes, go out to vote, issue master letters and certificates. The atmosphere in the city at that time was best reflected in a small street called Kazandžijsko sokače, perfectly located at the heart of the city. The street used to be called Zanatlijska or the Craftmens’ street, nowadays packed with bohemian cafes favourite places to mingle, meet friends and have a drink or two. At the very entrance to the street, a photogenic monument was made to commemorate the writer Stevan Sremac, his literary hero Kalča and his dog Čapi, sitting at a bronze tavern table, telling stories, with always one chair available for the visitors willing to join and  make friends with these historic characters or at least take a good selfie.

After the WW2 the crafts somehow recovered quickly because it became apparent that the craftsmen can best respond to different needs of the people and soon again start manufacturing as shoemakers, potters, tailors, quilters, coopers, bar keepers, confectioners, weavers, signwriters, goldsmiths, filigree and goldsmiths, stonecutter and carpenters, candlemakers and many others.

The candlemaker’s shop "Šojka" was so important that an entire city district is still named after it. Goldsmiths of the Čivljak family had their shop in the main market street of the city which would also fit perfectly in any famous European market street, and Gorani Pelivani with their sweets conveyed the spirit of the Orient and their native Prizren or Tetovo to Niš. It was a golden age of crafts, but it was short-lived, since the globalization of the market closed most of the small craft businesses.

Today there is only one potter, one leather belt maker who makes leashes for pets instead of halters for horses, a few candlemakers who have an agreement with the church. The situation is a bit better when it comes to watchmaker, shoemakers and confectioners, and there are several reputable goldsmiths and fashion tailors. Besides this, some new crafts, which are mainly managed with by local women's associations, are emerging: jewelry making, artistic glass painting, decoupage, domestic cosmetics and craft soaps making. More recently, microbreweries are also popping up in wider urban area as the guests in pubs appreciate more the taste of craft beer.

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