Kratovo is a small town in North Macedonia. It is the seat of Kratovo Municipality. It lies on the western slopes of Mount Osogovo at an altitude of 600 metres (2,000 ft) above sea level. Having a mild and pleasant climate, it is in the crater of an extinct volcano. It is known for its bridges and towers.
In the Roman period there was a settlement called Tranatura located within the modern city municipality. There was a mine nearby and the town was the seat of local authorities. No remains of the settlement have been found, however, remnants of Roman fortification were found on Zdravče stone hill above the town. Byzantine and Bulgarian Empires ruled subsequently the area.
In 1282 Kratovo became part of the Kingdom of Serbia. In all probability the wealth of the town came from its mines. Saxon miners and Dubravian merchants from Ragusa (todays Dubrovnik in Croatia) who already had worked in other parts of Macedonia settled here. The town was first mentioned under its current name in 1330. Gold, silver, lead, iron and copper were mined in the immediate vicinity and in wider surroundings of the town. During the reign of Emperor Stefan Dušan of Serbia the mines of Kratovo were the prime source of wealth of despot Jovan Oliver. After his death, during the fall of the Empire under Stefan Uroš V the town came into the hands of the Dejan family. Konstantin Dejan minted his silver coins here. The Ragusan merchant colony grew larger and took over the best part of trading.
In the 16th century Kratovo ranked among the most important mining towns in the European part of the Ottoman Empire. The mint was opened in Kratovo in the last decade of the 15th century and immediately it became the second largest producer of coins in the Ottoman Empire (just after Novo Brdo), making mostly silver akce, and later gold coins as well. However, from 1520 to 1540 minting and mining were in great crisis and many of the tenants, all of them local Christians, could not pay their leases and were imprisoned. Also, between 1519 and 1530 the number of Christian households dwindled from 982 to 606. After the reform and codification of the craft, the mining and minting recovered around mid-century. In 1550 C. Zeno noted in his travelogue that the Ottoman sultan gets 70,000 ducats from Kratovo. The official accounts of that year tell of benefits of 1,111,555 akce. However, due to the opening of new mints, this fell down to just 573,099 akce in 1573.
The mines were managed by their renters who held the title of a duke (knez). Most of them were Christians. Amongst these wealthy men who were the first among all men in Kratovo we find Dimitrije Pepić with his brothers or Andrija and Nikola Bojičić, who gave money for renovation of many churches around Macedonia (for instance Lesnovo Monastery). The inhabitants of Goldsmiths’ and Minters’ quarters, both Muslims and Christians, were businessmen who were famous for their investments in opening new mines such as Kučajna, Majdanpek or Kremkovica, or for leasing mints in other centers, for instance in Novo Brdo.
Such activity continued in early 17th century, but later in that century, around 1660 when Kratovo was visited by Evliya Celebi the mint has stopped its operation. The town was commanded by an ayan. Seven mines were active, yielding mostly silver and copper, but a lot of ore was brought from Osogovo and mountains around Kjustendil. Miners were locals who for their works in mines enjoyed certain freedoms and did not have to pay any taxes. Catholic bishop of Skopje Petar Bogdani reports in 1685 that Kratovo has 300 houses and 8 strong towers. At the time Kratovo was also famous for its copper products which were considered to be the best in the Ottoman Empire.
During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, under the Serbian Patriarchate of Peć, the bishops of Kjustendil often call themselves also „of Kratovo“ and some of them resided here as well since it was a more important and richer town than their seat.
In 1689 town was taken by the advancing Habsburg forces. However, they soon retreated and Kratovo was burned down in retaliation. A lot of people left the town together with the Habsburg army; in early 18th century we find some of them living in Taban, the Serb suburb of Buda (today a part of Budapest). After this disaster most of the mining activity in the area was taken over by Zletovo and Probištip.
In 1389, during his attack on Prince Lazar, Ottoman sultan Murad I stopped in Kratovo to gather information and hold a war council. Next year, in 1390, his son, Bayezid, captured it from the Dejan and put his official (emin) to reside here. Kratovo was the seat of a nahiya, as a part of the sanjak of Kyustendil, as well as a kaza, seat of a kadi/judge, engulfing not only the town’s vicinity but also Štip, Kočani and Nagoričani.
In the 15th century Kratovo was a very important mining town, inhabited by many wealthy and educated men, such as the writer Dimitar, or Marin, son of the priest Radonja, who in 1449 donated the whole sum needed for the fresco painting of the Prohor Pčinjski monastery. In 1484 Jovan Konik and Stefan, son of Branko, both from Kratovo, paid an amazing 16,424,000 akçe for a three-year rent of mints in Novo Brdo, Skopje and Serres. As a trade center Kratovo was also settled by Sephardic Jews.[ Kratovo was an important stop for Ottoman sultans: in 1455, before an attack on Novo Brdo, the Ottoman army regrouped here. It seems that the mining recovered only in the first half of the 19th century. In 1829 a local aga managed the mines. However, mining was now done on a much smaller scale: Amu Bue in 1836 found only two furnaces working, both in bad condition, and some 5,000 – 6,000 inhabitants. Later in that century the work was carried out by forced labor force recruited in villages from the region and many families have left the area because of it. The mines were finally shut down in 1882. At the end of the century the town population dwarfed to 4,500, more than half Muslim Turks.
In 1905 Kratovo had a Bulgarian lower grammar school and two primary schools while the Serbs had two primary schools. Each community held one of town churches.
The town was taken by the Serbian army on 9 November 1912. In following years, the Turkish population left the town so that in 1931 the number of inhabitants was just 1,833.
Kratovo is known for its many reminders from the past. One of its symbols are its stone towers. Once there were twelve of them, but now there are only six towers remaining (Saat or Clock Tower, Simić, Krstev, Eminbeg, Zlatković and Hadži Kostov Tower). The towers were built in late Middle Ages, starting from late 14th century and were used not only for protection but also as storage rooms.
The Kratovo bridges are another characteristic of this town made by old masters.
The town has unique and interesting architecture from the 19th century and a unique Art gallery of children’s drawings, with pictures by Kratovo children which have won numerous prizes at different international exhibitions.
Currently many organizations are working on rebuilding the city. One of the most valiant of these efforts comes from the University of Florida Engineering Without Borders program who are currently working on the development of a sustainable solid waste system to aid the efforts of North Macedonia in attaining recognition in the European Union.