While spending time with some friends, I was introduced to a Croatian who started our conversation, “Have you been to Skopje?! You have to go to Skopje!” In a few weeks, I would travel there to experience what my new friend continued to describe. It may have been referred to as the “Las Vegas of the Balkans with better people.”Skopje was settled in the 3rd century B.C. and eventually overtaken by Rome. It always had strategic value to competing powers for its pristine location resting between two hills in a long valley along the Vardar River. The city was prized as an administrative center, mercantile hub, and later a seat of the Orthodox church. Skopje was renowned for its beauty, and believed to have the most beautiful church in the region.
The makeup of the city changed with the Ottoman invasion around the 14th century. The Ottomans brought a new culture and architecture to the city building mosques, Ottoman style bridges, and bathhouses reflecting the new Turkish influence. This influence is still visible today throughout the city.
After the defeat of the Turks in the early 20th century, Skopje began to transform once again. The city went through many projects that ranged from the Central European feel of the time to the “modern, futuristic” of the communist architecture of the 1960’s, and now another updating project that is focusing on transforming the center of Skopje yet again. The goal is to have a modernized capital that reflects a past era incorporating the historical and cultural influences of Skopje.
What to Do
The Stone Bridge and Old Bazaar of Skopje allows one to remember the past as it is located in the Old Town across the bridge from Skopje’s new transformation. Following the Stone Bridge which dates back to 6th century, you can cross to the Old Bazaar which was built under Ottoman rule. The bazaar developed quickly as the merchant quarter and reflects the Islamic past of the city with mosques located throughout the bazaar.Across the Stone Bridge from the Bazar, one can see the ongoing Skopje 2014 project in progress. New facades adorn old buildings. Towering, extravagant monuments fill the center square and line waterway. A must see is the enormous Alexander the Great. It would be hard to miss. Along river on the same side, cafes, restaurants, and pubs line the waterway making this the place to be in the city for nightlife. The vibrancy and movement of people adds to the excitement and spark of Skopje. Look for local city walks and tours to explore the city more.
Outside of Skopje, adventure and nature beckon the traveler. Matka Canyon and Vodno Mountain are just two places which are accessible spots for adventure seekers. The former is a famous place for locals to swim and picnic along the river, and the former is said to offer the best views of the city. Both are reachable via city transport.
What to Eat
The food culture of Skopje reflects its past: a mix of Balkan and Turkish flavor. It is simple yet rich in flavor and colors using more vegetables than many of the surrounding countries. One specialty that must be tried is the ajvar (ay-var). It is a relish consisting mainly of red peppers and garlic. Varieties may include eggplant and chili’s. It is part of the national identity. The banks of the Vardar have also created a reputation for winemaking and producing around Skopje. The cuisine of Skopje is as rich and deep as the history and culture.
A lively food culture, history, architecture, and modernization make Skopje an entraining place to venture. An attractive city coupled with a vibrant night life, and welcoming people make for a second, longer stay in the near future.
Photos made available by the Macedonia Tourism Board.