Good morning readers! I hope you are cooling off the summer sun by indulging in a scrumptious ice cream, sipping refreshing cocktails, or lazing by a body of water. Today I am very happy to share with you a postcard about my incredible recent trip to Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, which has been on my travel list for a long time. This is one of my longest posts, however I simply couldn’t miss out any details! Enjoy 🙂
Although it was a cold and gloomy morning in Belgrade on the day of my flight, I was too excited for my next adventure to worry about weather, and the travel gods definitely agreed with me. My journey started off with an amazing upgrade on my flight (which has happened only one other time in my long life of travel). As I sat in business class sipping on fine champagne and enjoying the ultra-comfort of Air Serbia, I caught the first sights of grandiose mountains emerging from the perfect blue sky and white cotton clouds.
50 minutes later, I arrived at Alexander the Great Airport, and was warmly welcomed by my friend, on a perfect sunny Sunday afternoon, after 5 years, since our last reunion in Dubai. Like Serbians, Macedonians spend Sundays in nature with family, so my friend decided it was the perfect time to visit the city centre, as it was quiet, with only a few tourists.
Macedonia’s history has always been rocky due to its geographical position on the Balkan peninsula. It has endured thousands of years of rule from the Romans, Bulgarians, Greeks and Ottomans, until the greatest hero of all time, Alexander the Great, conquered not only Macedonia’s independence at the time, but extended his empire across the Egyptian, Persian and Indian lands. These vibrant and diverse historical occurrences, are evident in Skopje’s urban planning. The city is ethnically diverse comprising of Macedonians as a majority, followed by Albanians and Roma, each group restricting itself to a certain part of the city, which is reflected in its architecture and culture.
Let’s start with the oriental part of Skopje which is mainly inhabited by Albanians. The first notable place is called Čaršija (pronounced charshija) which means old Turkish bazaar. As the name suggests, it is a place frozen in time from the Ottoman past, and is paved with winding cobble stone streets. The old bazaar is filled with shops offering glamorous dresses, materials, an extensive variety of nuts, extravagant jewellery, teahouses, mosques and museums. I lost track of time as I walked through the maze of winding streets, observing vibrant shopkeepers attending to their customers and following the aroma of grilled meat specialties and strong Turkish coffee. And if that’s not enough to entice you, the entrance of Čaršija is connected to the second largest bazaar in the world, Bit Pazar.
Towering high above, is Skopje’s Kale Fortress which was been the city’s guardian since the 5th century. While it is dominated by heavy ruins, the exterior wall is still intact and is a great place to admire the city. It is only a few minutes’ walk from the Bazaar and visitors can admire a bird’s eye view of the entire city centre, while appreciating ancient history. The best part is that you can see how the old part of the city is connected to the modern part, but I’ll let the below pictures speak for themselves.
As part of the “Skopje 2014” project, a large number of funds was invested in the refurbishment of the city, restoring old facades, and adding historical and cultural editions to the cityscape. Unfortunately, this project was not accepted by all citizens, and so you will notice a lot of graffiti in my pictures, from the protests.
As I moved away from the oriental part of Skopje and into the neo-classical Roman style, I paused for a moment to admire three beautiful fountains. The first one spearheads King Philip (Alexander’s father) and showcases Alexander as a boy with his parents. The second one is called “Fountain of the Mother’s” and depicts mothers with their children, which made me smile. The third fountain is the horses fountain, a great place for picture taking, with Mount Vodno towering above the city. From here, the famous 15th century Kameni Most (Stone Bridge) connects the oriental and modern side of Skopje centre. The bridge was built by Sultan Murad and has endured earthquakes and fires which affected Skopje through the years. I enjoyed standing on this historical bridge, which has remained untouched since its completion, and imagined what kind of stories were written in this very place. The below photos will explain what I can’t quite put into words…
Crossing over the bridge, I arrived to the modern side, Plostad Makedonija square, and to welcome me, was the crowning jewel, Alexander the Great. Although the fountain is called “Warrior on a horse”, I think it is safe to assume, they referred to the greatest hero. As a huge lover of fountains, I have admired many before, however this one is by far one of my favourites. The intricate design depicts Alexander’s victories, while lions roar in his glory. Surrounding the square are several hotels and coffee shops, making it the best place to enjoy the true charm of Skopje, especially in the evening, as elegant classical music and illuminations light up the evening sky. From here, visitors can admire Skopje’s triumphal arc called “Porta Macedonia” which signifies Macedonia’s struggle for independence and leads to the “Woman Warrior Park” which is filled with monuments. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves here as well.
Across the Vardar River, several bridges have been added in addition to the Stone Bridge. The first one is called Bridge of Civilizations and is filled with statues of important people, who have shaped Macedonia’s history. The second one is called Bridge of Art, which commemorates poets, artists, composers, writers who instilled a deep influence on Macedonia’s culture. Freedom Bridge is the third bridge across the Vardar River and for me, the most beautiful, as it is adorned with bronze seraphims and Baroque railings.
All three bridges lead to Mother Teresa Square where visitors can enjoy a promenade along the river and visit Macedonia’s Archaeological Museum, Opera and Ballet, and admire the facade of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, uniquely displaying figures wearing national dresses from different time periods across the Balkans. This was the perfect place for a break as the promenade is filled with cafes and restaurants. I opted for a palachinka (crepe) in a café situated right next to the river so that I could admire more of the beauty of this city. Macedonians are very friendly, gentle, and hospitable, casually engaging in conversation, and I very much enjoyed listening to their language, which is very light, compared to Serbian.
Continuing with my sightseeing, I had the pleasure of visiting the Mother Teresa Memorial House which is also located in the city centre, right next to the church where she was baptised. The house is filled with pictures from her life, commemorating all the work she has done around the world and all the world leaders she met. If you didn’t know already, you might be wondering, why this memorial house exists in Skopje? Well, just like Alexander the Great, Mother Teresa is one of Skopje’s most famous residents. Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu was born in 1910, and changed her name to Therese de Lisieux, the patron saint of missionaries, after she took her religious vow to become a nun in 1931. The museum is open every day and I definitely recommend a visit when planning your trip to Skopje. Mother Teresa’s legacy lives daily as various quotes can be found throughout the city. This one is my favourite:
Love begins at home, by taking care of the closest ones – the ones at home. Spread the love, wherever you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier. Every time you smile at someone, it is an act of love and a gift to that person. It is a beautiful thing.
Another interesting sight is the wall of the old train station, whose clock struck 5.17am for the last time when the horrific earthquake in 1967 destroyed 80% of the city. The entire world sent relief to help the victims of the natural disaster, and as a result, Skopje is known as the “City of International Solidarity” which is also the city’s motto. The wall is now the entrance to the Museum of the City of Skopje and holds permanent exhibitions dating back to 3,000 BC.
With so much on offer in the city, it is very easy to lose track of time in various eras of history. Skopje also has beautiful nature, and so on my last day, my friend took me to Lake Matka Canyon, approximately 20 minutes away from the centre. The weather was absolutely perfect, as the clouds provided a shelter from the heat of the sun. The river covers 5,000 hectares and offers various activities such as hiking, kayaking and even a river cruise, making it the #1 attraction in Skopje, on TripAdvisor. We hiked for a few minutes, admiring the bountiful nature, until we arrived to Canyon Matka Hotel. The hotel was founded in 1939, has 10 rooms, an excellent restaurant, and resembles a beautiful two-storey chalet. It has been built next to the Church of St. Andrew, and whether you visit the canyon for an hour, or just for the day, it is very easy to immerse yourself in the nature.
Skopje has the perfect blend, combining my passion for history, culture, architecture, nature, and art all in one city. Although my trip was quite short, I will have to explore other areas of timeless Macedonia, very soon.
Please enjoy all my photos right here, and watch this fantastic promotional video 🙂
- Skopje: http://www.exploringmacedonia.com/skopje.nspx
- Macedonia: http://www.macedonia-timeless.com
- Mother Teresa Memorial House: http://www.exploringmacedonia.com/memorial-house-of-mother-teresa.nspx
- Matka Canyon: http://www.canyonmatka.mk