The city of Skopje may just be my favourite capital that I’ve visited in the Balkans. As my last stop in Macedonia it was a pretty great way to cap off my enlightening and eventful visit. Expecting to find a city somewhat in keeping with other capitals in the Balkans, Skopje turned out to be very much its own city. During my time there, I found a city with plenty to offer visitors, both for newcomers to the country and those who have explored elsewhere in Macedonia. Below are just some of the reasons Skopje fascinated me and why people should choose to visit there.
It’s Finding Itself
One of the more fascinating things I noticed about Skopje was all the construction and new buildings about, mostly by the riverfront. What is so intriguing about this is the choice that the city has made in its selected style of architecture. They’ve seemingly chosen to go with Neoclassical architecture which was popular back in the 18th and 19th centuries. Some people have criticised this as a bit tacky but I actually think it’s wonderful as you can see they’ve tried to put a modern take on it.
I can’t think of another city I’ve been to which was in the process of trying to figure out their “identity” so-to-speak. To me that was really something. Skopje really seemed like a city in flux; a city seeking to revitalise itself and its image. I’d love to return in maybe 5 or 10 years and see how it has all gone.
The Historic Sites
Despite its big revamp and move to modernisation, Skopje still has a great sense of history about it. One of the big monuments to that is the impressive Kale Fortress that you can see from much of the city. The fortress traces back to the Byzantine rulers of the 6th century, but the oldest parts today date from the 10th century. Below the fortress lies the equally historic Old Bazaar which has been the city’s centre of commerce since the 12th century. You do get a sense of its lineage and importance as you walk through its streets. One other major historic landmark is the Stone Bridge that leads from Macedonia Square towards the bazaar and fortress.
A Contemporary City
Throughout my time in Macedonia it was quite rare to come across things like modern shopping centres of international cuisine. The closest I think I came were several pizza joints in the popular tourist city of Ohrid. This is far from a complaint as I prefer learning about local cuisine, but it is often nice to have a “cheat” day. So I really came to appreciate the fact that Skopje does have many of the conveniences that you expect of a modern European city. It was nice to find a street near where I was staying with fairly trendy cafes and restaurants, including a sushi place. Plenty of history to explore in Skopje that’s for sure.
Walking around Skopje, one thing becomes immediately clear – they like their statues. The biggest and baddest has to be the gigantic monument of Alexander the Great on horseback in the centre of the city. The monument really is so large that and detailed that it grasps your attention. It is rightfully growing into an icon of the city and a great one at that. But even surrounding that very square are several others, such as the alabaster statue of Metodija Andonov-Čento, the country’s first president after WWII. There also plenty more over the river, like the touching mother and child fountain below.
Representative of the Country
Skopje is actually fairly representative of the rest of Macedonia. While I don’t think you can get a sufficient grasp of a country from only one place, I get why people may only be able to make one stop. In Skopje’s case, it will give you a decent sense of this small country. You’re able to see the wonderful mix of Christianity and Islam found throughout, the mountainous terrain, the friendly locals and interesting history. You may miss things like the more rural landscapes and lifestyles, but it’s enough of a sampling to draw you back for more I think.
Have you had the chance to visit Skopje before? If not, which of these reasons most appeals to you? Please share in the comments below.
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