The center of town might be south of the Vardar, but Skopje’s most picturesque neighborhood is on the northern side the bridge. The Old Bazaar, also called the Čaršija, extends roughly from the Kale Fortress to the Bit Pazar. With its mosques, antique shops, baklava bakers, hamams and tea gardens, the Čaršija might as well be a neighborhood in Istanbul. We loved it here, and visited whenever possible.
On the western edge of Skopje, we came across an archaeological dig in full swing, with dozens of laborers hard at work dusting off rocks, writing in notebooks, and carting away earth-laden wheelbarrows. This was the site of the ancient Roman city of Skupi, and the archaeologists were in the process of exposing its massive theater.
After a devastating earthquake nearly destroyed Skopje in 1963, the international community came to the rescue, contributing aid in the form of money, materials, manpower… and art. A Contemporary Art Museum was among the principal projects for the post-earthquake city, and the artists of the world were determined to help make it something special.
Among the Ottoman-era buildings still standing in Skopje’s Old Bazaar are three Turkish trading inns and an old covered market called the Bezisten. We visited them all, to see how these ancient buildings have been incorporated into the modern city.
Located in a grand neoclassical building set along the banks of the Vardar River, the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle opened its doors on September 8th, 2011: the twentieth anniversary of the country’s independence from Yugoslavia.
Thought to have been built in the 6th century AD, Skopje’s fortress is its most famous symbol. The Kale (pronounced “kah-lay,” not like the vegetable) is located atop a hill on the northern side of the Vardar River, providing it a commanding view over the old town.
Whether you’re in the market for fresh fruit, cheap clothing, or simply a rollicking good time, head over to Skopje’s Bit Pazar, at the northern end of Čaršija. This is one of the largest outdoor markets in the Balkans, with a history dating back to the 14th century, when Skopje was firmly within the Ottoman Empire.
Skopje’s got construction fever, there’s no denying it. Statues and monuments have sprouted up like weeds in the city’s parks, and the banks of the Vardar River have been given over to glorious new museums and government buildings. It’s all part of Skopje 2014, an ambitious urban revival project.
Skopje has only been the capital of an independent country for around twenty years. That’s nothing in comparison with the 520 years it spent as part the Ottoman Empire, a period during which it was known as Üsküb. Five centuries of Muslim rule were enough to leave a lasting impression. With mosques, bath houses, tea gardens, nargile cafes, and the sound of dice rattling across backgammon boards, the neighborhood known as the Old Bazaar, or Čaršija, has retained much of its Turkish identity.
Stretched out along the Vardar River, Skopje is a long and narrow city whose expansion to the south is hindered by the presence of Mount Vodno. We took a cable car to the mountain’s summit for a close-up look of the Millennium Cross, and for a birds-eye view over the region.