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.
In 1910, a child named Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu was born to an Albanian family in Skopje. Raised a Roman Catholic, Anjezë received God’s calling at the tender age of 18, and gave her life over to the church and the care of the world’s least fortunate. She took the name Teresa and spent the rest of her days making the world a more humane place.
One can still find a number of traditional craftsmen toiling away within Ohrid’s historic quarter. Craftswomen, too. During our time in Ohrid, we had the chance to hang out with Marta Pejoska, who had recently opened a downtown studio dedicated to silver filigree.
On our second day in Ohrid, we embarked on an excursion to Sv Stefan, an ancient cave church set within the cliffs south of town. We had prepared for a strenuous hike, so when we arrived at the church after barely ten minutes of walking, it was kind of a disappointment. Luckily, the trail continued, and would lead us to the abandoned village of Šipokno.
Shimmering in the southwestern corner of Macedonia is Lake Ohrid: a UNESCO Heritage Site, and one of the oldest lakes in the world. Over the years, Ohrid has developed into Macedonia’s favorite summer retreat. Whether to play in the pristine water, dance the night away, or just escape the heat, Macedonians and visitors from across the Balkans descend upon the lake in droves.
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.
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.
For four days in July, the central Macedonian town of Prilep is taken over by Pivofest: an annual celebration of beer which has become the nation’s biggest festival. It’s not exactly the most traditional event on the calendar, but that wasn’t going to deter us from attending. We’re talking about a giant beer party, after all. Tradition can wait.
Ever since it was imported from the New World in the 16th century, tobacco has played a starring role in the economy of Prilep. This humid, low-lying valley town offers perfect cultivating conditions, and the high-quality product grown here has long been exported to firms from around the world. We took a taxi to the outskirts of town, to visit the museum at Prilep’s Tobacco Institute.
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.