On August 2nd, 1903, a small band of revolutionaries succeeded in freeing the Macedonian mountain town of Kruševo from the Ottoman Empire. Immediately, the Republic of Kruševo declared itself an independent state, with Nikola Karev as its president. But the dream of freedom was fleeting. After ten days, the Ottomans sent an overwhelming force into the hills and crushed the uprising.
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.
The Republic of Macedonia is a small country in Southeast Europe, bordering Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Albania and Kosovo. Its people speak Macedonian, its capital is Skopje and, until 1991, it was part of Yugoslavia. And that was the sum total of everything I knew about Macedonia, before arriving on a sweltering afternoon in early July. My ignorance was nothing to be proud of, but not exactly unique; this land-locked Balkan country is among the most uncharted in Europe, almost entirely overlooked by tourists.