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.
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.