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.
Toše Proeski is easily the biggest pop star in Macedonia’s history, having racked up a string of number one hits between 1999 and his untimely death in 2007. He was raised in the town of Kruševo, where his memory is kept alive with statues, street art and an unbelievable museum.
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.