Skopje

Skopje (Macedonian: Скопје, Albanian: Shkup), the capital of the Republic of Macedonia, is a city of many cultures and many centuries. Regardless of the direction you are arriving from, the infamously ugly apartment buildings constructed after the 1963 earthquake which ravaged the city will welcome you, and, while the fans of the stereotypical Eastern Europe may find a thing or two to check out in this Sovietesque city, you may feel largely unwelcome, but don't give up on Skopje so soon.

Instead of fantasizing about hopping on the next bus to somewhere else, head to the central square, divided in two by the River Vardar, which is crossed by a 14th-century stone bridge. This is the focal point of the "Skopje 2014" project, where the Macedonian government proudly erects almost innumerable statues of the historical personalities with a relation to Macedonia, and some huge neo-classical buildings in an apparent effort to invoke a feeling for the glorious days of the Ancient Macedon.

When you filled your daily quota of seeing sculptures (which will be pretty soon), walk up to the Ottoman old town, to the serene yards of the medieval mosques to relieve your eyes of the statue fatigue. It should be evening by now, and your legs should be tired enough—just about the right time to look for one of the small squares of the old town shadowed by huge, old plane trees, and to sit and reflect there, together with a bottle of the tasty local beer, Skopsko.

Understand

Skopje city panorama, with Mount Vodno in the background

In the Povardarie region, Skopje is the financial and political center of Macedonia and by far its biggest city. The city population is around 800,000, however unofficially during working-days it can almost reach more than 1 million, which is more than half of the population of the country. The most diverse in the country, Skopje houses many ethnicities; besides the majority Macedonians, many Albanians, Turks, Roma, Serbs, Bosniaks and others call Skopje home.

The 26th of July 1963 is one of the worst dates in the history of Skopje. An earthquake struck the city at 5:17AM. 75% of the buildings in the city disappeared in just a few seconds. After that, the big rebuilding project began, trying to make Skopje the model city of the socialist world. The plan was drawn by the Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, who also designed the new railway station. The plan was never fully carried out. Lately many reconstruction projects have started. Some towers of Kale Fortress and the old cathedral are being reconstructed, and the old theater is also under reconstruction. Skopje is an eclectic mix of Christian and Islamic culture, with both vying to make themselves visible. However, this cultural mix has also spawned a lively and varied society. You can see people playing chess in the morning in the numerous cafés and green spaces in the summer. In the evening, Skopje comes to life as the locals dine in the cafés before heading to the bars and live music clubs, most of which are open until 1AM or later.

History

Apart from being the capital of the Republic of Macedonia, Skopje has always been a center of power long coveted by various empires, and occupied by a long list of them, evident by the several Byzantine churches and monasteries around the city, also by a few Roman sites, such as Scupi and Skopje's Aqueduct. The city founded by the Paeonians in the 3rd century B.C.E. under the name of ‘Skupi’ was prized for its strategic location, in a long valley between two hills, situated on the banks of the Vardar River, a vital trade route. Under the Romans, Skopje was made administrative center of the Dardanian Province. The city’s prestige grew when the Orthodox Church made it an episcopal seat during the early Byzantine Empire. The arrival of migrating Slavic tribes from the Carpathians in the 6th century C.E. changed both the city’s name and the composition of its people were assimilated by the Slavic newcomers. Throughout the remaining Byzantine centuries, Skopje continued to be an important mercantile center, situated as it was at the crossroads of Balkan trade and communications routes. It was celebrated for its urban life and fortress, and renowned for having the most beautiful church in the region. In 14th century, Skopje became the capital of the Empire of Serbia, which was one of the largest and strongest countries in Europe during that period. However, the group that left the greatest mark on Skopje were the Ottomans. At the very end of the 14th century, Skopje and all of Macedonia fell under the rule of the Ottoman Turks, who ruled Macedonia for over six hundred years and built a large number of mosques and other buildings. In the ensuing centuries, the look of the town changed with the construction of many mosques, Turkish baths, bridges, and other buildings attesting to the new Oriental influence. Today, the Ottoman legacy remains extremely visible in Skopje’s architecture and small Islamic minority. After Macedonia was liberated from the Turks in the early 20th century, became a part of Kingdom of Serbia, then it became a republic of the Yugoslav Federation, with Skopje as the capital. At that time, the prosperous city boasted many ornate, Neoclassical buildings laid out harmoniously in a more or less Central European style. However, in 1963 a disastrous earthquake leveled much of the regal old city, and Skopje was reborn in the imaginative, futuristic style in vogue at the time. Today, Skopje is a modern city and Macedonia’s major political, economical, educational, and cultural center.

Get in

By plane

Transport options include:

Destinations: Ljubljana, Vienna, Sofia (seasonal), Zagreb, Prague, Zurich, Dubai, Belgrade, Dortmund, Dusseldorf, Istanbul, Venice - Treviso, and London - Luton.

As an alternative option, Kosovar capital Pristina may offer cheaper deals than flying directly into Skopje on some routes. However, with no public transport connecting it with the city, consider if it's worth the effort when you add the €20+ taxi ride into downtown Pristina and €5 bus ride to Skopje on the top of the flight fare. International Airport of Pristina is 3 hours away by bus from Skopje.

By train

Belgrade, Serbia (daily, 9 hours); Thessalonika, Greece (daily, 5 hours)

By bus

Buses to cities and towns in Macedonia leave multiple times daily. There are also buses to other major European cities.

If you wish to travel to Skopje from Sofia, Matpu 96 run three buses a day. Their office can be found in the Sofia Central Bus Station, and the buses are at 09:30, 16:00 and 19:00. The cost of a ticket is 33 Lev (€16.50) as of July 2013, but they accept Euros too. This includes 1 Lev baggage fee. The journey will take around 6 hours and will also include a time zone change from Sofia (GMT + 2) to Skopje (GMT + 1 or Central European Time), so the 16:00 bus will arrive at Skopje Bus Station at approximately 21:00. The website, in English.

Get around

By bus

Skopje has a vast, frequent and efficient bus network. Public buses (red in colour) cost 35 MKD if you pay the driver, or 30 MKD if you buy your ticket in advance from a kiosk. Private buses (all the other colours) cost 25 MKD (you pay the driver directly). The new double-deck buses may feature English translations of routes, but it's easier just to stick to the bus numbers. Bus maps can be found on almost all bus stops (still in the process of putting them up). Hotels will help with info. and the odd taxi fare can be saved!

By taxi

Taking a taxi in Skopje should normally not cost more than 300 MKD. An example journey is from City Centre to Biser (a shopping centre with many bars and cafes that is popular with young people) which should take about 5-10 mins and cost around 150 Denars (MKD).

From the train station to the center of the city is 2km and should cost 50 MKD. Never let yourself be talked into going somewhere where you did not plan to go in the first place. Like many cities in Europe, if you seem unsure and foreign, the charge will probably be higher so appear confident about the price and if the taxi driver still insists on a ridiculous price, find another taxi, there are plenty.

See

Warrior on Horseback, Macedonia Square
Part of Kale fortress

Most people in Skopje just see the concrete buildings and run away, but if one looks deeper one will find some excellent examples of Ottoman architecture and much more. Most of the sights in Skopje are situated in and around the old bazaar.

the Stone Bridge

Several statues of Macedonian revolutionary figures can also be seen, such as Goce Delcev Dame Gruev in addition to older figures such as Tsar Samuil and Justinian the First. By far the most impressive stature is that of Alexander the Great, standing at some 26m in height.

Daut Pasha Hamam
Skopje's Aqueduct

Ottoman inns

Mosques

Museums

Churches

Mother Teresa Monument

Mosques

View of Mustafa Pasha`s Mosque - north-western side

Synagogues

Others

Do

Day Tours

Events

Learn

Buy

Skopje central square

Shopping centers and markets

Eat

Macedonia’s capital offers something to satisfy all modern tastes and appetites. Make sure to try the famous Macedonian foods such as burek, Shopska Salata, and others.

Skopje’s eateries are plentiful and offer a diverse range of local and international flavors. International cuisine is well represented in Skopje with Chinese, Italian, Indian, Greek, Mexican, Middle Eastern and French restaurants all found within the city center. In addition, pizza and fast food places abound, as do small bakery cafes selling pastries such as the ubiquitous burek (a flaky filo pie stuffed with meat, cheese or spinach).

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

Cafes

Its not hard to find good cafes but a good place to start is by the riverside near the old bridge, and at night this becomes a lively party area as well.

Bars

Clubs

Sleep

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

Skopje, just like most of the rest of Macedonia, is a relatively safe place. But, the usual rules about common sense apply here as they would anywhere. The places where crime occurs most often are in the places where tourists have little reason to be at. Night time in the old market may have roving bands of youth. Exercise a high level of caution in these areas or avoid this area at night. Like many other parts of Eastern and Central Europe, there are people who will beg around the major tourist sites, they especially target tourist-looking people, and sometimes may engage in pickpocketing.

Cope

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Embassies

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This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, October 22, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.