Skopje, the Capital of Contrasts

Skopje, the Capital of Contrasts

In all my years of travel, I’ve never seen a city that would mix old architectural elements with new ones in such a hectic manner like Skopje does. This fact was actually burned into my memory, and from the first moment we stepped out of the bus we have referred to the capital city of the Republic of Macedonia as the land of contrasts. Here’s why:

  •  You Just can’t Ignore the Numerous Gigantic Statues and Fountains

The absolute first thing that I observed were the ginormous statues dotting one of the main squares where we got off the bus. And here I was thinking that statues in Romania are large.. The one that really disturbed my eyes was a statue of Alexander the Great standing out from the crowd. Now, the truth is, I’ve read in the Bradt Guidebook before getting to the capital, and our teacher also told us of the fact that there’s somewhat of a misunderstanding regarding the country or Republic of Macedonia and the Greek region Macedonia.

statues and fountains of Macedonia

The thing is, after the Republic of Macedonia gained its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, it took the exact name of its southeastern neighbor, the Greek geographic and historic region where Alexander the Great comes from. Now, in Hungarian we can distinguish the two: we call the country Macedónia and the region Makedónia (see the difference?), as well as Alexander the Great is Makedón Nagy Sándor. But it’s a bit harder to separate it in English.

Interestingly enough, the people of the Republic of Macedonia even put up numerous statues throughout the country of the great Greek leader, as if he was their own. Of course, the Greeks have been furious for nearly 25 years now.. I don’t really know how to feel about these conflicts honestly, I have, however read these days that the current leader of the Republic of Macedonia is opened to discussions to changing the country name in order to end the 25 year conflict. Which is good news!

Alexander the Great Statue, Skopje, Macedonia

(By the way, similar “hoaxes” can be frequently seen throughout the Balkans. Montenegro’s official currency is the Euro, even though they have nothing to do with the European Union. Also, when we were leaving the country, the last signpost said “You are now leaving the European Union”. We had a good chuckle over it. But let’s get back to the article now.)

  • It’s a Melting Pot of Religions

I liked the fact that you can walk around the city and find an Orthodox church (the most common religion) right next to a Mosque (the Islam religion coming mainly from the Albanian minority of the Republic of Macedonia). Below you can find a photo compilation of the Mustafa Pasha Mosque, which I personally found charming:

Mustafa Pasha Mosque, Skopje, Macedonia

  • It has an Old/New Fortress

Okay, so after browsing around the internet and guidebooks, I’ve read that a fortress overlooking the city and the Vardar River was first constructed in the 6th century. I can truly understand the desire to attempt to salvage this important historical landmark, but I don’t get it why the renovations need to look so new. We went inside and didn’t see any old ruins because they were covered by the grass that went up to my hips. Honestly, it was as if they’d built the thing just yesterday! And I am no expert in this, but in my humble opinion Kale Fortress looks way too new and perfect! But decide for yourselves!

Kale Fortress, Skopje

Kale Fortress, Skopje

  • You can Get Lost at the Local Market

I have no clue exactly how big the market in Skopje is, but I’m pretty sure I would’ve easily gotten lost among the many stalls of food, vegetables, fruit and between the vendors selling practical and non-practical objects if I were on my own. But what surprised me the most was that in the center of all that chaos and noise, all the stalls were extremely neatly organized. They somewhat reminded me of photos I saw on the internet of a market somewhere in Morocco.

Local Market in Skopje

  • You can Disappear in the Myriad of Colorful Souvenirs

Macedonians aren’t exactly shy to approach you on the street so offer you some great souvenirs/restaurants/cafes/bars and they won’t hesitate to chase you down the street if you’ve touched something and decided not to buy it. But I honestly liked the traditional things they had on display such as the handmade rugs and the cute little shoes (but no, as a budget traveler, I didn’t buy any).

Macedonian Souvenirs

Macedonian souvenirs

  • It has Deserted Historical Landmarks

So, the fortress is brand new. I mean it’s not, obviously, but it sure looks like it is. But the caravanserai, which has hosted travelers from far and wide for hundreds of years is deserted. Kids are kicking balls into its barely-standing walls, whilst inside a gang films a parkour video and nearly hits me in action, as I walk around not paying attention to anything else than this majestic construction. And all the while I was thinking, what a shame it is to leave such buildings behind..

Caravanserai of Skopje, Macedonia

In conclusion, I think Skopje itself is worth a short stop, so you can get to see all the craziness! Because even though I tried real hard to paint a picture for you guys, there’s nothing like seeing it up-close in person.

So what do you think of Skopje? How’d you like to visit?

If you liked the post, get the GPS-guided tour of Skopje at this link!

If you’re thinking of other places to visit in Macedonia, check out Lake Ohrid, the oldest lake in Europe and the must-sees of Ohrid Town.

Don’t have time to read the whole post? No problem!


Skopje, the Capital of Contrasts

10 Responses to “Skopje, the Capital of Contrasts

  • Skopje looks interesting to say the least, I admit Macedonia wasn’t really on my list but now you’ve made me curious. I had no idea the currency of Montenegro is the euro, I find that so odd, haha.

    • I’m glad it piqued your curiosity! I think I’d put Skopje on any must-see list of Europe, because it’s so crazy-different than what I’ve ever seen before! 😀

  • Thank you for a nice post. We visited Skopje last year and it is a really nice city and there is so far not to many tourists. I can only agree regarding the statues, they ate huge and they are everywhere 🙂

    • Thank you for your comment! 🙂
      I also loved the fact that it wasn’t packed with backpackers and tour groups, it helps to indulge in the local atmosphere 🙂

      • For sure, it is always nicer when there are not to many people around, especially when you are one out of a few tourists 🙂

        • So true! Couldn’t agree with you more 🙂 That’s why I loved the Balkans! They are so underrated for many tourists, but because of this they’ve preserved their local uniqueness, which I hope will never fade away!

  • This post is just what I needed! I found very cheap flights to Skopje and I was trying to decide if it’s worth visiting for a weekend 🙂 Thank you!

  • It’s a lovely post about Skopje, you wrote a lot of interesting things about the city. I have one remark, however: if you are already taking a side on that historic dispute regarding Alexander the great, get your facts straight. It’s true, the previous crazy Macedonian leader built that giant statue of Alexander the Great just to piss off the Greeks but it’s a fact that Alexander’s Macedonia fought multiple wars against the united Greek states. I’m not claiming that Macedonians are descendants to Alexander the Great because many things happened after the fall of his empire but I could at least say he’s as much Macedonian as he’s Greek. As for the name dispute, Greece annexed a part of Macedonia in 1914, was brutal towards the native Macedonians living in that area and ceased a lot of their properties. Additionally, the name Macedonia wasn’t mentioned anywhere in Greece between 1914 and 1986. It was in 1986 when Greece named this region Macedonia, seeing the possibility of the fall of Yugoslavia (which Macedonia was part of) and the probability of Macedonia becoming an independent country again. All I want to say is there are two sides of the coin and I suggest travel bloggers to stick to travel writing and don’t take sides on bitter historic problems. Other than that I loved your article 🙂

    • Hey Daniel!
      You are completely right, that section was merely based on something I read in the guidebook and I didn’t really delve into things so deep.
      I live in Transylvania, so believe me, I know exactly well that every side has two stories, especially when looking back at the historic facts and origins of such disputed regions.
      Thank you for your comment, it’s always great to receive insight from such well-read and smart readers.
      Kudos to You! Have a nice day!

    • Valerie
      3 years ago

      Hello Daniel,
      I agree Re: Macedonian history the last century. As a child, some of my friends grandparents who were part of the annexed Macedonia had their names changed (hellenicised) and were forbidden to speak Macedonian. Hence the “Agean Macedonians” lost a lot of their language over the years and spoke a slang dialect. The Greeks refused to treat them like citizens and to this day many areas are very poor on many levels. Greeks try to rewrite history and claim things as their own on many fronts. Sadly, they are bringing condemnation to themselves from many nations because of this.

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