Skopje, the capital of the Republic of North Macedonia (or just “Macedonia”) is totally unlike anywhere else we’ve been before. The downtown area is packed full of gigantic statues and grandiose neoclassical buildings. They are supposed to look older, but all were constructed since 2010 as part of the “Skopje 2014” project.
The purpose of the project was to help build a national identity by promoting prominent historical figures from Macedonia (many of which are also claimed by the Greeks) such as Phillip II and Alexander the Great. This has caused a lot of friction between the governments of Greece and Macedonia, and Greece has even blocked Macedonia’s entry to the EU over the matter.
This towering statue of Alexander the Great was named “Warrior on a Horse” as a trivial concession to Greece. Most of the year the statue features a fountain light show which supposedly is set to the music of “Flight of the Valkyrie.” Unfortunately, the fountains were covered for the winter so we didn’t get to see the full spectacle.
On our second day in the city, we made our way to the Skopje Fortress that rises above the skyline. The original fortress dates from the 6th century but most of the walls and towers were recently reconstructed.
We walked along the walls, taking in the view of the city below. Other than the walls there was not much to see and little in the way of signage or interpretation.
Just outside the fortress we found the Old Bazaar. In contrast to the downtown area of Skopje, the Old Bazaar felt totally authentic. The Bazaar is full of Ottoman and Byzantine architecture, including several mosques tucked away within the winding streets. Many of the shops and restaurants had Turkish specialties on offer. We even found a local brew pub for lunch with a good selection of food and drinks.
Mother Theresa Museum
Prior to our arrival in Skopje we weren’t aware that it was the birthplace of Mother Theresa. We made our way to the Mother Theresa Museum in the downtown area where we learned about her life and efforts to ease the suffering of the ill in Calcutta.
For some reason our youngest thought this was the place to perfect his “Smooth Criminal” choreography.
The also knocked at this little door but the gnome wasn’t home.
Despite visiting during the low season, we enjoyed seeing the spectacle of the new look of Skopje. We were also able to get more of a feel for the unique tensions of history and culture that still impact life there today. We found it a very welcoming place that was easy to navigate.
Next up, we find our way back to Serbia!