Skopje is the capital city of Macedonia and its largest urban center and settlement, with about a third of total country population. Skopje is political, cultural, economic and administrative center of Macedonia. In the ancient time Skopje was known as Scupi which is present day archaeological site at the suburb of the town.
The territory of the present day Skopje has been inhabited since at least 4000 BC and Neolithic remains have been found in the Kale Fortress. In 148 BC the city of Scupi became part of the Roman Province of Macedonia when it developed rapidly into large religious center with its own bishop. In the year of 518 the Scupi city was destroyed by a disastrous earthquake. Wonderful architectonic buildings, numerous public baths and the ancient amphitheater built in Roman style, large basilica with mosaic floors of Scupi have completely disappeared. After the division of the Roman Empire in 395 Scupi became part of the Byzantine Empire with the seat in Constantinople. There were the Byzantines and the Bulgarians competed over the rule on Scupi in the early medieval period. Byzantine Emperor Justinian I constructed Kale Fortress in the 6th century. From 1189 Scupi was under the Serbian Medieval Kingdom and its capital city til 1346. In 1392 the city was conquered by the Ottoman Turks who named the town Üsküp. The town stayed under Ottoman control over 500 years. During that period numerous typical Ottoman structures had been built in the oriental architecture such are Bezistan, Stone Bridge, Daut Pasha Hamam and Cifte Hamam, Isa Bey Mosque, Ishak Bey Mosque /Aladja Mosque/, Kapan Han, Kursumli Han, Suli Han, Sultan Murad Mosque, Mustapha Pasha Mosque, Yahja Pasha Mosque….
In 1912 Skopje was named the capital of the Vardar Banovina of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia as per subdivision of the Kingdom of Serbia during the Balkan Wars. After the First World War Skopje became part of the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes /Kingdom of Yugoslavia/. In the Second World War Skopje was conquered by the Bulgarian Army, which was part of Axis powers. In 1944 Skopje became the capital city of Democratic Macedonia /later Socialist Republic of Macedonia/ which was a federal state and the part of Democratic Federal Yugoslavia /later Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia/. The city of Skopje developed rapidly after the World War II but this trend was interrupted in 1963 when it was hit by a disastrous earthquake. In 1991 Skopje became the capital of independent Macedonia.
Skopje is located on the upper course of the Vardar River and is located approximately in the middle of a major Balkan route that runs north-south between Belgrade and Athens. The Vardar River divides the city in two, the old part and the newer part. The latter has a nice pedestrian street from the Macedonia Square to the old train station. Skopje is the birth place of Mother Teresa, and there is a nice memorial house in her honor and off course a sculpture of her. Skopje lies at an elevation of 225 meters. Skopje has humid subtropical climate with hot and humid summers and cold, wet, and often snowy winters. Two artificial lakes of Skopje are located just few kilometers outside the city center – Matka and Treska Lakes and are supplied by the Treska River. Skopje also has a glacial lake called Jakupica.
Most of the Ottoman monuments of Skopje, many from the 15th and the 16th centuries, are clustered in and around a charming bazaar district, which itself is a rare (and living) example of such an urban ensemble that evolved between the 15th and the 19th centuries. The Old Bazaar of Skopje /Macedonian Stara Čaršija from the Turkish, meaning marketplace/ in Skopje represents the old commercial heart of the town and the largest bazaar in the Balkans /besides the one in Istanbul/. The Skopje Old Bazaar is situated on the eastern bank of the Vardar River and had been the city center for trade and commerce since the 12th century. Ottoman sultan Murat II built a large congregational mosque on the Gazi Baba hill in 1430, perhaps on the foundations of a church that stood derelict since the Ottoman conquest in 1391 or 1392. Ishak Bey, a lord of the march appears to have been the adopted son of no less than the town’s conqueror. He sponsored a cluster of buildings on the edge of the emerging commercial district, in the depression below the fortress, including a hospice with a built-in oratory (zaviye/imaret), a seminary (medrese), a public bathhouse (hamam) for both sexes, and a hostel for merchants (han). It rapidly grew and reached its peak during the Ottoman rule what is evidenced in over 30 mosques, several caravan-serays, hamams /baths/ and other Ottoman structures and monuments. The hans, of which there soon were several, served the traders doing business in the commercial Skopje district. They were housed in cells in two-storied buildings around an enclosed courtyard. The bathhouse, testimony to a revived bathing culture, was important not only in terms of hygiene but also as a social space, in particular for women. Ishak Bey also built the structure presently known as the Aladža (Alajja – ‘Colored’) Mosque (1438/9) which served to a variety of functions, including the lodging and feeding of guests (often dervishes), staff, and dependents, as well as communication and ritual. Ishak Bey’s intention must have been to develop ‘his’ Skopje into an urban center which was continued by his son Isa Bey, better known as the founder of Sarajevo, another modern Balkan capital. In the period between the 16th and 17th century, the Old Bazaar of Skopje reached its urban and economic zenith, developing into one of the largest and most significant oriental old bazaars in the Balkans. The mosque of Mustafa Pasha (1492) in Skopje, recently restored, has preserved much of the grandeur of the Ottoman ‘classical age’. The domed cube flanked by a three-bay portico and a lofty, slender minaret is the prototype of many mosques built thereafter in the Balkan provinces, especially in Bosnia and Hungary. The portal of the Mustafa Pasha’s mosque may rank as one of the finest of its kind in the Balkans. Although Islamic architecture is predominant in the Skopje Old Bazaar, there are several Christian churches as well. The Old Skopje Bazaar is present day a protected national landmark and contains numerous old craftsmen shops making the “market on a human scale”. The Suli Han is also situated in the Skopje Bazaar and represents a monument of culture. Suli Han has been considered as one of the most beautiful edifices from the first half of the 15th century whose structure consisted of wide square atrium around which there was a porch with arches from where the rooms were entered in. After the restoration, Suli Han inn in Skopje has more functional usage and it houses the Museum of the Old Skopje Bazaar and the Academy of fine Arts of Republic of Macedonia.
On 21 June 2011, the controversial, colossal monument of Alexander the Great, officially called “Warrior on a Horse” was finally erected in Skopje’s central square. Close to 30 meters high (including the 10-metre concrete pedestal), the sculpture dominates the capital’s central area. The monument, which reportedly weighs 30 tons, is higher than the surrounding buildings. VMRO revives the myth of Alexander the Great, but many Macedonians are still perfectly comfortable with their Slavic roots. All around the huge square and the Stone Bridge there are several monumental buildings that look like enormous palaces being built, surrounded with also very monumental and impressive sculptures representing most significant historical persons of Macedonia – Justinian I, Saint Naum, Cyrill and Methodus, Goce Delcev….
Places to see in Skopje : The Clock Tower /Saat kula/, Daut Pasha’s Bath, Kuršumli An, The Aqueduct, The Stone Bridge, Kale Fortress, Mustafa Pasha’s Mosque, Saint Savior Church, Saint Panteleimon Monastery Gorno Nerezi village, Matka Canyon…
Sveti Spas Church /Saint Savior/ Church Skopje
Situated in Skopje’s Old Bazaar, the Church of the Holy Savior – Crkva Sveti Spas is characterized by an unusual architectural design and the modest outside appearance. Sveti Spas Church Skopje is three-nave structure, with the arched central nave above which sits the wooden belfry. The courtyard of Sveti Spas Church in Skopje has steps leading down to the tiny church which was built here in the early 19th century on the ruins of an earlier church which had been destroyed in the fire of 1689. Namely, half of the Church of Sveti Spas had been constructed underground due to the 17th century edict of the Turkish Sultan that prohibited Christian structures from being higher than mosques. The Holy Savior Church Skopje contains one of the most beautiful wooden carved iconostasis in Macedonia, an early 19th century creation of the famous ‘Mijak School of Macedonian wood carvers’. The iconostasis of Sveti Spas Church Skopje is 6 meters high and 10 meters long. On this wonderfully carved iconostasis, the carving group had managed to show numerous scenes from the bible, important geometrical ornaments and figures from the flora and the fauna, as well as a little self portrait while working. Part of the fresco painting on the southern side was found from this older church which dates from the 16th century. The founder of the Macedonian Liberation movement of 1903 and its most prominent member, Goce Delcev, is buried in the courtyard of the Sveti Spas Church in Skopje.
Mustapha Pasha Mosque Skopje
Mustafa Pasha Mosque stands on a plateau above the old Skopje bazaar, and is the most beautiful Islamic building in Macedonia. It was built in 1492 by Mustafa Pasha, vesir on the court of Sultan Selim I. The Mustafa Pasha mosque is quite elegant and intact, and no additions have been made through the years. The interior is beautiful, simple and spacious. Take few steps back to observe the game of the domes of the fountain, the porch and the mosque. In the turbe next to the mosque the daughter of Mustafa Pasha is buried. The Mustapha Pasha Mosque Skopje has a pleasant rose garden and it offers fine views over the bazaar.
Millennium Cross Skopje
The Millennium Cross is a 66 meters-high cross situated on the top of the Vodno Mountain in Skopje, Republic of Macedonia. The cross was constructed to commemorate 2,000 years of Christianity in Macedonia and the world. The construction of the Millennium Cross began in 2002 and was funded by the Macedonian Orthodox Church, the Macedonian government and donations from Macedonians from all over the world. The cross was built on the highest point of the Vodno Mountain on a place known since the time of the Ottoman Empire as “Krstovar”, meaning “Place of the cross”, as there was a smaller cross situated there. On 8 September 2008, the independence day of the Republic of Macedonia, an elevator was installed inside the cross. Restaurant and a souvenir shop are next to the cross.