Skopje is without a doubt one of the most interesting cities to visit in Europe. The main reason for this is due to the Skopje 2014 project financed by the Macedonian government. Announced in 2010, the stated goal of the project is give the city of Skopje a more classical feel in line with its links to classical history and the role of the Kingdom of Macedonia within classical Greek and Roman history. Dozens of monuments, statues, museums and government buildings have been built at an estimated cost of up to 500 million euros.
Skopje 2014 has attracted controversy over its cost, as well as attracting criticism for its construction of historicist kitsch. For all the controversy and criticism, Skopje has become one of the must see cities in the Balkans to marvel at the absurdity of the ‘Disneyland’ of statues that it’s become.
A small and cosy hostel located quite close to the bus station in an interesting little neighbourhood on the banks of the Vardar River. They have a nice garden and outdoor area that allows for everyone to mingle as well as a lounge area inside. The staff are excellent, very friendly and happy to provide you with lots of good advice for what to do while in town.
Another really great option in Skopje, located very close to the city center, directly across the river from Kale Fortress. A nice roomy hostel with some nice areas to lounge around and meet people in. The location is more central than Shanti hostel and you have better access to cheap take-away and bars here. It is however, a longer distance to walk to from the bus station compared to Shanti hostel.
Sights and Highlights
This free walking tour is a really good one and definitely worth a good tip at the completion. A lot of good information is available on the tours website showing the meeting point and the intended route. There is good mix of locations visited that covers a broad range of Macedonian history.
Skopje 2014 and the Macedonia Naming Dispute
The Skopje 2014 projects intention is to celebrate Macedonian history and establish a clear link between modern Macedonia and the ancient Kingdom of Macedonia. However, in some ways the project can be seen as an attempt to re-write history. To highlight this, the city of Skopje, in fact nearly the entirety of modern Macedonia, was never a part of the ancient Kingdom of Macedonia save for a small overlap in the south east. Rather the area that is modern Macedonia roughly correlates to the area occupied by the ancient Kingdom of Paeonia. In the centuries that followed the fall of the ancient Greece and Rome, the area of modern Macedonia was settle by Slavic peoples and ultimately along with the other southern Slavic peoples of Europe, formed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Macedonia is both ethnically and geographically distinct from Ancient Macedonia, one can begin to see how bizarre the Skopje 2014 project is. The entire debate is too much too replicate here, but the wikipedia article linked above on the ‘Macedonia Naming Dispute’ is essential reading if visiting Macedonia.
Quite an incredible and unique museum. The exhibit covers the period from the beginning of the resistance movement against the Ottoman rule, until the declaration of independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. The exhibits are in the form of wax recreations (think Madame Tussauds) of the pivotal moments in creating the modern country of Macedonia. It is a guided museum and takes about an hour and a half to get through the quite dense material. It can certainly help to understand some of the reasons for the Skopje 2014 project.
To Eat and Drink
The Old Bazaar is situated on the northern side of the Vardar River, to the immediate east of the Kale Fortress. There are a range of very good options here for food and beverages. Destan is a really good and cheap option for authentic Balkan food and is located in the heart of the bazaar. Destan has a few other location in Skopje, one of which is in the main square very close to the Alexander the Great statue.
While Skopje is easily navigable by foot, it does also contain a fast and efficient local bus network made up of red double decker buses. Bus no 15a will take you from the main bus station into the center of town and close to Unity Hostel.
Getting In and Out
Skopje is well connected to the cities of Pristina and Prizren in Kosovo and is the ideal location for launching a side trip to Kosovo. Another location that should be high on your agenda is the town of Ohrid in southern Macedonia that is again well connected by bus. Other locations connected by bus include Sofia, Thessaloniki and Tirana. If you are heading to Belgrade the best option is the night train, the sleeper cars are by the far the best option and often empty. There is also a train that runs to Thessaloniki. Detailed bus timetables and departure times can be found at balkanviator.com/.