I remember my mother telling me about the earthquake in Skopje. She was young, very young, and stayed there for the summer in what was a student exchange trip. The city, as she recalls, was devastated. Aid came from around the globe, but it was a slow and rather painful process to watch such beautiful of a city to be reduced to starting-over-again. Nowadays, a seven or so decades later, Skopje has exceeded expectations. It is a city so urban and modern that rarely can someone recognize it from half a century ago.
My first visit to Macedonia was a decade prior. Now partially changed, a lot more urbanized, and with a face shifting project on the way, Skopje is taking a new shape entirely.
A controversy at first, the project Skopje 2014 is slowly finding place in citizen’s hearts and approvals. It gives the city a new baroque look, through raising a handful of monumental buildings around the city center, and more than a few dozen monuments of all shapes and sizes. Depicting history, both ancient and more recent, the aesthetics of Skopje is changed entirely.
A city with great infrastructure
Apart from traffic jams that usually occur during rush hour (round 4 PM), the city has an excellent infrastructure. The transportation, public one, is always on time, with lines running throughout the entire city. Taxi cab, cheaper than in most other metropolis, is an even better way to get around.
What is fairly disconcerting is the fact that cycling lines, though in the process of being placed, are still a long way from actually taking a meaningful dent from the traffic jam. If you are on a bike, chances are that you will quickly get frustrated, especially when you decide to exit the city center or go anywhere in its close proximity.
Skopje has room to breathe
Unlike other crowded cities, Skopje enjoys a lot of freedom and spaciousness. Parks are almost at every corner, and if you stay during the summer chances are that you will fall in love right away.
Another interesting thing about a city this size is its close proximity to a forest park, the mountain Vodno. Starting right at the edge of the city, and very close to the center if you know your way around, it is less than a ten minute drive to your first lookout.
Especially spacious is the river bed of Vardar, the river cutting through the hearth of Skopje, where there is lots of space for sport and recreation. Recent efforts show a nice trend of urbanizing this area while keeping to its natural look.
A city of culture and entertainment
Being the capitol of Macedonia, Skopje enjoys a lot of perks. Not only does it have together the most of the economic and educational centers, but it includes all the major institutions of the state. Travelers and tourists couldn’t care less, but it adds context to why this city is so urban and carefully planned.
Being the capitol, it means that almost all the major cultural centers and events are held there as well. So you have a number of museums, galleries, the opera and the symphony houses, as well as dozens of breathtaking churches dating back, some, centuries ago.
The fortress Kale is overlooking the city, and along with the old bazar is a true testament to ottoman times.
Culture being mentioned in this context, it is important to note that the Ottoman Empire was settled in this region for what was nearly five centuries. Taking its toll on development, it still managed to provide Skopje with some rather interesting cultural marks.
Nowadays, the old is mixed with the modern, and you can enjoy the urban lifestyle in even the most traditional and historical parts of town. The nightlife, at least as I can have a say, is abundantly rich and vibrant. It only highlights the mix of traditional and modern, making Skopje a true urban tale of the twenty-first century.
As far as dining goes, consider yourself in gourmet’s paradise. Cheap prices, accompanied by some of the most unique specialties and meals, you won’t find elsewhere. Traditional Macedonian food, recipes that go back a century or so, and some of the best Macedonian wine; strong drinks, appetizers, music… This is a city that knows how to tilt back towards hedonism, and slow down the pace of modern hectic life.