After settling in to our apartment last night, we went for a meal at a restaurant called Стара куќа (Old House), which is located in one of the oldest buildings in Skopje. It serves traditional Macedonian food, so it was a bit of a gamble and we weren't sure what we were going to get. Tim ended up with something that resembled lamb stew and came in a little pot. I opted for something called pastrmajlija, which was described as a 'Macedonian pizza' and turned out to be a piece of very doughy bread with chunks of pork on it. It wasn't unpleasant but it was extremely filling and by the time I got halfway through I was stuffed!
Once we'd finished eating we went for a stroll along the river to see a little bit of the city. We were amazed by the grandeur of some of the bridges and buildings we saw and knew we had to come back in the morning to take some proper photos. We were also amazed by the sheer volume of mosquitoes along the river bank! The couple we'd spent the afternoon chasing around our apartment and killing were nothing in comparison.
We were up fairly early the next morning and soon enjoying a breakfast of cheesy pastries and meat burek. Suitably fortified, we set out to explore what Skopje had to offer. Our first attempt was cut short when the batteries in my camera died, but luckily we were just around the corner from our apartment and able to return for new ones.
Take two was much more successful. We returned to the riverfront to investigate the landmarks we'd caught a glimpse of the previous evening.
This was the first bridge which we encountered after leaving the apartment and it does a good job of capturing the essence of Skopje's ongoing makeover. The city was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1963, following which much of the city centre was rebuilt by a Japanese architect in a very concrete style. At the time Skopje was of course just another town in Yugoslavia, but since it now finds itself as the capital of an independent Macedonia, the current government has embarked on an ambitious redesign of the town centre, which has included the creation of new museums and government offices, as well as an unbelievable quantity of new statues, which represent famous figures from Macedonia's history. The changes are not without controversy, as a recent article on the BBC website explained.
The slideshow below gives a flavour of some of the new buildings along the riverfront. The large rectangular building is the new Ministry of Foreign Affairs (note the inscription on the front showing that it was only built in 2009, despite the neoclassical style) and the cylindrical building with the domed roof is the new headquarters for the financial police. The bridge on which we were standing is known as the Art Bridge, with the statues featuring famous Macedonian artists and musicians. A little further along the river we were impressed by the new Archaeological Museum of Macedonia.
The Archaeological Museum is itself situated opposite a new bridge, known as the 'Eye Bridge', which features 28 statutes of different figures from Macedonia's history. Some of them looked quite scary.
From the Eye Bridge we had a really good view of the Kamen Most, the Stone Bridge, which was built across the river in 1451.
For the time being we didn't cross that bridge, but walked around the back of the Archaeological Museum where we had caught sight of some enormous statues. The first two figures in the slideshow are Saints Clement and Naum of Ohrid, both of whom were instrumental in the introduction of the Cyrillic and Glagolitic scripts to the region. The second pair are Saints Cyril and Methodius, who were Christian missionaries to the Slavs. What the significance of the horses was we're not sure, but they were quite pretty!
Walking past these statues we came to an enormous fountain, apparently called the Fountain of the Mothers of Macedonia. I'm not sure whether the photo does justice to quite how large it is, but it was huge.
This fountain was, however, dwarfed by the monument you can just see coming into view behind it. Officially known just as 'Warrior', unofficially it depicts Philip II of Macedon. The Greeks aren't terribly impressed by statues like this and accuse the Macedonians of trying to steal their cultural heritage.
You can't deny that it's an imposing monument though. This photo of me standing in front of it will hopefully give you some idea of the scale.
We were now on the northern side of the river, which is home to the old Turkish bazaar. We walked through the narrow streets towards the Kale Fortress.
A fortress was first built on this site in the 6th century AD and was further developed when the region was part of the Byzantine empire. Along with most of Skopje, it was seriously damaged during the 1963 earthquake, but has recently been partially rebuilt and restored. They have constructed a nice path which allows you to walk along the ramparts and get impressive views out across modern Skopje.
From the opposite side of the fortress there were views back towards the Turkish side of town. This is the Mustafa Pasha mosque, which was built in 1492. At one point I counted that we could see eight different minarets on the skyline.
Partway around the fortress we came across this statue, which looked like it must be something from the Communist era.
The path unexpectedly came to a dead end up against a watchtower, so we had to turn around and retrace our steps. With such beautiful views it didn't seem like too much of a hardship, though. In the slideshow you can see some examples of the more traditional concrete architecture of Skopje, as well as the newer buildings and monuments, some of which are still under construction.
We climbed down from the fortress and crossed the Stone Bridge, which took us into Skopje's main square: Ploštad Makedonija. This is home to another of Skopje's controversial statues. Officially known as 'Warrior on a Horse', it's not a great secret that it actually depicts Alexander the Great on his horse, Bucephalus. Alexander the Great is yet another historical figure whom the Greeks are very convinced was a Greek, despite this attempt by the Macedonian government to claim him as one of theirs. This seems to be the most gigantic statue out of all of Skopje's gigantic statues, with the figure erected on an enormous column which is surrounded by fountains. Apparently they light it up in different colours at night.
It's far from the only statue in the main square though, as the following slideshow illustrates better than words.
Turning right from the main square you come to what must surely be one of the most bizarre structures in Skopje: the Porta Macedonia.
Macedonia's very own Arc de Triomphe was built to celebrate 20 years of Macedonian independence and is 21m high.
We explored a bit more of the southern side of the river, including the memorial to Mother Theresa, who was born in Skopje in 1910...
....and the old railway station, which was damaged during the 1963 earthquake. The clock on the front of the building stopped at the time the earthquake struck.
We also found a monument to the fallen heroes of Macedonia, which was rather elaborate. I'm not sure what they fell doing; these monuments are so new that they don't feature in the guidebook at all. Even Wikipedia doesn't have an article on this one!
By this time we were starting to get monument fatigue, so we headed back to our apartment to cool down and write up the blog