A Brief View of Skopje

The spring is coming to Skopje. By and by, people are peeling of the layers of sweaters. Every second day or so during February, the sunlight displays Skopje in all its might, preparing everyone for the summer heat to come in only a few months. It is an old town, for sure.

It has seen many people and cultures come and go. Since centuries ago, the city has growing around the bends of the Vardar River, which flows through a large part of Macedonia. Generations of people have seen empires come and go, as well as natural disasters that have laid the city in ruins. Still today one can see the traces left on purpose from the earthquake that struck the city in 1963. To do the old saying right, "Old leave room for new", that was also the point of renewal of the cityscape.

Time? 05:17 am.In 1963 the city was the epicentre of a devastating earthquake which laid the entire area to rubble and caused around a thousand deaths and more than 120,000 homeless people. To mark the impact of nature's strike on Skopje, the old train station still stands as a silent monument. The clock on the front face of the building stopped at 05:17 am, the exact time of the earthquake.

On the side of the same building is also painted a large statement from Tito, the president of the former Yugoslavia. The painted text tells of the efforts to be undertaken to rebuild the city, ". Skopje was hit by an unseen catastrophy but will be rebuilt", while inserting some of socialistic pride, "It will become a pride of and symbol of fraternity and unity of the Yugoslavian and world solidarity". Today the Museum of Skopje can be found in this building, with various exhibitions throughout the year.

International relief would assist in the reconstruction of the city, with money, supplies and personnel coming from 78 countries. The buildings hence erected have a distinct feeling of the 70'ies, with greyish white concrete rising high up into the sky. Today, new buildings spring up all over the more recent neighbourhoods of Skopje, while the old town, 'staro Skopje' (old Skopje), stands as a reminder of what used to be. The most dominant buildings of the skyline today are clearly the concrete facades, though older 19th century buildings can still be found in the shadows.Old Skopje Still Standing.

In the beginning Skopje was actually named Scupi, an ancient tribal centre of Illyrian origin, a people that inhabitated the region during antique times. That was well before the Romans ruled the European continent and traces even survived the Roman empire. Traces of the language of Illyrian has been found in southeastern Italy as well as the eastern coastline of the Adriatic Sea. When Roman rule extended to the Balkans, Scupi was incorporated into the the Roman empire as a province.

This happened rather late during the lifespan of the empire, in the 4th century B.C. Centuries of conquests followed, first with the Serbs entering the region in the end of the 12th century. Then two hundred years later, in 1392, the Turks conquered Macedonia and developed the town into an important commercial hub in the Ottoman empire. The city would remain under Ottoman rule over 600 years, until the Balkan wars in 1912 and 1913. Still today one can get glimpses of the long lost Ottoman empire.

Whether it is the language, many daily used words have their origin in Turkish, or traces of the Ottoman inspired buildings. Such as the medieval Turkish inn Kur?umli Han. There are also numerous mosques spread throughout the older part of the city.

The contemporary history of this city as a capital of Macedonia, with its melting pot of cultures, can be traced to the time of the Balkan wars.These wars concluded the rule of the Ottoman empire in Europe and the region which is Macedonia was divided between other Balkan countries. In 1913 Skopje was made part of Serbia and in the wake of the retreat of the Ottoman empire there were a lot of tensions. Tensions that resulted in World War I only after another year. After that war (to end all wars, as the dream was.) the it was incorporated with the federation of Yugoslavia.

Not until after World War II, when the Bulgarians ended their occupation of the city in 1945, would Skopje become the capital of Macedonia.Kale.One of the two most prominent buildings in Skopje is the old fortress Kale. To this day a park has survived, surrounded by a 120 meter long wall and two towers. Originally the ancient city Scupi was just there.

As that city was destroyed, stone blocks became the building material for the fortress which ruins are still standing.Close at hand from the fortress, is one of the oldest bridges still standing in Europe. The bridge connecting the old and more recent parts of Skopje is formidably placed beneath the ruins of Kale. The bridge was built in the 15th century during Ottoman rule.

Today it is the connecting walking bridge between the old and new neighbourhoods of the city.Mother, where art thou?.If you chance upon taking a strawl in downtown Skopje, amidst the more fashionable shops, bars and restaurants, you might pass the birthplace of no other than Mother Teresa.

She was the founder of the Roman Catholic congregation "Order of the Missionaries of Charity", which is made out entirely of women who dedicate themselves to the poor. At a corner of the town square sits a plaque by a patch of grass, whereupon is written that it was the place of the house where she was born in 1910. Following a street a few hundred metres a statue has been erected, where Mother Teresa can be seen as kneeling in prayer. This city clearly is a place of mixture of old and new.

For anyone interested in history, culture, monuments and diversity of city life, Skopje holds a great deal of interesting sights.

.Fortress Kale
The mediaeval bridge
The train station

Gaston Savage.

By: Gaston Savage

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