Part of the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe with a population of more than 2 million (the majority residing in the capital of Skopje), Macedonia is a country rich in history and diverse in character.
Although not exactly associated with the Republic of Macedonia, the region of Macedon was at its greatest during antiquity, first under Philip II and, more famously, Alexander the Great. The achievement of conquering most of the known world was followed thereafter by inexorable decline, only abated during the medieval period by the settling South Slavic tribes, who used the site as a base for assaults against the Byzantine Empire in the 6th century. Finally falling to Byzantine in 1018, the settlement remained under Constantinople and then the Ottoman Empire for much of its life. The move towards independence only came with annexation to the newly formed Yugoslavia after World War I and the establishment of the People’s Republic of Macedonia after World War II.
Finally extricating itself from Yugoslavia in 1991, the Republic is now a member of the UN and an applicant to the EU, since opening its borders to visitors eager to seek out both the ancient and medieval past.
The official language of Macedonia is unsurprisingly Macedonia. However, reflecting the diverse population, expect to hear Albanian, Turkish, Romanic, Bulgarian and Greek on your travels.
The official currency is the Macedonian Denar (MKD). As of August 2006, the following exchange rates are accurate:
1 EUR - 61.48 MKD1 GBP - 0.99 MKD1 USD - 8.20 MKD
Macedonia has a typical Balkan climate with warm, dry summers and temperatures in the late twenties followed by cold winters and a typically heavy snowfall.
There are a number of possible locations for a glimpse into Macedonia’s ancient past, including Heraklea Lynketis in Bitola, Scupi in Skopje and Stobi in Gradsko.
Macedonian architecture is celebrated for its preservation of Byzantine art, one of the most famous examples being the Church of St. Sophia in Ohrid. Constructed between 1035 and 1056, the Church is a repository of much medieval Macedonian art and, in particular, frescoes, some of which reach back to the 11th century. Testifying to its long history, the Church was at one point a converted mosque which served the dominant Ottoman population. However, today it is better known as the home of the Ohrid Summer Festival.
Ohrid’s beautiful architecture doesn’t end there either. Both the 13th century St. John Caneo, dedicated to St. John the Theologian, and the remarkable 5th century Plaosnik are perfect examples of Macedonian-Byzantine architecture which should be seen if possible.
The most popular tourist spot in Macedonia is Skopje and it’s easy to see why. Located in the nearby village of Nerezi, the 12th century Church of St. Panteleimon is akin to Ohrid’s St. Sophia in its preservation of medieval frescoes and Byzantine art.
A symbol of Skopje itself though is the Skopje Fortress. Otherwise known as ‘Kale’ by the local inhabitants, the Fortress was built in the 6th century by the Byzantines and remains the highest point in Skopje, providing incredible views of the city below and the local countryside.
Skopje is also home to Macedonia’s finest galleries and museums, such as the Historical Museum, the Ethnographic Museum and, most importantly, the Museum of Contemporary Art, considered one of the best in the region and including pieces by Picasso.
Macedonia enjoys plenty of excellent parks and gardens, the best of which being the Pelister National Park near Bitola, Galicica National Park and Mavrovo National Park.
Shopaholics will love the many markets and bazaars strewn across Skopje and Bitola. However, perhaps the most famous local artefacts available in Macedonia are the Ohrid pearls, which can be found in the city’s countless jewellers.
A common and more traditional starting point for tourists is the Gradski Trgovski Centar in the capital, packed with outlets.
Casinos are very much run of the mill in Macedonia. The majority are in Skopje like Kontinental in Aleksandr Makedonski, Bristol in Makedonija and Astra Klub in Dame Gruev.
That said, you can still expect numerous bars, clubs and pubs in the capital, particularly in the district of Debar Malo and Makedonija Square. If you’re travelling to Ohrid, the most popular spots are Club Nemo and Jazz In.
- Drivers in Macedonia use the right-hand side of the road. The road networks around major cities are generally very good.
- The drink-driving limit in Macedonia is 0.05 mg BAC.
Food and Drink
As an agricultural country, Macedonia exports huge amounts of meat, freshwater fish and local cheeses. The actual cuisine is a combination of Balkan and Mediterranean facets, with dishes like burek (a pie filled with ham, spinach, beef and cheese), pastrmajlija (a quasi-pizza) and the famous Ohrid trout.
For a taste of this trout, the best place to go is Antico in Car Samuil in the city itself. If you’re exploring the capital though, you might want to try the Restaurant Oreov Lad in Sarajska for traditional dishes or, for Italian, the Taverna Toscana in Ivo Lola Ribar.