Skopje, which we call Üsküp in Turkish, is the capital of the Republic of Macedonia. It is written as Скопје in Macedonian using the Cyril alphabet. The city has been settled since Neolithic times. It came under the control of the Roman Empire, later changed hands between the Byzantine Empire and the Bulgarian Empire, served as the capital of the Serbian Empire, and in 1392, it was conquered by the Ottoman Empire and served as the capital of the Kosova Province until 1912. It is noteworthy that Skopje became part of the Ottomon Empire almost 60 years before İstanbul was conquered. It was under Ottoman control for more than 500 years. It has been part of Yugoslavia until Republic of Macedonia separated from Yugoslavia in 1991.
From Turkey, you can fly to Skopje via İstanbul. The flight takes around 1 hour and 20 minutes. Skopje has an international airport called Alexandre the Great Airport. Despite the name, the airport is humble in size. The naming of the airport, and more importantly, the naming of the country itself is rather controversial. The ancient Kingdom of Macedonia was of Greek origin and centered around the current day city of Thessaloniki (Selanik in Turkish) in the Region of Macedonia within Greece. The famous leader and military commander Alexandre the Great, who lived around 350 BC, is from ancient Macedonia. The Greeks are quite opposed to the name of the current day Republic of Macedonia, as it is geographically located on the northern parts of the ancient Macedonia and ethnically current day Macedonians are a different group of people than the ancient Macedons. My understanding is that Macedonians might have historic ties to the ancient Macedons, but they came under heavy influence of Slavs. As a result, they are more of a Slavic ethnic group today. They speak a Slavic language as well. I personally find it strange that they want to own the ancient Macedon figures like Alexandre the Great and Philip II. Apparently that really upsets the Greeks, who consider these figures as part of their history. Due to the naming controversy, today you might see the words FYROM in some maps, which means The Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, which is the official UN name due to Greece's protests over the name Republic of Macedonia.
Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, is a city that houses half a million people. Macedonians constitute 65% of the population, whereas Albanians form 25%-30%. There is ~4% Turkish population, and ~3%of Romanis (Gypsies). Close to two thirds of the population is Christians (mostly Macedonian) and one third is Muslims. There does not seem to be any religious tensions. You can see both churches and mosques around. Call for prayers are heard five times a day. The official language is Macedonian in Macedonia, but in places where there is a sizable Albanian population, Albanian Language, written using the Latin alphabet, is co-official, as in Skopje. The money used in Macedonia is Macedonian Denar. In Skopje, some places also take Euros.
|Stone bridge in downtown Skopje|
|Warrior on a Horse|
The next day we took a bus to neighboring Kosovo. The two important cities in Kosovo are Prishtine, the capital, and Prizren. We decided to visit Prizren, as the Turkish connection is stronger there. For those who do not know, Kosovo is a country. However, it is not internationally recognized. Among many who recognize it are the USA and Turkey. It was separated from Yugoslavia as a result of the Kosovo War in 1999, which was fought by the Kosovo Liberation Army with aerial bombardment support from NATO. Turkey has participated in the NATO operations as well. Almost a decade after the war, it declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. However, Serbia still does not recognize Kosovo and has territorial claims on it. Today Albanians form around 90% of the population in Kosovo. Serbian forces have committed war crimes during the war and many Serbians have left during or after the war due to the resulting ethnic conflict. Kosovo is not part of EU yet, given its mixed status as an independent country. But there is a EU mission in Kosovo providing rule of law, such as police officers, prosecutors, and judges. The euro is the official currency in Kosovo.
|Namazgah where Fatih has prayed|
|Stone bridge over the Bistrica|
As you walk along the river towards the city center, you can catch the view of the Fortress of Prizren, which is located on a hill overlooking the city center. The fortress was built by the Byzantines, was expanded by Serbians, and was given its final shape by the Ottomans. Unfortunately, we did not have the chance to climb the fortress to get a view of the city from up there, because it started to rain heavily an hour after we reached Prizren.
In the city center, you can find the town square, which is called the Shadervan, meaning Fountain in Turkish. There is indeed a fountain in the middle of the town square. The square hosts many small restaurants. We had lunch in one of them. The cabbage salad and the thin sliced beef steak were delicious. Located next to the town square is the Sinan Pasha Mosque, built in 1615. There is also a Hamam close to the city center. There are also Eastern Orthodox Churches. One of them is the Our Lady of Ljevis Church, which we saw from outside, but were not allowed to get in or take pictures. It seems many churches were burned during the ethnic clashes and even today there is animosity against Serbians and thus against the Churches. We hang around the cafes at night, stayed at a very central hotel close to the main square, and took the bus next morning back to Skopje. Before boarding the bus, we tasted local Böreks at a pastry store. Böreks are filled pastries made of a thin flaky dough (known as phyllo in the US). They were delicious.
As soon as we arrived in Skopje, we took a bus to the nearby city of Tetovo. During the Ottoman times, this place was named Kalkandelen. The city is the political capital of the Albanian minority within the country and Albanians form the relative majority here. In 2001, there was a minor civil war within Macedonia, and Tetovo played a central role during that time. The conflict was resolved by granting more rights and better representation to the Albanian minority. An example is the right to have universities that teach in the Albanian language.
We had a nice dinner in Tetovo and returned back to Skopje at night. There was a concert in the main square which continued until midnight. Early next day, we went back to the airport for our return flight to İstanbul.