"Skopje" Skopje by antistar
Skopje Travel Guide: 807 reviews and 2,074 photos
Skopje is a pleasant, relaxing capital with great food and low prices. It has its moments, like the Old Bazaar, the central Makedonija Square and its adjoining boulevards, and the old Kale fortress. The city has a wonderful location too, surrounded by misty mountains. Atop one peak is the massive 66 meter Millennium Cross, which can be seen for 30km around.
For the most part, however, Skopje is a typical east European city suffering from a legacy of socialist city planning, and it doesn't have any of the grand socialist edifices to compensate for the grey urban sprawl. A lot of that can forgiven, as Skopje was victim to a tragic earthquake in 1963, which killed over a thousand people and destroyed most of the old city.
Skopje is a city of ethnic divides. The majority, about two thirds, of the capital is ethnic Macedonian. There's also a large minority, about twenty percent, of ethnic Albanians. Both groups have a different language, a different religion, and even different alphabets. The divide has led to difficulties in the past, especially during heightened political tensions such as the Kosovo War in 1999 when thousands of Albanians took refuge in Macedonia.
For the most part, the two sides get along, and evidence of the potential for peaceful co-existence can be seen in the shared love of Mother Teresa. Born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu to Albanian parents in Skopje, she was raised a Roman Catholic. Despite being a Christian, and despite being an Albanian, you will find statues dedicated to her in Skopje, Tirana and Pristina.
Today the north south divide exists in the city, with the area north of the river Vardar being largely Albanian, and the area south being mostly Macedonian. Crossing the old stone bridge from Makedonija Square to the north and you will quickly see a difference. Don't be put off by the initial negative impressions created by the smell of urine and the slum like homes near the Kale, the Old Bazaar behind is wonderful.
And finally, not forgetting the rest of the ethnic mix, Skopje is also home to a large population of Rroma. On the outskirts of the city there is a Rroma settlement called Suto Orizari, where over 40,000 Rroma live. This makes it the largest Rroma settlement in Europe, if not the world. They act pretty much autonomously, and despite large numbers and the anti-Rroma stereotypes, I didn't encounter any plagues of "gypsy thieves" in the city.
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