Macedonia - Attractions
Macedonia's capital, Skopje, is strategically set on the Vardar River at a crossroads of Balkan routes almost exactly midway between Tirana and Sofia, capitals of neighbouring Albania and Bulgaria. Thessaloniki, Greece, is 260km (160mi) south-east, near the point where the Vardar flows into the Aegean. The Romans recognised the location's importance long ago when they made the city (which they called Scupi) the centre of Dardania Province. Later conquerors included the Slavs, Byzantines, Bulgarians, Normans and Serbs, until the Turks arrived in 1392 and managed to hold onto Skopje until 1912.
After a devastating earthquake in 1963 killed 1066 people, aid poured in from the rest of Yugoslavia to create the modern urban landscape seen there today. It's evident that the planners got carried away by the money being thrown their way, erecting oversized, irrelevant structures which are now crumbling because of lack of maintenance. The post office building and telecommunications complex next to it are particularly glaring examples of architectural overkill.
Most of central Skopje is a pedestrian zone, with the 15th-century Turkish stone bridge over the Vardar River linking the old and new towns. North from the bridge are the Daud Pasha Baths, dating back to 1466, once the largest Turkish baths in the Balkans. The City Art Gallery now occupies its six domed rooms. North again is the old market area and the tiny Church of Sveti Spas with a finely carved iconostasis done in 1824. It's half buried because when it was constructed in the 17th century no church was allowed to be higher than a mosque.
Also near the old market area, the Museum of Macedonia has a large collection that covers the history of the region. The museum is housed in the modern white building behind the Kursumli Han, a caravanserai (an inn used by traders during the Turkish period). Skopje's old Oriental bazaar district is the largest and most colourful of its kind left in Europe.
Lake Ohrid, a natural tectonic lake in the south-west corner of Macedonia, is the deepest lake in Europe at 290m (960ft), and one of the world's oldest. A third of its 450 sq km (175 sq mi) surface area belongs to Albania. Nestled amid mountains at an altitude of 695m (2280ft), the Macedonian section of the lake is the more beautiful, with striking vistas of the water from the beach and hills.
The town of Ohrid is the Macedonian tourist mecca. Some 30 'cultural monuments' in the area keep visitors busy. Predictably, the oldest ruins readily seen today are Roman. Lihnidos (Ohrid) was on the Via Egnatia, which connected the Adriatic to the Aegean, and part of a Roman amphitheatre has been uncovered in the old town. Under Byzantium, Ohrid became the episcopal centre of Macedonia. The first Slavic university was founded here in 893 by Bishop Kliment of Ohrid, a disciple of St Cyril and St Methodius, and from the 10th century until 1767 the patriarchate of Ohrid held sway. The revival of the archbishopric of Ohrid in 1958 and its independence from the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1967 were important steps on the road to modern nationhood.
The better part of a day at Ohrid could be spent on a pilgrimage to the Albanian border to see the 17th-century Church of Sveti Naum on a hill above the lake, 30km (20mi) south of Ohrid by bus.