A Journey In Time: Macedonia

Mehmet Erdoğan Elgin Cevahir Buğu August 2014

HOME TO NUMEROUS CIVILIZATIONS SINCE ANCIENT TIMES, MACEDONIA AWAITS VISITORS WITH ITS HISTORIC MONUMENTS, UNPARALLELED NATURAL BEAUTY AND SCRUMPTIOUS FOOD.

With a temperate climate and fertile plains watered by a large number of rivers, mainly the Vardar, Macedonia has been a major center of civilization throughout history. From Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire and Eastern Rome to the Ottoman Empire, which was synonymous with peace and prosperity in the Balkans for centuries, numerous civilizations have left hundreds of unsurpassed monuments in today’s Macedonia. Despite being a small country in terms of area, this land promises visitors delightful days filled with countless historic sites and unusual cultural treasures.

HISTORY BECKONS
Separating from the Ottoman Empire in the Balkan War, Macedonia was part of Yugoslavia for many years before declaring its independence with that country’s breakup at the start of the 1990’s. Skopje, the capital of the young Republic of Macedonia, is the place to see and touch the traces left behind here by so many diverse cultures. Skopje Castle, whose history stretches back to the sixth century and the Stone Bridge over the Vardar River that bisects the city are virtually one with it.

The Old Market, which starts from below the castle and runs as far as the Stone Bridge, was one of Europe’s largest centers of trade in the Ottoman period and the place where you can best experience the spirit of the city. The most beautiful examples of Turkish culture and architecture are also here: monuments like the caravanserais Sulu Han, Kapan Han and Kurşunlu Han as well as the Çifte (Double) and Davutpaşa Baths, which constitute the soul of the market, all with their unique stories. Likewise, the handicrafts sold in the market shops reflect Macedonia’s rich culture. Scores of mosques like that of Sultan Murat shape the city’s skyline. Nor is Skopje’s cultural richness limited to these. You can also see artifacts from the most ancient times in the city’s museums.

JOURNEY TO THE SOUTH
To explore Macedonia’s rich history, you must branch out to other provinces. When you head south, you will soon come to Tetovo (Kalkandelen), a mainly Muslim city that is home to one of the loveliest examples of Islamic architecture, the Alaca Mosque (Šarena Džamija). Built in Ottoman baroque and neo-classical style, it is distinguished from its counterparts by the colorful decorations on its walls and ceiling.  Another Ottoman structure in Tetovo is the 16th century Harabati Baba Dervish Lodge, in the tranquil beauty of whose spacious garden you can spend hours. Ohri, which is listed as a UNESCO Natural and Culture Heritage, is the virtual Jerusalem of the Balkans with its diverse religious communities and places of worship. And the lake and view of the historic city to be had from Samuil Castle which overlooks the city will encapsulate centuries of Balkan history for you.

IN THE HEART OF MONASTIR
The St. Sophia Church with its eye-catching Byzantine frescoes and the Pir Mehmet Hayati Mosque and Halveti Dervish Lodge are among the must-see sights of Ohri, birthplace of the Cyrillic alphabet. And St. Naum Monastery on the shore of Lake Ohri is considered the first example of Slavic church architecture and a monument to Ohri culture. Bitola (Monastir), just two hours from Ohri, is home to a large number of Ottoman monuments such as İshakiye Mosque, a Clock Tower, a mansion where Sultan Reşat once stayed, and the military high school where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was a student. 

UNPARALLELED NATURAL BEAUTY
Macedonia is a country of landscapes, a stupendous rainbow of color with over 50 lakes, scores of rivers, majestic mountains and dense green forest. Lakes Ohri and Prespa are two major water sports centers in the Balkans. Macedonia should absolutely be visited for sports like mountaineering, cycling and paragliding as well. And don’t forget Matka Canyon near Skopje, where you can capture peerless scenes on your camera at the dam reservoir. Europe’s second deepest underwater cave also awaits you here. Meanwhile, Mavrova, Yasen and Galičica National Park are just a few of many such parks in the country. Seeing all this beauty and meeting the hospitable Macedonian people make this one of the Balkans’ must-see countries, and now’s the time…

MACEDONIA GUIDE
WHAT TO EAT
Fertile soil and cultural diversity have endowed Macedonia with a rich cuisine.  All-natural fruits and vegetables, flavorful meats, and a variety of fish caught in the country’s rich waters are among the mouth-watering tastes of Macedonian cooking. Beurek, kofta and an array of sweets also bear a marked resemblance to their Turkish counterparts.

OHRI SUMMER FESTIVAL
Macedonia’s spiritual and cultural capital, Ohri has been mounting the “Ohri Summer” art festival for over half a century. The concerts, poetry evenings, theater and ballet performances at the festival attract locals as well as foreign tourists. “Ohri Summer” has been among the European Union festivals since 1994.

CITY OF MOSAICS
Believed to have been founded by the Macedonian King Philip II in the mid-4th century B.C., the ancient city of Heracleia boasts the finest examples of early Christian mosaics, making it the cultural treasure trove of the Balkans.

MACEDONIAN RUBIES
Used in the design of jewelry in Macedonia until a hundred years ago, the Macedonian pink ruby was virtually forgotten during the time of Yugoslavia. This precious stone, which is found in numerous museums in Europe, is being mined again today and continues to adorn gold and silver jewelry.

 

Turkish Airlines has Istanbul-Skopje-Istanbul flights daily. Departure times are 7:40 a.m. and 7:25 pm. from Istanbul and 9:05 a.m. and 8:45 p.m. from Skopje. For information: turkishairlines.com