This is an area of the world, Republic North Macedonia, which was formerly part of Yugoslavia. It acquired its independence in 1991. After a twenty-seven (27) year dispute between Greece and Macedonia, an agreement was reached in 2018, and its official name changed to North Macedonia or officially the Republic of North Macedonia in late 2018 and early 2019.
It is a Balkan country which is very mountainous and has an interesting variety of lakes, valleys, and peaks. Besides its utter beauty, it does have a long and quite fascinating history. In fact, its capital city, Skopje, actually dates back to around four thousand (4,000) BC.
A Little Bit of History
Located in the Balkan Peninsula in the Southeast part of Europe, it is one of the successor states of Yugoslavia. Skopje, the capital, is a combination of both modern and ancient architecture. As evidence of its long history, you will find plenty of ancient fortresses, historical monuments, and archaeological sites.
The history of this area goes back to antiquity. Beginning with the Kingdom or Paeonia, it was merged with the Persian Achaemenid Empire in the sixth (6th) century BC. In the fourth (4th) century BC it was gathered up by the Kingdom of Macedonia. From the mid-fourteenth (14th) century to the early twentieth (20th) century it was part of the Ottoman Empire.
The current area of North Macedonia was under Serbian rule after the 1912 to 1913 Balkan Wars. Although it was ruled by Bulgaria during the First World War (1915 to 1918), it returned to Serbia after the war. Bulgaria took it over again during World War II (1941 to 1944), but in 1945 it became part of communist Yugoslavia until its independence in 1991. The country is currently negotiating for entrance into the European Union.
A Few Interesting Facts
- The capital of the country is Skopje
- The currency of the country is the Macedonian Denar
- Skopje is the birthplace of Mother Teresa
- The country is bordered by Greece, Albania, Kosovo, Bulgaria, and Serbia
- The population of the country is approximately two million (2,000,000) give or take
- The population of Skopje is about six hundred and twenty-seven thousand (627,000)
- The official language is Macedonian. Albanian is a co-official language.
- There is a strong cultural heritage here which is reflected in their poetry, architecture, art, and music. The National Opera opened in 1947. There are many festivals and cultural events each year such as the Skopje Jazz Festival, International Camera Festival, the Struga Poetry Evenings [poets from over fifty (50) countries], Open Youth Theater, and the Ohrid Summer Festival of Drama and Classical Music.
- The country has a history in film making which exceeds one hundred (100) years.
- The main sports in the country are handball and football (soccer). They also have a national basketball team and many swimming events.
- It joined the United Nations in April of 1993
- It is an upper-middle-income country with an open economy. Since its independence, there has been quite a bit of economic reform, and in 2009 the World Bank ranked it the fourth (4th) best reformatory state (this was out of 178 countries). Mining and construction contribute most to the GDP (Gross Domestic Product). The remaining contributors are transportation, agriculture, trade, and accommodation sectors. Because of the large amount of cultural and natural sites, tourism contributes greatly to the economy with approximately seven hundred thousand (700,000) tourists showing up each year.
- Transportation consists of roads, railway, water transport on lakes, and air travel. There are seventeen (17) airports, two (2) of which are international [Ohrid St. Paul the Apostle Airport, IATA Airport Code International Airport Skopje]
- Its government is set up as a unitary parliamentary constitutional republic (parliamentary democracy)
- The President is Stevo Pendarovski
- The Prime Minister is Oliver Spasovski
- There are three (3) national parks in the country — Pelister, Mavrovo, and Galicica
- The climate transitions from the Mediterranean to continental resulting in moderately cold winters and hot and dry summers. The warmest regions in July and August will reach one hundred and four (104 F) degrees (40 C). It’s colder in the spring than in the fall. Rainfall varies with a larger amount in the mountain areas.
- There are two hundred and ten (210) families of flora in the country. This consists of ferns, mosses. and flowering plants.
Stuff to do Around Here
Skopje has a thriving work environment that contributes to a happening night scene with plenty of clubs, bars, and restaurants. For a much slower pace of life, there is Ohrid, which is a dramatically beautiful town on a lake with cobblestone streets, a boardwalk, medieval churches, and restaurants along the lake. All in all, this is a country rich in intriguing ruins, exceptional beauty, and a very friendly and hospitable group of folks.
Here is a video which will give you a very good taste of what life is like around there:
* Check-Out the Food — the cuisine here is excellent. It has a strong Balkan influence which consists of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors and recipes. German, Eastern European (mostly Hungarian), and Italian also contribute to the country’s choices in cuisine. There are plenty of fruits, herbs, and vegetables within each meal, which provide a very diverse presentation. A side dish with most meals is Shopska salad (Bulgarian salad), combined with high-quality dairy products, local alcoholic drinks such as rakija, and a variety of wines [there are eighty-four (84) wineries scattered about the country). The national dish is Tavče gravče, and the national drink is mastika. Also, don’t forget about the coffee. Dating back to the Ottoman Empire, coffee has played an integral part in their cultural, social, and spiritual lives. Meeting for coffee is an everyday ritual where folks get together to share stories and bring each other up-to-date on what’s going on. It also plays a part in traditional activities such as christenings and weddings. With over five thousand (5,000) coffee establishments ranging from the local Balkan coffee shops, regional coffee bars called kafeanas, and more western chains, you will not be at a loss to get your day started with a shot of java.
* Lots of Great Hiking Areas — within all the beautiful scenery and abundant nature you will find many trails throughout the country on which to take an enjoyable stroll. One, in particular, is in the Sar Mountains in the northwestern part of the country. Here you will find plenty of wildlife, pristine landscapes, and some of the best trails on which to hike anywhere in Europe. For the more adventurous, you can hike to the summit of Mount Ljuboten which reaches eight thousand one hundred and ninety-six (8,196) feet (2498 meters) in elevation. It takes about five (5) hours to make this climb. You will see hawks and eagles flying around with wildflowers everywhere in the spring, summer, and fall, while it is full of snow in the winter. Wild goats and lynx will also be roaming about.
* Explore the Ruins — the best-preserved ruins in the entire area are in Heraclea. These ruins go back to the time of the ancient Macedonian Empire. You will find bathhouses, churches, an amphitheater, and brilliant mosaics. The area of these ruins is located just south of Bitola below the village of Bukovo. There is also a museum there with a variety of artifacts.
* Lake Ohrid — this is a rather quite interesting part of this country. The lake is surrounded by nature with monasteries spread around as well. It has a huge spiritual significance for the people of this country. In fact, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The lake itself is simply gorgeous and is one of the oldest lakes in the world going back over a million years. Ohrid itself is one of the oldest settlements in all of Europe and is located right on the lake. The oldest Slavic monastery is there, St. Panteleimon, along with many other churches and monasteries.
* The National Parks — the three (3) national parks are Pelister, Mavrovo, and Galicica. The largest of the three (3) is Mavrovo, and many say it is also the most gorgeous of all. Here you will find a treasure chest of natural beauty with the many waterfalls, gorges, karst fields, and pine forests. Here you will find the best ski slopes in the country for lots of winter fun. The summertime is full of summer festivals, including traditional wedding festivals. There are one hundred and twenty-three (123) species of birds, wolves, bears, deer, and lynx scattered throughout the area.
* Kayaking — one of the best places to Kayak around here is through Matka Canyon. It is quite an experience for sure. You are surrounded by high cliffs. In fact, kayaks are the only mode of transportation allowed in these waters. A very nice trip is to paddle up and explore Vrelo Cave [takes approximately two (2) hours to go back and forth]. Don’t miss out on exploring the cave, as you will discover many underground lakes, wooden stairways, and trails throughout. Kayaks can be rented at the Canyon Matka Hotel.
* The Painted Mosque in Tetovo — this was built in the fifteenth (15th) century and is a multi-colored treat, . It’s located on the south side of the Pena River. The interior is simply stunning, with a variety of colors with balconies and walls decorated with amazing frescoes created in a variety of patterns (geometric, floral, and arabesque). It was actually destroyed in the seventeenth (17th) century and rebuilt in the nineteenth (19th) century.
* Skopje — here in the capital city you will enjoy a nice combination of the ancient and new. Guarding the city from the sixth (6th) century you will find the Kale Fortress. And in Macedonia Square, you will find a large stone statue of Alexander the Great. On the eastern bank of the Vardar River is the Old Bazaar (called Carsija) which has stayed pretty much the same since ancient times. You will find plenty of things to shop for as you meander through the cobblestone streets with numerous restaurants, cafes, wine bars, souvenir shops, markets, cobblers, and jewelers. In Macedonia Square itself, you will find many Neoclassical and Baroque buildings. You can catch a cable car up to the top of Vodno Mountain for some great views of the city below.
There are numerous reasons for visiting this area of the world especially if you are into nature and ancient history. With some of the deepest and oldest lakes in Europe, small and quaint villages, excellent cuisine, and an old-world culture, you will be amazed at what you will experience there.
You can really get a flavor of the Balkan experience there. While taking multi-day hikes, you get to bed down in small huts and nomadic shepherd encampments, and then when you return to the city you can spend the remainder of the day dancing all night in the many nightclubs of Skopje.
As you explore the various villages throughout the country, you will come upon many traditional festivals taking place. There you will find plenty of cheeses, bread, vegetables, and grilled meats with drums and horns playing in the background. And you can top it off with some really fantastic local wines.
There is most definitely a lot to explore in this part of the world, and I strongly encourage you to make this area of the globe a destination spot for your future travel plans.
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