Posted by: Caroline | April 19, 2010

Skopje, Old and New

Our next stop was Macedonia’s capital, Skopje. The city has the potential to become a popular European destination–plenty of cafes populate the central square, a scenic river cuts the city in half, and the old Ottoman district of Carsija is home to beautiful churches and mosques.

And it has some pleasant streets full of blossoming trees.

But there are still a few noticeable sore spots, like the communist-era concrete buildings and the incessant construction ruining views of the river.

Note the cranes sullying this photo of the Stone Bridge.

Skopje has a fondness for statues. You’ll see sculptures of everything from a massive fish to Mother Teresa. Here’s a close-up of the divers (see the feet already in the water?) that are also visible in the picture above.

Skopje’s old train station now houses a museum with a permanent collection of Macedonia’s ancient archeological finds and a temporary collection of rather Freudian artwork. The clock on the front stopped in a 1963 earthquake.

Across the Stone Bridge, you find the old Ottoman area with plenty of lunch and baklava options.

Bit Pazar, the fruit and vegetable market.

All Balkan cities seem to have crumbling fortresses atop their hills where you can get great views of the center.

Ever since our mosque visits in Turkey, we have made a habit of seeing as many as possible. Even though we love the decorative Ottoman domes that await us, we’re always a bit hesitant to actually go inside the mosque. We’re sometimes not quite sure if we’re wanted in a place of worship.

But when we showed up in the courtyard of Mustafa Pasa mosque, they rolled out the red carpet. The imam (leader of a mosque) immediately ran to his office to grab a sheet explaining the mosque’s treasures, all written out in phonetic English for this Albanian- and Arabic-speaking imam to pronounce. He took such pride in elements of the mosque structure that we would have hardly noticed otherwise; he told us the age and origin of the clocks and carpets as well as how prayers are conducted and where the men and women separately pray. In many mosques, you aren’t allowed to take photos, but he insisted on taking a photo with Alex in the direction facing Mecca!

We had never had so thorough and enthusiastic a mosque tour before, but he wasn’t finished. He handed us this enormous key to the 105-step clock tower.

Excellent views–a lovely reward for an arduous climb on ancient stairs.

The outside of the mosque.

Next we explored a contemporary art gallery housed in a former Turkish bath (called a hamam).

The art enough would have been worth writing about–the Macedonian works were some of our favorite pieces we’ve seen–but the best part about this gallery is how the hamam has been thoughtfully renovated. The white walls keep the focus on the artwork, but the carved archways, remnant stones, and open-air ceilings remind you of the building’s past life.

Even in some of Macedonia’s hotels, it’s impossible to forget you are in a former Yugoslavian state. Although the hotel was fairly modern, it clings to its ancient appliances. We couldn’t get this television to do anything.

One step up from rotary?

Is this some sort of music-producing machine?

Spotted this old car as well.


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