Skopje is a city that is practically at my doorstep, but one that I had never bothered to visit before. So in an attempt to tick off all the “former Yugoslavia capitals” boxes, I decided to visit it one weekend, and oh my – the experience definitely made me wonder why I hadn’t done so before.
So a little background – Macedonia (or FYROM if you are really pedantic and/or from Greece) is a country that for some reason always gets forgotten when talking about former Yugoslavia. Skopje was utterly ruined in the 1963 earthquake, which wiped out much of the city’s old architecture. Fast-forward several decades and a couple of corrupt governments, Macedonian officials come up with a project called “Skopje 2014”, whose aim was basically to bombard the place with gold and marble statues and pristine-white facades. And the results are… mind-blowing. And not in a good way. Starting off with the main piece of this project, the gigantic statue at the main square depicting an “unknown hero” (see: Alexander the Great), you could already guess what the overall theme of the project would be – aggressive antiquization. In an attempt to make the city look “classier” by constructing a suffocating amount of monuments, buildings that look like something off a movie set and gaudy, overly-decorated bridges, Skopje started to look less like Acropolis and more like a bucket-bargain Las Vegas. For me as a visitor, the feeling went from bizarre fascination to outright resentment towards the state officials, as I couldn’t imagine how furious the actual resident of the city were, seeing as it was their taxpayer money that was being wasted on these enormous eyesores.
Still, what remained of old Skopje was so charming, it truly made up for the nationalistic kitsch on the surface. The people were probably the warmest I ever encountered during my travels. The Old Bazaar found at the other end of the stone bridge from the Main Square had several cute, old-school shops and cafés. Nightlife was pretty great too – Laika Bar and a pretty popular place just at the Old Bazaar’s entrance (whose name escapes me) were both super-fun and played great music. Not going to lie, I would go back in a heartbeat.
Try the local dish “pide” at the quirky little place called Galerija 7 in the Old Bazaar.