Monday, July 29, 2013


Skopje, like so many other large cities in the Balkans, has a large fortress that dominates the high point of the city. The first iteration was built during the 6th century, and later versions were built during the 10th and 11th centuries. It was partially destroyed by the 1963 earthquake and only recently restored, which accounts for the pristine appearance of the crenelations at the top of the wall.
We walked up to it from Macedonia Square in the evening, but it was closed. Too many attractions in Macedonia are not keeping Tourist Hours, something that needs to change as tourism increases. We did enjoy a walk around about half of the perimeter.
The Millennium Cross in the background.

On our evening stroll, we passed through part of the Old Town Bazaar.  We saw what we saw many times during this trip: tables full of men playing card, dice, and board games. We asked a guide about it at some point, and he said that with the high unemployment rate in the Balkans, men have a lot of time on their hands, and playing games and socializing is a lot better than sitting at home alone watching television or causing trouble in the streets. I have to agree. Like the thousands of private gardens we saw everywhere, I admired this peaceful approach to social problems.

Just above the Bazaar is the elegant Mustafa Pasha Mosque, built the same year Columbus sailed to the Americas. The main dome is over 52 feet wide, and the single minaret is 138 feet tall (about 13-15 stories). Amazingly, both survived the 1963 earthquake that destroyed so much of the rest of the city.

The spacious, square interior is airy and tranquil

The beautiful white mihrab (the niche indicating what direction Muslims should face when praying--towards Mecca) is in the center of the wall, with the minbar (the staircase the imam climbs to read prayers during holidays) on the right.
Next to the mosque is a marble turbe, or mausoleum, that holds the bodies of Mustafa Pasha himself and one of his daughters. It is the white building below:
A more distant view shows the large center dome, all three small domes over the entrance, and the imposing, rocket-like minaret.
This photo taken from a foot-bridge that crosses one of the main highways shows a well-cared-for city that could be in almost any Western country. (Note the Sony building just right of center.)
We continued our walk to a Turkish bath that was constructed in the mid-15th century near the entrance to the Old Town Bazaar.  In 1948 it was transformed into a branch of the National Gallery of Macedonia.
The intricate stone ceilings surrounding the two domes have been painstakingly restored:
Another view that highlights the window in the top of the dome:
The use of this 600-year-old structure as a modern art museum is another good example of how Macedonia is constantly reinventing itself.

Here are a few of my favorite pieces from the exhibition:
Dimo Todorovski (1907-1983), Artist's Mother, 1947
Spase Kunovski (1929-1978), Grippy Night, 1958
Jordan Gabulovski (1925-1986), Paradox of Coexistence, 1969
My brother suggested the alternate name Dying Apostrophe's, and a friend proposed Commas in Comas.
Vasko Taskovski (1937- ), An Evidence for the Existence, 1975
Nove Frangovski (1939- ), Passers-by, 1982
Aleksander Ivanovski-Karadare (1943- ), Lottery Ticket Seller, 1981
Aleksandar Stankovski (1959- ), From the Cycle: Last Supper, 1990-1991
After all that culture, even Bob needed a double scoop of gelato:

Our next destination was the Memorial House of Mother Teresa, who was born in Skopje in 1916.
The house (really more of a museum than a house) was built in 2009 on the site of the church where Mother Teresa was baptized. While a wonderful way to honor an incredible woman, it is also an excellent tourism decision.
Brass plaques attached to the outside walls include some thought-provoking quotes:
However, I was frustrated by the ban on photos inside. I would like to have photos to better remember what we saw--pictures and artifacts that illustrate the course of her life, from childhood to death.  There are almost no pictures on the Internet to fill in those gaps, but I did find this one:
I confess, I took this picture of the chapel at the end of the tour. (Technically, I was standing outside, not inside.) I loved the leaded glass walls and the iconic picture of the extraordinary woman at the front of the room:

View of the chapel from outside:
Escher-esque art on the corner of the building:
A monument to Mother Teresa with a nice setting but an unfortunate background:
Another lovely statue with an equally ugly background:

That was the final site we visited in Skopje, but on our long walk back to our hotel, we stopped at a McDonald's that we had noticed earlier.   We were shocked to see that it was closed, and not just because it was after hours. It was closed down.
It is a rather unconventional look for McD's, don't you think?
I learned after coming home that all seven of the McD's in Macedonia had been shut down in mid-May over a licensing dispute.

I'd say that Macedonian officials have made a good decision.  At least they still have this restaurant,
ironically located on the ground floor of the Jean Jacques Rousseau French Language School.

During a quick stop to buy some bottled water in what was a good-sized neighborhood market, I noticed that eggs are sold by tens rather than by dozens. I've always wondered why we sell eggs, or anything else for that matter, by the dozen--it makes it that much harder to calculate price/unit. Depending on brand and variety, one of these cartons of ten eggs costs anywhere from $1.45 to $1.80 (which would be about $1.74 to $2.16/dozen). In a country where the average income is around $700/month, that is pretty pricey.  However, this was a shop in an upscale neighborhood. Eggs might be cheaper in other areas of the city/country.

Next: A Day in Kosovo


  1. Skopje had to be the biggest head scratcher of all the places we visited. So many weird contrasts. Nice post.

  2. My favorite work of art is the double gelato, but I also like the minaret on the mosque and the windowed dome of the National Gallery of Macedonia.

    Actually, I think those ugly backgrounds are somewhat appropriate for Mother Teresa, as she was such an embracer of unfortunate people. I didn't know she was born here.

  3. I think the Lottery Seller in the museum could be one of my students.

    Another title possibility:
    Yin Has Lost Its Yang

    Interesting city, but the highlight has to be the Mother Teresa chapel--beautiful!