Macedonia is a small landlocked Slavic country in Southeastern Europe formed during the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991. With world-class natural scenery and a long unsettled history, Macedonia makes for a unique addition to any Balkans trip.
Macedonia is 62% ethnically Macedonian, with Albanians (26%), Turks (4%), Romani (3%), and Serbs (2%) forming substantial minorities.
The Rebirth of the Capital
Skopje, the political and economic center of Macedonia, is home to a quarter of this tiny Balkan republic’s 2 million inhabitants.
Perhaps the most quirky feature of the city is Skopje 2014, former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevskis’s pet project to transform Skopje’s city center into an extravagent neoclassical polis (and appropiate the history of an unrelated civilization in the process).
Between 2010 and 2014, 136 new neoclassical structures were constructed, including ornamental bridges, museums, colleges, government ministries, and monuments of illustrious historical figures.
The ancient Macedonian figures depicted, such as Phillip of Macedon and Alexander the Great, have no connection with the modern South Slavic people who now self-identify as Macedonian. Some even speculate the project was meant to spite Greece in retalation for Greece’s efforts to exclude Macedonia from NATO.
With an estimated cost of $700 million in a country of just over 2 million people, Skopje 2014 has proved extremely controversial and is often attributed as the reason Prime Minster Grueski failed to get reelected. Skopje 2014 was halted by the opposition government in 2018.
The centerpiece of Skopje 2014 is this dramatic sculpture of a man on a horse in Macedonia Square, which most people assume is Alexander the Great. The spat with Greece has prevented Macedonia from formally labeling him as such.
Crowned with the largest cross on earth and offering unmatched views of Skopje, nearby Mount Vodno is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.
Ohrid, “Jersualem of the East
Ohrid is a large historic town known for its Byzantine-era Orthodox churches and picturesque houses located on a large lake by the same name in Macedonia’s southwest border region.
Ohrid was briefly the capital of the Bulgarian Empire during the Middle Ages and boasted 365 churches and monasteries (one for each day of the year) earning it the nickname “Jerusalem of the east.”
The majority of Ohrid’s churches were destroyed during the Ottoman period, though plenty of well-preserved examples of Byzantine ecclesiastic architecture remain to this day.
Desginated a UNESCO World Heriage Site in 1979, Ohrid is Macedonia’s most charming and well-preserved city.
Ohrid has a kale of its own. King Samuel’s Fortress was constructed in the 10th century by Tsar Samuel of Bulgaria to serve as the capital of the first Bulgarian Empire.
Macedonia may be one of the least-visited countries of Europe but not for good reason. The country boasts all the history, culture, and nature people look for in a European holiday but for a small fraction of the price. Macedonia, in fact, ranks among the cheapest countries on earth.
Most nationalities can visit Macedonia visa-free for up to 90 days, though I’d recommend spending a solid 3 – 4 days there. You can easily reach Macedonia from Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, or any other Balkan state with a fairly short bus ride. You can also fly into Macedonia from major European hubs, such as London and Paris, for less than $20.
Sadly, the window of opportunity to visit Macedonia may be coming to a close; voters will decide in an upcoming referendum whether to resolve the ongoing conflict with Greece by changing the country’s name to “Northern Macedonia.” That doesn’t sound nearly as cool as Macedonia, does it? Visit Macedonia while its still Macedonia.