Skopje and surroundings


The devastating earthquake of the 26th of July 1963 left Skopje in ruins: almost half of its buildings were severely damaged. There were over a thousand deaths and a 120.000 homeless. The scenery of the city changed dramatically. I visited Skopje the capital of Macedonia three times, in 2006, 2017 and 2018. Last decade the city centre changed again, this time by the hand of humankind. Some people call it Disneyland now. Not sure whether I like it or not, but the changes due to the 2014 project are impressive and overwhelming. I still do like to wander around the center of Skopje with its contrasts, have a chat and take lots of photos. Here I shared a lot of them from myself and twelve by the hand of Kurt Hielscher. These nearly a century old photos from Skopje and surroundings like the Matka Canyon, the Treska Gorge and portraits from people with traditional clothings for example from Bardovtsi and the Skopska Crnagora. I also included some communist style photos and photos from my visit to the Šuto Orizari neigborhood, Europes largest Roma settlement. The compilation is a little messy due to all its contrasts but for me that makes Skopje also more interesting, even attractive.


Kale Fortress, 1926. Photo: Kurt Hielscher.

Kale Fortress, 17th of June 2018. Photo: Casper Molenaar.


As you can see below, project Skopje 2014 is a total make-over. It felt really awkward. Ofcourse I had the knowledge of the extensive costs. It is not that I think it is ugly, but more like strange and impressive at the same time, so quite confusing when you were familiar with this city from before. Now, January 2022, only a few years later, there is a television series on Dutch Television "Tears from Tito" with a Macedonia edition two weeks ago showing the perishing of the plastering of the buildings, the railings and so on, which is saddening. These photos are from the 3rd of June 2017.


The Ishak Bey Aladza Mosque is situated neer the green market: the Pit Bazar. Unfortunatley, sight on the Mosque was hidden behind a fence and scaffolding, but I saw some current photos showing that the reconstruction works are ready now. Good to see that there's also attention for historic buildings. 

Ishak Bey Aladza Mosque, 1926. Photo: Kurt Hielscher.

Ishak Bey Aladza Mosque, 17th of June 2018. Photo: Casper Molenaar.

Just moments after I made this photos heavy winds disturbed me while finding the right angle followed by rain, that made me run towards the already closed market to shelter from it. Luckily, some 10 minutes later the sky was cleared again and I could move on by crossing the wide Boulevard Krste Petkov Misirkov to find the right place to photograph the clock tower and the Sultan Murat Mosque in the nbeigborhood across the street. 


Both Sultan Murad Mosque (15th century) and the Saat-Kula (Ottoman clock tower) (16th century) were under construction when I visited Skopje in 2018. A plate showed a nice slogan "working to keep history alive". I am just glad that the top of the minaret will be rebuild as the tower is currently under construction as well. The top of the minaret was laying on the ground next to the tower. I am wondering what the situation is right now, a few years later? I don't know exactly when yje minaret was taken of fallen off but I do know it was still there in Oktober 2014.

Tower and Mosque, 1926. Photo: Kurt Hielscher.

Tower and Mosque, 17th of June 2018. Photo: Casper Molenaar.


...working to keep history alive.


Assuming that both graveyards are the same, my friend Valdamarr Sveinaldsson thaught me that the Mausoleum has been replaced and nowadays can be found in Gazi Baba Park. He told me: "This is the Gazi Baba Muslim cemetery. On the top of the hill was the Aşık Çelebi türbe (mausoleum), once part of one of the largest and oldest complexes of Muslim cemeteries in Skopje. The cemetery was destroyed in 1955, and after that a forest was planted, now known as the Gazi Baba Park. The mausoleum was destroyed in the 1963 earthquake. Half a century later, with financial assistance from the Municipality of Bursa Republic in Turkey, the türbe was reconstructed and restored to its former condition." -  thanks to Valdamarr Sveinaldsson. 

Mohamedan Cemetery, 1926. Photo: Kurt Hielscher.

Mohamedan Cemetery and Mausoleum, 1926. Photo: Kurt Hielscher. 


Is it Paris? Is it London? No, it is Skopje!!


The absolute center and most important symbol of Skopje is the 12 arched Камен мост, the Stone Bridge. Built under the reign of Sultan Mehmed II in between 1451 and 1469, it bridges with its 214 meters length the Vardar river and the historic, Albanian or Ottoman parts of the city with the modern communist style Macedonian parts of the city. The bridge is the most important symbol of the city and in its coat of arms of the city. Below two photos from nearly the same place before and after the implementation of  Project 2014. Though the bridge kept its character, the surroundings changed dramatically. 

The Stone Bridge, 26th of November 2006.

The Stone Bridge, 17th of June 2018.


On the Stone Bridge with a view towards the southwest, Vodno Mountain in 2006 and 2017. Not the same angle, nor the same camera and different season. The sign of Skopsko Pivo is still there. The Horse Rider Statue, until shortly, the Statue of Alexander the Great, wasn't there yeat in 2006.

Winter 2006.

Spring 2017.


The Fountain of Olympia, Mother of Alexander the Great, with my family acting like tourists and enjoing Skopje on a beautiful day, 3rd of June 2016.


Flower market at the Otokar Kershovani street near the Poliklinika Bit Pazar and Gazi Isa Bey's Mosque and a man fishing in the rain on a bridge over the Vardar river with two governmentbuildings and Kale fortress in the back , Skopje 17th of June 2018


A filmset in the old city center at the other side of the Vardar river, 26th of November 2006. Photo: Casper Molenaar.


Postoffice in concrete communist style, 17th of June 2018. Photo: Casper Molenaar.


Here an impression of the historic old town on a grey early morning in november 2006. At the time I wrote: "Stara Čaršija here resembles Baščaršija in Sarajevo but it seems more quiet here at a first glance. In any case, I didn't see any tourist, which also makes it seem more authentic with many small entrepreneurs and craftsman. It is a maze of small streets with low-rise buildings, which slope towards the center. On the other side of the Stone Bridge, the city becomes much wider. The neighborhood looks cozy and on the other side of the river the center is more comparable to Sofia I think. Also with large squares and wide avenues. Don't worry, I know how to find my way back though street name signs, they don't have that here."


In november I stayed at Hotel RM before leaving for Mavrovo. When I came back to Skopje I had a few more days left and found in the old center Prenoćište Šar as the cheapest place in town to stay for the night. Downside was the usage of newspapers instead of toilet paper.


Not so much left of Prenoćište Šar 11 years later in 2017.


So I learned to sleep cheap in Skopje, but for going to the toilet I decided I preferred some more luxury and found Restaurant Pelister for a cappucino and toiletvisit. I did the same in 2018 at the time of the demonstrations against the name change. When I was having my capuccino I could smell the teargas and hear sirenes in the distance.  Suddenly a black-clad mob partly covered with balaclavas entered Macedonia Square. I heard someone shouting: "there are the Europeans" and soon they started throwing stones towards the restaurant. Where most people flew inside, I grabbed my capuccino, and ran towards the square where I found myself in between the rioters. As fast as they came, they moved on. I took my final sips, went back to the restaurant where I put my cup and saucer on the bar and paid for it before heading to the toilets. Inside I saw a lot of scared faces, outside it was a mess.

Just moments before the riots at Restaurant Pelister.

Just moments after the riots. People were hiding inside leaving their personal belongings on the chairs and the tables, even shoes on the ground.


Sometimes changes come quick. Same airport, one year in between.


Аеродром Александар Велики/Aerodrom Aleksandar Veliki,

June 2017.

Меѓународен Aеродром Скопје/Meǵunaroden Aerodrom Skopje, June 2018.

A street vendour selling portraits of Tito amongst other stuff in the old city center, 3rd of June 2017.


And at the end of the day I was spontaniously invited to play a game of domino.


In 2006 I also visited the largest Roma settlement in Europe: Šuto Orizari (Šutka). I heard about the Romani Capital form the Emir Kusturica movie Black Cat, White Cat. In 2005 I saw the The Shutka Book of Records at the International Filmfestival Rotterdam. Now I had the change I wanted to see it and taste some atmosphere. Like Skopje I also found here huge contrasts and hospitality. Here an impression in a few photos.


Group of children, somewhere in Macedonia. Exact place unknown, 1926. Photo: Kurt Hielscher.


Peasants in Bardovtsi, just north of Skopje.


Treska Gorge, just southwest of Skopje, 1926. Photo: Kurt Hielscher. So, this photo has been made before the 1937 Matka dam and the 2004 Kozjak dam were built. I don't know if these dams changed the scenery of this photo from Kurt Hielscher.


Matka Canyon, 9th of June 2017. Photo: Casper Molenaar.


Sv. Bogorodica church, 1926, one kilometer into the mountains from the Matka Canyon. Unfortunately, I did not went up here. As said I did not bring Kurt Hielscher's book at the time. Photo: Kurt Hielscher.


Matka Canyon, 9th of June 2017. Of course we also went for a swim, just before heading to the airport to fly back home.


Traditional Clothings from the Skopska Crnagora, 1926. Photos: Kurt Hielscher.


Kolodance with bagpipes.


Below: traditional clothings on the market in Skopje, 3rd of June 2017. I also use this photo as the header of ech subpage on this website.

In the footsteps of  Kurt Hielscher