The Mother of the Balkans
In the heart of the Balkan Peninsula, halfway between once-bombed out Belgrade and ancient Athens is Skopje, Macedonia. Birthplace of Mother Teresa, home to the oldest preserved Bazaar in the Balkans and a blend of Christian and Muslim culture, Skopje is a treasure trove of history just waiting to be discovered.
The "Old" Skopje train station was a grand, modernist structure whose clock stopped at 5:17 am on the morning of July 26, 1963 thanks to a 6.1 magnitude earthquake that destroyed 80% of the city. The station is a reminder of a tragic moment in Skopje's history that for a while didn't get much better. The rebuilding began, trying to make Skopje the model Socialist city. The project never really took off, sparing the city of the many behemoth structures you find in other former Communist communes.
It's as if Mother Teresa has always been watching over her birthplace. The beatified (but not yet saint) nun was born here, and would be proud of the hospitable way locals treat visitors. You can visit the location of her house where she lived until 18. The home is no longer present, but there's a tranquil, beautiful chapel and interpretive center on site.
If you want to pay tribute to this should-be saint, head to Bey's Tower. A 46-foot high residential tower from the 17th century, this is the oldest building in central Skopje. Built for defense, the tower would protect families living here against attackers. Inside you'll find a Mother Teresa memorial and the National Museum shop.
For a centuries-old shopping experience, the Old Bazaar is the largest in the Balkans and may be the most fascinating in all of Europe. The bazaar had been the city's center for trade and commerce since at least the 12th century. Some of this area has been paved with streets and parking lots, but it still maintains its original use as a shopping place. Recent archeological digs at Kale's Fortress has shown that this Bazaar may in fact be closer to thousands of years old!
Located on the highest point of Skopje, the Kale Fortress has kept a watchful eye for centuries. Due to its strategic location, the fortress has been destroyed and rebuilt many times by different conquerors. After the 1963 earthquake, Kale's circular, rectangular and square towers were conserved and restored. Today, you can catch a great view of the city.
Between the Old Bazaar and Kale Fortress, the Church of St. Spas is one of the most famous landmarks in Skopje. Built in the 16th century, the church features a giant altar carved out of wood. Most come to pay respect to Goce Delcev. A national hero for his involvement in the late 19th century struggle for Macedonian liberation, he is buried in the church backyard.
With a Balkan Flexipass, you can ride the rails through countries that have defined European civilization: Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia-Montenegro, Romania and Turkey. Think of this pass as Archeology 101. Come visit for a "Grade A" experience. And make Mother proud.
Contributed by: Amiee, Affiliate Marketing Manager, has traveled to 15 countries and over 45 European cities by rail, including Warsaw, where she attempted to find relatives!