Welcome to Macedonia!
Macedonia - that unforgettable name evoking images of ancient, great civilizations and exotic adventure - is also a warm and welcoming modern-day republic in the very heart of southeastern Europe.
Macedonia's geographical and cultural position as bridge between East and West, as the crossroads between Christian Europe and the mystical Orient, is attested to today in its inhabitants. The Macedonian people - a mixture of ancient Macedonians and Slavic tribes that settled here starting in the 5th century C.E. - make up the greatest part of a country where that mixed population is a vibrant reminder of Macedonia's rich and lengthy history. Minority populations include: Albanians, arriving first from mountains of Albania and Kosovo; a Turkish population established during Ottoman times; The Roma, hailing ultimately from far-off India; Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats; and Vlachs, famous tradesmen and likely descendants of ancient Romans.
In essence, today's Macedonia is a unique patchwork of cultures, where Balkan bloodlines have mixed with others more exotic still. Macedonia resonates with the names of the many peoples who have set foot on its eternal soil: from Armenians, Avars and Ashkenazi to Hellenes, Peonians and Gorani; from Kumans, Montenegrins and Jews to Dardanians, Ukrainians and Bulgars.
In its 2,500 years of existence, Macedonia's welcoming capital city has had many different incarnations. All of them - from Roman to Byzantine, from Ottoman to Yugoslav - have left indelible traces on the city, as is evidenced by Skopje's varied architecture and its mix of cultures. Yet in addition to its strong historical associations, Skopje is also a forward-looking city offering an abundance of modern amenities and attractions.
Here one can find sleek modern hotels above cobblestoned Ottoman streets, stately neoclassical homes right around the corner from grand old Yugoslav-era buildings, chic cafes, shopping mals and brightly-colored new offices, red-bricked Byzantine churches and rounded Turkish mosques.
The concentrated complexity of Skopje today entices visitors, offering a great variety of things to see and do and constantly remiding of the city's storied past. Chief among sights to see are the Stone Bridge crossing the River Vardar, the Ottoman-era Old Town (Stara Charsija), and the Kale Fortress walss. In the meandering narrow streets of Stara Charsija one feels the spirit of the old city, with its little shops, mosques with their ceramic tiled interiors, and the outdoor bazaar and hamam that survive from Turkish times. A short climb up to the Kale Fortress is well rewarded; from this hilltop where Skopje's masters ruled for centuries one enjoys a commanding view of the city and its environs.
The city founded by the Dardanians in the 3rd century B.C.E. under the name of 'Skupi' was prized its strategic location, in a long valley between two hills, situated on the banks of the River Vardar, a vital trade route. Under the Romans, Skopje was made administrative center of the Dardanian Province. The city's prestige grew when the Orthodox Church made it an episcopal seat during the early Byzantine Empire.
Today, Skopje is a modern city of almost one million, and Macedonia's major political, economical, educational and cultural center. It continues to attract new residents, economic development, construction and refurbishment. Skopje is also increasingly becoming a vital regional route for international flight operators. Optimism regarding Skopje's future prospects is proving infectious, as is evidenced by the upsurge of interest from major foreign investors. The city's growth can only add to its long and illustrious history of culture and commerce.
Ohrid, immortal Ohrid - a kingdom of light and water, a repository of ancient ruins from Macedonia's earlier kingdoms - is the sublime lakeside town that for many represents the culmination of the Macedonian experience.
Ohrid's major attractions are all located within a remarkably concentrated and eminently walkable area, among and above the narrow streets of the Old Town, itself lined with restaurants and cafes perfectly suited for relaxing on cool summer evenings. Ohrid's many cafes, bars and nightclubs also make for vibrant nightlife.
As for the lake itself, it is so large and so deep that one might mistake it for a small sea. The full range of water sports, fishing and boating is available, and numerous churches alongside Ohrid's lake shores make for fascinating side trips.
The wooded ridge above the lake's eastern shore is largely taken up by Galicica National Park, a pristine wilderness area ideally suited for nature enthusiasts.
The uniqueness of Ohrid's lake and historical architecture have been attested by UNESCO, which honored the town with an official designation as one of the few places on the cultural institution's 'World Inheritance' list.
Struga, a small town 15 km from Ohrid, straddles the northern tip of the lake and is a captivating destination in its own right. Situated near the famous Roman Via Egnatia, Struga was known is antiquity by the name of Ehalon, meaning 'eel'.
One of the most remarkable tales from Ohrid lore is about this slippery creature. Following its mystifying internal intuition, the Ohrid Eel travels thousands of kilometers from its birthplace in the sargasso Sea, through the Mediterranean, and up through the Crn Drin River that empties into Lake Ohrid. After lurking about for years in the murky depths of the lake, the eel suddenly gets the desire to consummate its life's mission - by returning to the distant Caribbean, where it mates and dies.
If there is something poetic about the sad fate of the eccentric Ohrid eel, then Struga is the right place for contemplating it.
The traditional festival of poetry in Struga is opening on August every year. Preparation of the festival is gearing up three days to its opening when Struga becomes a gathering place of many foreign and home poets. They will take part in the international poetry reading. The Struga Poetry Evenings has take conferred for many years Struga Bridges, an award given to the best young poet on the international level in collaboration with UNESCO. The festival features regular events such as a symposium the topic of which is the relation between poetry and film, painting, customs and theatre, with the aim to confirm the multimedia atribute of poetry as well as a translation workshop where the winner's poetry is translated in a few languages.
Struga today is a popular summer getawey, interspersed with alleyways and shops where products are still crafted by hand. The town has many churches, the oldest dating from the 12th century, and wood-frame houses characteristic of 18th and 19th century Macedonian architecture.
Macedonia's scuba diving association is also based in Struga, where the River Crn Drin rushes out of Lake Ohrid and northwards to Debar. Between the two towns can be found numerous traditional villages set amongst lush wooded hills.