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 south-eastern Europe. While easily accessible from all points abroad, and boasting all the amenities of the Western world, Macedonia remains one of Europe’s last great undiscovered countries: a natural paradise of mountains, lakes and rivers, where life moves to a different rhythm, amidst the sprawling grandeur of rich historical ruins and idyllic villages that have remained practically unchanged for centuries. 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, Bosnians and Croats; and Vlachos, 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, Avers and Ashkenazi to Hellenes, Peonies and Gorani; from Kumans, Montenegrins and Jews to Dardanians, Ukrainians and Bulgars. Such a diverse range of peoples has co-existed for thousands of years in Macedonia, a place where hospitality always welcomes visitors and it comes from the heart. And indeed, the country’s charms have not been lost on an increasing number of Westerners today who are now choosing it as their second home! In addition to its diversity, Macedonia’s cultural richness is expressed in its archaeological legacy. Although just a little country, it holds many antique theatres, Byzantine churches and Ottoman mosques, in addition to relics from the Stone Age and even earlier periods of human civilization. The oldest traces of human habitation in Macedonia are the cryptic, 30,000 year-old stone engravings or “rock art” unearthed in the Kratovo area, as well as the astronomical observatory/ religious ritual site of Taticev Kamen, dating back almost 4,000 years. The word Macedonia instantly conjures up memories of Philip II and his son Alexander the Great, legendary emperor of the 4th century B.C.E. who brought great expanses of the known world under Macedonian rule. In this period, and the Hellenistic and Roman ones that followed it, Macedonia reached the apogee of its influence and power. Today, many ruins remain to attest to this ancient heritage, in the sites of cities such as Heraclea, Stobi and Skupi, strewn with amphitheatres and temples, and decorated with intricate mosaics and frescoes. The missionary Apostle Paul brought Christianity to Macedonia for the first time. Nine centuries later, his Byzantine successors Cyril and Methodius created a brand new alphabet, the precursor to Cyrillic, to expedite their missionary work with the Slavic-speaking Orthodox Christians of the Balkans. Macedonia’s experience of Christianity has thus always been linked with literacy and education. In fact, the first Slavic university was established in the 10th century, in placid Ohrid - famous during Byzantine times for its 365 churches, one for each day of the year. Today, Macedonia’s Christian heritage is visible everywhere, from the myriad churches that fill up the landscape throughout the country to the enormous “Millennium Cross” that lights up the Skopje night sky from high atop nearby Mt. Vodno. Following the decline of the Byzantium Empire, Macedonia and the entire Balkans came under control of the Ottoman Turks. Macedonia owes its Oriental influences to five centuries of Ottoman rule, a phenomenon that affected everything from cuisine and language to architecture and religion. The mosques of Tetovo and Skopje and the latter city’s grand castle (Kale), and Stone Bridge exemplify vividly Ottoman aestheticism. While firmly rooted in its traditions and nostalgia for the past, today’s Macedonia is also a forward-looking country that has embraced its diversity and is becoming integrated within European political and economic institutions, continually expanding its links to the greater global community and economy. It thus provides the curious traveller with the best of both worlds: age-old traditions, historical treasures, and a pristine natural environment, as well as all of the modern amenities, services and consumer goods that today’s sophisticated travellers need. Macedonia today is an undiscovered jewel in the heart of Europe, offering something for tourists of all ages, nations, interests and desires.
The Republic of Macedonia is situated in the southern part of Balkan Peninsula with an exceptional geographic location, at the cross-roads of trade routes that have connected Europe, Asia and Africa for thousands of years. The most important of these is the road railway running through the river Vardar valley, connecting Central Europe with the Aegean coast and Middle East. Macedonia is a land of sunshine, lakes, valleys and mountains, a country of great history and tradition. There are 4,000 archaeological sites on the territory of the Republic of Macedonia, 150 of these are regarded as cultural monuments. Significant archaeological sites include Stobi, Heraclea Lyncaestis, Skupi, Lychnidos, Styberra, Vinitsa Citadel and Bargala. In Macedonia also has 1,720 churches and monasteries (built from the Middle Ages to the end of the 19th century) - 135 of them are regarded as cultural monuments. The Republic of Macedonia is situated in the central part of the Balkan Peninsula (Southeastern Europe) covering an area of 25.713 square kilometers. Its relief is characterized by large and high mountain massifs giving way to extensive, flat valleys and plains. Almost the entire territory of Macedonia lies between latitudes 40 and 42 and is a transitional region between the Mediterranean and Continental climates. The climate is classified as being transitory from Continental climate to a Mediterranean climate.
The country is bordered by Serbia to the North, Bulgaria to the East, Greece to the South and Albania to the West. It is a major transit way for shipment of goods from Greece, through the Balkans, towards Eastern, Western and Central Europe and through Bulgaria to the East. The capital is Skopje.
Climate: The territory of the Republic of Macedonia distinguishes between the following homogenous climate regions: the sub-Mediterranean region (from 50 meters to 500 meters above sea level), the moderate continental sub-Mediterranean region (up to 600 meters); the warm continental region (from 600 to 900 meters above the sea level); the cold continental region (from 900m. to 1100 m); the sub-forest continental mountain region (1100 - 1300 meters); the forested continental mountain region (from 1300 meters to 1650 meters above seal level), the sub-Alpine mountain region (from 1650 meters to 2250 meters) and the Alpine mountain region (above 2250 metes above sea level).
Natural resources: The natural conditions in the Republic of Macedonia (geological content, relief, climate, hydrography, soil, flora, and fauna) make it one of the rare countries in Europe with wealth of natural values. In the past five decades of organized protection of natural rarities in the Republic of Macedonia, 74 objects of nature have been included in the protected areas network, with a total area of 187,895 ha, or 7,30% of the national territory. In the Republic of Macedonia the following have a status of protected wealth: 3 national parks, with an area of 108,338 ha, or 4,2%; 4 strict natural reserves, with an area of 12.855 ha, or 0,50%; 3 landscapes with special natural characteristics, with an area of 2.338 ha, or 0,09%; 14 distinct plant and animal species outside the natural reserves, with an area of 2709 ha, or 0,10%;; 33 nature parts protected in the category of monuments of nature, with an area of 61.655 ha, or 2,4%.
Population: 2.022.547 (2002 Census data)
Ethnic groups: The dominant residents are Macedonians (64.18%), than Albanians (25.17%), Turks (3.85%), Roma (2.66%), Vlachos (0.48), Serbs (1.78%), Bosnians (0.84%) and others (1.04%)
National flag: a yellow sun with eight broadening rays extending to the edges of the red field
Language: Official language is the Macedonian. In the municipalities with over 20% of the other ethnic group other than the Macedonians, the language of that ethnic group is also an official language parallel with the Macedonian.
National Currency: Macedonian Denar (MKD)
Approximate rate: 1 Euro = 61, 5 denars; 1 USD = 45, 5 denars
How to get the Republic of Macedonia
By air: International airports in Skopje and Ohrid connect Macedonia with several major European cities. Close regional airports in Belgrade, Sofia and Thessalonica can also be used, as they are all within a few hours’ drive from Macedonia.
There is unfortunately no airport shuttle bus yet in Skopje, which means travellers are obliged to take a taxi for the 17 km (10.2 m) trip to Skopje. This costs around 10 euros ($12).
By train: An international train, operating twice daily, connects Ljubljana, Slovenia and Thessalonica, Greece by way of Macedonia. Stops include Tabanovce (the Macedonia-Serbia border crossing point), Kumanovo, Skopje, Veles, Gradsko, Negotino, Demir Kapija, and Gevgelija (Greek border crossing point), as well as a few small villages. An east-west railway to connect Bulgaria with Macedonia is at present under construction.
By car: The international highway E-75 runs north-south from Serbia to Greece, bisecting Macedonia. This is the most common route for overland tourists to take for entering Macedonia. There are also good roads connecting the country with Bulgaria to the east and Albania to the west.
By bus: A number of bus lines connect Macedonia with all neighbouring countries and other European cities. Buses are frequent, and offer relatively inexpensive fares and professional service.