The Republic of Macedonia may be a relatively new country in terms of having declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, but the ancient Kingdom of Macedonia was already present on the world map in the distant year of 808 BC. What’s more, the touristy town of Ohrid is believed to be one of the oldest rural settlements in Europe.
Nowadays Macedonia’s territory houses a total of 4 UNESCO World Heritage sites, so Ohrid and its surroundings aren’t the only areas with cultural heritage. There’s plenty to see all across Macedonia. Here’s what this Slavic country looks like through the prism of ancient ruins – some of which are medieval, whereas others are dating all the way back to the long gone times of Ancient Romans.
One of the most popular destinations for tourists is the Samoilova Tvrdina (Samuel’s Fortress), which was built in the 10th century to fortify the then-capital of the First Bulgarian Empire. Here’s where historians and nationalists start arguing over the Bulgarian-Macedonian matter of king Samuel’s origins, so let’s focus on a more positive aspect – the fortress is open for visitors all year around and it’s one of the most notably renovated façades in all of Macedonia.
A few years ago local archeologists shared that they’ve unearthed new remains on the ruins’ grounds. According to these new excavations, Samuel’s Fortress was actually built over the remains of an ancient fortification, which dates back to the 4th century BC. There’s a theory that the earlier fortification was ordered by Philip II of Macedon.
Another popular archeological site among Macedonia’s ruins is Stobi – an ancient town that originated all the way back in Paeonian times. The area was eventually conquered by Macedon armies, but even nowadays the ruined excavations still portray an exquisite set of historical sites, among which are basilicas, a swimming pool, a baptisterium, a temple, a public fountain and a Roman theater. Decorated with gorgeous marbles, elegant mosaics and lovely murals, the ruins of Stobi are definitely a sight to see.
The Markovi Kuli (Marko’s Towers) ruins were listed on the tentative list of UNESCO’s sites back in 2004. Due to the rocky relief and naturally fortified area this place has been constantly favored by local and foreign inhabitants ever since the Bronze Age. What remains of the old palace and fortifications around it are a set of limestone walls, but archeologists and historians have proven that these grounds once held a royal castle, numerous churches and a private graveyard among many other constructions.
To put it simply, Kokino is kind of like the Macedonian Stonehenge, albeit not being as popular as the latter one. In other words, it’s an ancient observatory that has survived the test of time for three millennia. Dating back to the early stages of the Bronze Age, this site was once treated as a megalithic observatory. Back in the days astronomers have used it to track the movement of our Moon, as well as the movement of the Sun. Several stone “thrones” have been hewn into the rocks and some of them can easily mark the summer solstice, the winter solstice and the biannual equinoxes when the Sun hits the right spots.
Out of all ruins in Macedonia, which bear bits and pieces of historical heritage, Heraclea Lyncestis is the most well-preserved one. It was a lavish town that thrived during Philip II of Macedon’s rule. Various archeological findings speak of the town’s prosperity throughout the ages – luxurious baths, basilicas, a theater and numerous monuments. Some of the excavated artifacts hint that gladiator fights have been staged in this area up until the 4th century AD.
Last, but not least, is the Skopje Fortress – offering a panoramic view of the capital city of Skopje refracted through the prism of old ruins mixed with present-day architecture. The sturdy fortress walls are still standing tall on the highest point of the capital’s rural area, but sadly, their interior is only filled with ruins. It’s believed that they date back to the 6th century when the Byzantine Empire ruled the area. Archeologists have found tons of historical artifacts on the fortress’ grounds, including the largest collection of Byzantine coins to ever be discovered on the territory of Macedonia.