Last country before Turkey - the best part is we have two nights in Sofia
This morning, Tuesday 23 September, we had a 7.30am departure for a long day's drive to Sofia. An hour or so lost at the border between Macedonia and Bulgaria meant we didn't arrive till around 7.30pm.
We stopped for lunch in the capital of Macedonia, Skopje, and had a local guide show us around the city centre. We heard about Macedonia's proud history and saw its main sites, like the Millennium Cross, built to celebrate 2,000 years of Christianity; the Memorial House of Mother Theresa, who came from here; and the Alexander the Great statue on Macedonia Square. This city has many statues and growing almost on a monthly basis.
Skopje is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Macedonia. It is the country's political, cultural, economic, and academic center. It was known in the Roman period under the name Scupi.
The territory of Skopje has been inhabited since at least 4000 BC; remains of Neolithic settlements have been found within the old Kale Fortress that overlooks the modern city centre.
The old Kale Fortress
On the eve of the 1st century AD, the settlement was seized by the Romans and became a military camp. When the Roman Empire was divided into eastern and western halves in 395 AD, Scupi came under Byzantine rule from Constantinople.
The territory of Skopje has been inhabited since at least 4000 BC; remains of Neolithic settlements have been found within the old Kale Fortress that overlooks the modern city centre. On the eve of the 1st century AD, the settlement was seized by the Romans and became a military camp.
When the Roman Empire was divided into eastern and western halves in 395 AD, Scupi came under Byzantine rule from Constantinople. During much of the early medieval period, the town was contested between the Byzantines and the Bulgarian Empire, whose capital it was between 972 and 992.
From 1282, the town was part of the Serbian Empire and acted as its capital city from 1346. In 1392, the city was conquered by the Ottoman Turks who renamed the town Üsküp. The town stayed under Ottoman control over 500 years, serving as the capital of pashasanjak of Uskub and later the Vilayet of Kosovo.
In the Second World War the city was conquered by the Bulgarian Army, which was part of Axis powers. In 1944, it became the capital city of Democratic Macedonia (later Socialist Republic of Macedonia), which was a federal state, part of Democratic Federal Yugoslavia (later Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia). The city developed rapidly after World War II, but this trend was interrupted in 1963 when it was hit by a disastrous earthquake. In 1991, it became the capital city of an independent Macedonia.
Here are a few pictures of the many statues in this city.
The Macedonia Gate
Statue celebrating women in war
Statue from the Communist era
Statue of Alexander the Great
Statue of Mother Teresa who grew up in a small house adjacent to the now statue of Alexander the Great
Mother Teresa Card
Mother Teresa Museum
Stone bridge over the Varder River, Skopje
We had lunch in an Irish Pub in Skopje and were surprised to find a Go the Maroons plate in a cabinet with other trophies.
Go the Maroons in Macedonia
Typical mountainous country with narrow and winding roads.
The town of Pernik in Bulgaria.
At last a little sunshine just outside Sofia. Our hotel for the next two nights is the Five Star Hilton, very new and with great service.
Our hotel, the Hilton Sofia
After a good night's sleep and a late breakfast we went on a city tour.
The Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky
National Theatre, Sofia
Guards outside the President's Offices
The changing of the guard at 11.00am
Colleen watching the spectacle
The other side of the President's Offices is the Balkan Hotel and Casino
The National Assembly. Elections are held next month and with 46 political parties it will be interesting. There was a political rally or protest in progress in front of this building while we were there.
The St. George Rotunda; some remains of Serdica can be seen in the foreground
Note the two tunnel shapes in the background. The Romans heated under the floors of the church by hot air flowing through the underfloor spaces.
The Church of St George is an Early Christian red brick rotunda that is considered the oldest building in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. It is situated behind the Sheraton Hotel, amid remains of the ancient town of Serdica.
Built by the Romans in the 4th century, it is a cylindrical domed structure built on a square base. It is believed that it was built on the site of a pagan temple, though the original purpose of the building was for public use. The building is famous for the 12th-14th-century frescoes inside the central dome. Three layers of frescoes have been discovered, the earliest dating back to the 10th century. Magnificent frescoes of 22 prophets over 2 metres tall crown the dome. Painted over during the Ottoman period, when the building was used as a mosque, these frescoes were only uncovered and restored in the 20th century.
We visited another church, the Boyana Church, which had some wonderfully preserved frescoes. The Boyana Church is a medieval Bulgarian Orthodox church situated on the outskirts of Sofia, in the Boyana quarter. In 1979, the building was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The east wing of the two-storey church was originally constructed in the late 10th or early 11th century, then the central wing was added in the 13th century under the Second Bulgarian Empire, the whole building being finished with a further expansion to the west in the middle of the 19th century. A total of 89 scenes with 240 human images are depicted on the walls of the church.
The oldest part of the church
The scene shows a 12 year old Jesus with his parents to the left.
After the visit to the Boyana Church we visited the National Historical Museum in Sofia. It is Bulgaria's largest museum. It was founded on 5 May 1973 and its first representative exposition was opened in 1984 to commemorate 1300 years of Bulgarian history. The museum was moved to a former governmental residence in 2000 and currently stores and owns over 650,000 objects connected to archaeology, fine arts, history and ethnography, although only 10% of them are permanently exhibited.
We had our city guide from the morning still with us. Violetta had an interesting way of dealing with people who didn't pay enough attention and asked a question that had been answered previously.
The National Museum
Old Russian helicopter on display outside the a Museum.
We had a short break back at our hotel and then prepared for our Bulgarian Folklore Night in the foothills of Vitosha.
More dancing in national costumes
An early start for tomorrow for the last leg from Sofia to Istanbul.