The Skopje Fortress
Skopje has a plentiful of cultural-historical monuments for which it has become unique and recognizable through the ages. One of those long-lasting beauties is the Skopje Fortress, a mark and symbol of the city of Skopje, and at the same time one of the most visited places in town, since the citizens of this town enjoy walking through it and take their tourist guests to see it.
Data from numerous researches show that the first fortress that acted as a city was built in the sixth century, on a territory which was inhabited millenniums earlier in the prehistory. Many remains of settlements were discovered on the site. The fortress was built in the style of bulwark which still resembles its antique structure on the outside. Proofs of its origin that lead to the Roman city of Skupi (old name of Skopje, a city which was completely destroyed in a catastrophic earthquake in the year 518) can be seen in the materials used for construction. Such were the yellowish limestone or travertine, which, together with three fragments with Latin inscriptions, point to those possible assumptions.
The timeline of construction of the fortress matches the reign of emperor Justinian, who in Dardania built eight and renovated sixty-one fortresses. The relationship between Skopje and its fortress with Justinian is currently a hot topic, since many archeologists and explorers assume that the mysterious city of Justiniana Prima was located on the same place.
In the sixth century there were as well many barbaric raids and attempts on the fortified city, a problem which the folk of the fortress couldn’t deal easily with. This way the object suffered a lot of damage and demolition to a great extent.
The rise of the medieval city-fortress on top of the remains of the early-Byzantine one, dates from the era from the tenth to the eleventh (twelfth) century, a time when the Byzantine Empire reoccupied and this region again, followed by rough period of wars and riots. Detailed records about the fortress from this period do not exist, except for several proofs from the fourteenth century, were some of its main attributes are mentioned, such as the Large door, the Round tower, the Water tower, as well as churches that were destroyed in the future.
In the 1660s Evliya Celebi who visited Skopje probably gave the most precise and true description of the fortress and its magnificent beauty.
In his travelogues it is written: This is a fortified city with double walls and it is very strong and sturdy. Those walls and the gates are made of chipped stone shining really brightly. It is impossible to find another city such as this one with all of its refinement and art in its construction. It lies in the center of Skopje, on the tallest hill and is constructed as a pentagon shape. The bulwark with witch the city is surrounded from all sides is tall up to fifty arshines. Protected by seventy bastions and three iron gates on the southeast guarded by many guards. The entrance walls are decorated with weapons and tools used for mending those weapons.
You can see the whole plain from up there and there is not another location taller that can dominate over it. On its western side the river Vardar flows. There is a road leading from it through some caves towards the water tower located at the riverbank. Due to the abyss at this side of the city, which is terrifying, trenches cannot be dug. On all the other sides there are deep trenches. Over the trenches in front of the gates there are wooden bridges. The guards lift the bridges using a windlass whenever it is needed to defend the gate. There is a plate with inscription above the gate that gives information about restorations of the gate in the past. The inscription read: The wise son of Mehmed Han in year 850 (i.e. 1446).“ (Cultural monuments in F. R. of Macedonia, group of authors, Misla, Skopje, 1971)
History remembers the fortress, also as a location of some army warehouses, a hospital or a prison, remembered by older citizens who regularly think of them, telling stories and anecdotes about their childhood and adolescence.
Affected and damaged by the earthquake in 1963, sometimes forgotten and then made popular again, this fortress is always there, holding and hiding away the voices of past times in its cracks and crevices, voices about the eternal circle of catastrophe and revival.
Find the Macedonian version here.