We’ve reached the end of the road on our long journey through former Yugoslavia, and there’s no better place to finish up than in Macedonia!
Want to learn more about Macedonia?
- Capital and Largest City: Skopje
- Population (2015): 2,071,278 (142nd)
- Total Area: 25,713 km² (148th)
- Language: Macedonian
- Currency: Macedonian denar (ден) (MKD)
History of Macedonia
What we know as Macedonia today is often confused with the ancient kingdom of Macedonia – a Greek kingdom directly to the south that would come to prominence under Philip II and his son, none other than Alexander the Great. Throughout antiquity, ‘our’ Macedonia was ruled by the Persians, Alexander, the Romans, and finally the Eastern Empire (later the Byzantine Empire).
The Middle Ages and Ottomans
Under Byzantine rule, the Slavic peoples began to settle in the region – a period that also saw widespread conversion to Christianity amongst the populace. As the years went on, the rising Bulgarian Empire came to contest the sovereignty of Macedonia with the Byzantines, eventually gaining control in the 13th century. Their victory was short lived however, and as the once great power faded, Macedonia became a part of the rising Serbian Empire. Following the death of the emperor, the kingdom was left in a precarious state which the Ottoman Turks were ready to exploit. In the end, the Balkans was under the total rule of the Ottoman Empire, a position that would remain in place for around 500 years.
By the late 19th century, pockets of Macedonian nationalism began to grow in the region. Mostly made up of Macedonian Bulgarians, these groups eventually rose up. Though the rebellion was put down, it planted the seeds for independence in later years.
World War I and a Kingdom
Prior to the First World War, Macedonia found itself a part of the larger Serb kingdom. It didn’t have long to get used to this new set of affairs, as in 1915 it was taken by Bulgaria (then a part of the Central Powers). Following the war’s end, Macedonia became a part of the larger Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later renamed Yugoslavia). Under rule of this kingdom, pushes for Macedonian independence continued, and by the 1930’s had reached a relative high point.
World War II and Communism
Like the rest of Yugoslavia, Macedonia was occupied by the Axis Powers from 1941-1945 and was mostly under the purview of Italian Albania and Bulgaria. The vast majority of the Jewish population was rounded up and deported during the war while the harsh rule led to widespread support for Tito’s communist partisans. Following the Bulgarian coup, the newly Soviet-supported army was able to drive many German soldiers out of the region. In the end, Macedonia became one of the republics of communist Yugoslavia – on equal footing with former ruler Serbia.
Breakup and Independence
The long period of Tito’s rule was a relatively peaceful and prosperous time for Macedonia. As things began to deteriorate in the early 90’s however (resulting in brutal wars throughout the region), Macedonia was able to peacefully withdraw from the union – avoiding the bloodshed. The country officially declared independence on September 8, 1991.
The war in Kosovo (1999) however did affect Macedonia, with many Albanian nationalists (some who had fled to Macedonia) taking up arms in the search for autonomy. This lasted until 2001 when a NATO monitored ceasefire was reached. Since then, Macedonia has been at peace.
Like most of former-Yugoslavia, Macedonia enjoys a diverse and unique culture thanks to a mixed population and its ‘crossroads’ location close to Asia. The majority of the population are ethnic Macedonians (largely adhering to Eastern Orthodox Christianity), while there is a sizable minority of Muslim Albanians.
Flag of Macedonia
The flag of Macedonia is very recognizable, featuring a yellow sun with eight rays on top of a red background. The country was forced to change its older flag in 1995, as it used the Vergina Sun – a symbol of ancient Macedon (Alexander’s country) and viewed by Greeks (who instituted an economic blockade against Macedonia) as a symbol of their nation.
Macedonian cuisine has much in common with the rest of the Balkans – with Greek and Turkish food the most prevalent influences. Other European styles (Italian, Hungarian, etc.) can also be found in the country’s food. The Shopska salad (of Bulgarian origin) is served as an appetizer with most meals.
Sports in Macedonia
Soccer and handball are the two most popular sports in Macedonia, though basketball is also followed. The national soccer team has not yet qualified for any major tournaments since independence, though it does feature some good players such as forward Goran Pandev (who has played much of his career in Italy).
Geography of Macedonia
Macedonia is a landlocked country that mostly features rugged, mountainous terrain, with the Vardar River forming a large central valley. The Šar Mountains and the Rhodope range are the two mountain ranges found in the country, with Mount Korab (the highest peak) sitting at 2,764 metres.
Cities in Macedonia
Skopje, the capital, is the largest and most important city in Macedonia. It has developed strongly over the last several decades, though a 1963 earthquake proved devastating. Though accounts vary, the population of Skopje is believed to be about 500,000.
Facts about Macedonia
- The Millennium Cross in Skopje is 66 metres high – the largest cross in the world
- It was the only former-Yugoslav republic to separate peacefully
- Sidewalks are used for parking
- Though commonly known as Macedonia, it must be officially called the ‘Republic of Macedonia’ or ‘FYR Macedonia’ (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) due to the northern region of Greece with the same name
- The country has a very young population
Since separating peacefully from Yugoslavia, Macedonia has overcome a few roadblocks and is now looking with renewed vigor towards the future.
Stay informed. Stay Current.