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Filled with memories of the past Macedonia
2003 / April

When I was invited as a jury member to the Photomedia 2002 International Photographic Competition by the Elema Photography Club in Skopje, I found the opportunity to visit our near neighbour Macedonia. Years that have passed since this country was part of the Ottoman Empire have changed many things, but others are just as they were.

Nearly 40 percent of Macedonia's population are Muslim, and although they are of Albanian origin, Turkish is widely spoken. I was also astonished to be told that Macedonian, a language of Slavic origin, contains three thousand Turkish words. After landing we entered Skopje's small but modern airport building. From here it is a 20 minute drive into the city, where the abundance of trees and parks and sense of space resulting from the low population density were the first things I noticed. High hills rise behind to the north and the River Vardar divides the city in two, spanned by the famous 13-arch Vardar Bridge.

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Filled with memories of the past Macedonia
2003 / April

This outstanding architectural monument was built during the reign of Sultan Murad I (1362-1389). Skopje Castle was in ruins until a few years ago, but has now been restored, and this building set in a beautiful park is one of the most popular sights, famous particularly for its spectacular view over the city. The violent earthquake of 1963 destroyed 80 percent of Skopje, the Vardar Bridge being one of the few historical monuments to survive intact. The old station building, which is still partially in ruins, today houses the National Museum. Other sights which visitors should not miss are the traditional houses, mosques, minarets and bazaar, the latter equal to any of those in Turkey. It was formerly roofed over, but since the earthquake has been an open street. In the bazaar Turkish is the language that one hears spoken the most. When the shopkeepers heard us talking, we were plied with tea and refreshments, and showered with questions about Turkey. They were eager to hear anything we had to say, so long as it was about Turkey!

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Filled with memories of the past Macedonia
2003 / April
When we climbed up to Skopje Castle, the view of mosques, domes and slender minarets again made us forget that we were in a foreign country. In the city centre is a large and modern shopping centre where the wide range of imported goods is immediately evident. Macedonia is an agricultural country, whose exports consists mainly of fresh fruits and vegetables, and high-quality tobacco. The city of Tetovo (Kalkandelen) has a predominantly Turkish and Muslim population and its most famous monument is Isa Bey Mosque, also known as the Coloured Mosque because of the brightly coloured decoration on its exterior. When people discovered that I was Turkish every assistance was given, and for the same reason I was permitted to take photographs.

One of the most famous places in Macedonia is Ohrid (Ohri), a town 150 km southwest of Skopje. With its traditional houses with red tile roofs reminiscent of those in Turkey and Byzantine style brick churches, this green leafy town is most attractive.
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Filled with memories of the past Macedonia
2003 / April

It stands on the shores of Lake Ohrid, said to be the deepest lake in Europe, and so large that it almost felt like being beside the sea. The town of Struga also lies on the lake, but although I was frequently told how beautiful it was, my time was too limited to go. Albania lies on the further side of this lake. It was a clear day, and I enjoyed strolling through the cobbled hilly streets of the old town and feasting both eyes and spirit on the beautiful churches.

At the restaurant we were served trout from Lake Ohrid for lunch. We learned that this species is unique to the lake, and more delicious than any of its relatives. The price reflects the flavour, at 20 dollars for a kilo! Our last stop before returning to Skopje was the little town of Bitola, with its unspoilt buildings. Known in Ottoman times as Manastir, it was here that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk attended military college.

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Filled with memories of the past Macedonia
2003 / April

I returned from this short but sweet visit to Macedonia with many photographs, memories, and best of all new friendships.

* Izzet Keribar is a photographer and freelance writer.

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