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Where the ancients studied the moon and stars May 21, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Macedonia.
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(CNN) — Macedonia is the youngest ancient country in the world and is full of relics of times past.

It has been part of all the great empires of history, from Roman to Ottoman to Byzantine and they have all left their mark with thousands of ancient sites.

The country has an estimated 4,485 archaeological sites from all historical periods, according to Pasko Kuzman, of the country’s Cultural Heritage Protection Office.

Jewel in the crown is Kokino, discovered in the mountains near Kumanovo in 2001 by local archaeologist Jovica Stankovski. It is a 4,000-year-old Megalithic Observatory used in the Bronze Age for studying the sun and moon.

The site, at an altitude of more than 1,000m and with a 100m diameter, is described as the “Macedonian Stonehenge” and is ranked by NASA as the fourth oldest ancient observatory in the world, after Abu Simbel in Egypt, Stonehenge in Britain and Angkor Wat in Cambodia.



// Several stone seats, known as thrones and facing the east horizon were also discovered on the site.

Research showed that the observatory had a specific place for monitoring the stars and the sun, as well as specific holes through which the movement of the sun and the moon could be recorded.

According to physicist Gjore Cenev, the ancient observatory worked by using special stone markers to map the movement of the sun and moon on the eastern horizon. With parts of the observatory well preserved, it is still possible to mark the position of the sun during the summer solstice, he said.

Cenev, who has carried out detailed analysis of the site, wrote in a paper on the subject: “Kokino has incredible astronomical preciseness and has a central observation post and accessory observation posts.”

“The observatory defines the four main positions of the Moon and three main positions of the Sun during a year, the autumnal and vernal equinox and winter and summer solstice,” he added.

It is believed some of the most important rituals for local inhabitants during the Early Bronze Age would have taken place on the site.

Stankovski, who discovered the ruins, wrote in the Macedonian Archaeological News: “One of the most attractive rituals noted at Kokino is the ritual of the sacred union of the Great Mother Earth and her Son, the Sun. The ritual was performed in mid-summer and it was probably related with the end of the harvest season.”

There are theories that the Kokino Megalithic Observatory was part of a larger city after a network of 10 temples was discovered nearby.

Stone drawings and figurines have also been discovered and if Kokino is identified as an ancient civilization, it could the oldest known in the Balkans.


Skopje: Under-explored gem in heart of the Balkans May 17, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Macedonia.
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A statue presides over Kale fortress enjoying the highest vantage point in the Macedonian capital of Skopje.

A statue presides over Kale fortress enjoying the highest vantage point in the Macedonian capital of Skopje.

(CNN) — Housing over a quarter of the country’s population, Skopje is Macedonia’s largest and most diverse city. With a long history marked by Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman rule, the region boasts a wealth of ancient sites and intriguing relics.

But the Macedonian capital is also a youthful and modern city. European-style bars and cafes are in abundance, while swanky shopping malls draw buzzing crowds.

The city’s mix of traditional and contemporary eateries mirrors its proud heritage as well as its modernizing aspirations.

Here we provide a brief travel guide to this under-explored gem in the heart of the Balkans.

What to see

To get an immediate flavor of the Macedonian capital’s rich history head to the Kale Fortress in Skopje’s old town. Originally built by the Byzantines in the sixth century and featuring 121 meter long stone walls, Kale occupies the highest point in the city — making it a very rewarding spot for sightseers. The theatrical fortress also hosts outdoor drama performances in the summer.

Those interested in Skopje’s religious heritage must visit the St. Pantelejmon Monastery. A 15-minute drive from downtown Skopje up on the forested slopes of Mount Vodno, the 12th century monastery boasts some of the most emotionally expressive examples of Byzantine art in existence. St. Pantelejmon also contains a restaurant in its court-yard, serving authentic (if a little expensive) Macedonian cuisine cooked up by the inhabitant monks.

If you’ve had enough history for one day and you happen to be visiting in the last few weeks of October, then the Skopje Jazz Festival is a no-brainer. Running since 1982 and considered by many to be one of the best international jazz festivals in Europe, performers have included blues legend Ray Charles, African kora star Mory Kante, and Cuban diva Omara Portundo.

A cook grills meat balls in a restaurant at Skopje's old bazaar.

A cook grills meat balls in a restaurant at Skopje’s old bazaar.

Where to eat

For a romantic atmosphere on a budget, the Ezerce is a grand pavilion-style restaurant hidden inside the inner city-oasis of Skopje’s Gradski Park. An outdoor terrace is unleashed in the summer months, when live traditional music and cabaret are also on the menu most nights. The food is a mix of Macedonian and international flavors.

Located in Skopje’s historic quarter, Beer House An enjoys a very popular reputation for it’s traditional daily specials and its thoroughly ancestral feel. Housed in an authentic medieval inn, the bare brick walls are decorated with icons, old plates and antique weapons. The restaurant’s branding as a ‘beerhouse’ belies its excellent food — the ‘pasha’ (spiced) meatballs and stuffed vine leaves come highly recommended.

Those keen to ‘live like the locals’ should keep an eye out for Skopje’s numerous “kafanas“. The Macedonian equivalent of an old-fashioned British pub, these taverns offer cheap and cheerful local grub, often accompanied by the lively swing of traditional Balkan folk music.

Visitors exhausted from all the regional fare, who crave something a little more western, could do worse than the Taverna Toscana. Tucked behind a big supermarket in town, this is a little slice of Italy that serves the familiar Mediterranean line-up at a reasonable price.

With its copper-domed bathhouses and Ottoman trading inns, the Turkish quarter is one of the oldest parts of the city.

With its copper-domed bathhouses and Ottoman trading inns, the Turkish quarter is one of the oldest parts of the city.

The Turkish Bazaar or “Carsija“, found in the old part of the city, shows off some of the most wonderful specimens of municipal Ottoman architecture in the Balkans. The vast majority of the capital’s jewelers are centered here in a section known as Charshi (meaning “marketplace”).

Sunset-hued pink and deep red cloths are on display, alongside shiny copperware and rich textiles. Tailors, cobblers, tinsmiths and all manner of craftsman offer their services, while tea-rooms and food-stands provide the ammunition that sustains the market’s vibrant atmosphere.

Back in the center of Skopje is the Gradski Trgovski shopping mall, a modern, three-story consumer paradise that also functions as a popular meeting point for many of the city’s young. A great place to find ultra-cheap deals on everything from clothes to groceries. Jugotone’s music shop on the third floor has a great variety of hard to find ethnic-rooted sounds.

If Gradski Trgovski is a bargain basement for all the essentials, then the recently-opened Ramstore is its shiny upmarket sibling, packed with trendy bars, eateries and boutiques.

A couple is strolling on the embankment of the river Vardar, enjoying the snowfall that turned the city white.

A couple is strolling on the embankment of the river Vardar, enjoying the snowfall that turned the city white.

Where to hang out

The coffee shops and bars near or along the quay of the Vardar River are constantly brimming with activity, especially during summer evenings. Many of the places here have a modern, European feel with plenty of outdoor patio space, and tend to attract a young cosmopolitan crowd. Around here, St. Patrick’s — an Irish pub serving proper Guinness — is a surprisingly popular watering hole.

However, visitors craving something more unexpected should seek out New Age, a big garden shed converted into a coffee shop, hidden down an unsuspecting dead-end street near Skopje’s largest Catholic church. Wobbly wooden furniture, chess-boards and plump cushions adorn this Hobbit’s cove of a cafe, where patrons can choose from over 38 varieties of herbal tea.

Skopje has a very young population, and so it’s no surprise that nightclubs are aplenty. Many of the clubs are in the heart of town and choosing a venue depends on musical preference, but if you’ve got your all-night raving shoes on then the vast Colosseum, usually playing house, techno and trance music, is the place to be after midnight.

Country profile: Macedonia May 17, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Macedonia.
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The famous mosaics of the ancient Roman archeological site of Stobi, in southeast Macedonia

The famous mosaics of the ancient Roman archeological site of Stobi, in southeast Macedonia

(CNN) — Macedonia is a small mountainous, landlocked country bordering Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Kosovo and Serbia.

About a quarter of its two million population lives in the capital Skopje, a city on the Vardar River that combines Communist-era tower blocks with an Ottoman-era Old Town and filled with evidence of its 2,500-year history under Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and Yugoslav rule.

The raging river divides the Albanian and Macedonian communities of Skopje. Almost two-thirds of the country’s population are Orthodox Christians and a third is Muslim, according to the CIA World Factbook.

As a result, the country has numerous monasteries, churches and mosques. It has ancient relics dating back 3,800 years. Lake Ohrid, one of the deepest and oldest lakes in Europe, was once surrounded by 365 churches, some dating from the 4th century.

Macedonia lies in a seismically active region and has several hot thermal baths. There are many mountains over 2,500m in the Shar Planina range. The Lonely Planet travel guide describes the country as a “paradise” for outdoor types with numerous opportunities for skiing, hiking and climbing.

Macedonia is paradise for outdoor types with numerous opportunities for skiing, hiking and climbing.

Macedonia was the only country to emerge peacefully from the former Yugoslavia, but 19 years later it still has an international identity crisis over its name.

Macedonia gained independence from the former Yugoslav federation with overwhelming majority support in a referendum on September 8, 1991. To its own citizens, the country is called the Republic of Macedonia, but both the United Nations and the European Union call it the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYR Macedonia).

The reason for the controversy is a region in Greece that is also called Macedonia. International recognition of Macedonia’s independence was delayed by Greek objections to the name. Greece eventually agreed to recognize the “former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” designation.

Macedonians do not like this name, and negotiations are continuing under the United Nations to find a solution, according to the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

In 2001, there was an uprising of ethnic Albanians — who make up a quarter of the population — demanding equal rights, leading to months of violence. Peace returned later the same year with a peacekeeping operation by NATO troops and a new constitution recognizing Albanian as an official language and increasing access for ethnic Albanians to public sector jobs, including the police force.

Official statistics show high unemployment at 35 percent, but this does not take into account the extensive informal job market, estimated to be more than 20 per cent of GDP, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Macedonia’s president Gjorgje Ivanov came to power in elections in 2009. Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski was re-elected in 2008 after snap elections called when Greece blocked a NATO invitation to Macedonia over objections to the country’s name.

The country is also a candidate for membership of the European Union.

Macedonians are proud of their wine and cuisine, which combines Balkan, Mediterranean and Turkish characteristics.

Macedonia PM: We want deal with Greece over name dispute May 12, 2010

Posted by Yilan in EU, European Union, Macedonia, NATO, Yunanistan.
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From Nic Robertson, CNN

Skopje, Macedonia (CNN) — Macedonia’s prime minister has said the country is seeking a compromise with Greece over the long-standing name dispute between both countries.

In an interview with CNN, Nikola Gruevski said he was trying to reach a solution with Greece over the issue so his country could gain membership into the European Union.

He told CNN: “We said to Greece, ‘We want to make a compromise. We want to find solutions,’ so we can become a member of NATO and the EU. Compromise means both sides make moves, not just one side to make concessions and the other side to have a victory.”

Macedonia has been at loggerheads over its name for 17 years with Greece, which blocked its entry to NATO in 2008 over the dispute.

Greece claims that the name “Macedonia” implies territorial ambitions on the Greek province of the same name. Macedonia denies it. The two countries have taken their dispute to the International Court of Justice.

Gruevski also spoke to CNN about his country’s economy, their ongoing efforts to gain membership of the European Union and the wine industry.

CNN: What is the state of your economy right now?

Nikola Gruevski: Last year, the World Bank announced that Macedonia was the third biggest reformer in the world for creating a good business climate. And it’s helping. Unfortunately, last year the world was in crisis. The amount of investment was reduced. But now there are new signals, new investors.

CNN: We saw in the center of the city a demo of people protesting for jobs. How big an issue is unemployment?

NG: Unemployment is a serious issue in Macedonia. Before independence, our companies produced for 22 million people in former Yugoslavia. Immediately after that, the market was much smaller and the managers didn’t find good ways to open new markets. That created serious unemployment. It’s declined in the last three years.

CNN: What would it mean for Macedonia to be part of the European Union and NATO?

NG: Politically, for us, it’s very important to be a member of the EU and NATO. More than 90 percent of the citizens would like to see Macedonia in NATO and the EU.

We fulfilled all necessary criteria to receive invitation for full membership to NATO in March 2008. Because of Greece, because of the name issue Video that they opened, our invitation was postponed. In the meantime we’re trying to work with Greece to find some solution for the problem.

CNN: What exactly is Greece saying?

NG: Greece wants our name to be changed, the new name to be given by them. They have a few names that they prefer, and they’re asking us to accept these names.

CNN: And one of them is Northern Macedonia?

NG: Yes. And a second thing, which is very unreasonable, they want to change the identity of the citizens. That’s very difficult to explain, but they want the government to accept and to explain to the citizens, that our language and nationality, in the future will not be Macedonian, but will be something else.

We said to Greece, ‘We want to make a compromise. We want to find solutions,’ so we become a member of NATO, member of the EU.Compromise means both sides make moves, not just one side to make concessions and the other side to have a victory.

Fortunately, in the meantime, the companies don’t care about the name issue. Greece is one of the biggest investors in Macedonia and our citizens are regularly going there for tourism.

See Macedonia’s stunning scenery

CNN: People think of Alexander the Great as coming from Macedonia. What is at the heart of being Macedonian?

NG: Alexander the Great’s empire was 2,300 years ago. The empire was very big and had different parts. And today these places are many countries, so I think he’s a person who belongs to the world, not to Greece or Macedonia or India. So, we don’t like to monopolize history. Unfortunately the other side is insisting on monopolizing the history. They are saying, “This is just our history.”

CNN: In May, you’re going to take over the presidency of the European Council of Ministers. What do you hope to achieve in your six months of presidency?

NG: Macedonian presidency will be important for making many steps, making some reforms. It will also be a chance for us to make some cultural events and to improve our image as a country. There’ll be good chances for many meetings, representing the country in different situations.

CNN: Is the government going to invest in tourism in the future?

NG: We have plans for new investments in tourism in different parts of the country. The most popular place for tourism in Macedonia is Ohrid. But also, there are other mountains, lakes, and archaeological places. We have also very good monasteries and temples which really are attractive for tourists.

CNN: And wine as well?

NG: We produce very good wine. Very close to the best wines in the world. When I’m drinking wine, I always choose Macedonian.

CNN: What does Macedonia have that allows it to produce such good wine?

NG: Tradition. Production of wine in Macedonia dates from 6,000 years ago, and for centuries it has improved. But it’s still not very well promoted. We have a lot of work to do on promotion, distribution and producing large enough quantities for the large companies. But we are working on this and every year we are increasing production.