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History of the city of Skopje
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Early phase
The site of modern 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 settlement appears to have been founded around the by the Paionians, a people that inhabited the region. In the 3rd century BC, Skopje and the surrounding area was invaded by the Dardani. Scupi, the ancient Skopje, came under Roman rule after the general Quintus Caecilius Metellus Macedonicus defeated Andriscus of Macedon in 148 BC, being at first part of the Roman province of Macedonia, established in 146 BC. The northward expansion of the empire in the course of the 1st century BC lead to the creation of the province of Moesia in Augustus's times, into which Scupi was incorporated. After the division of the province by Domitian in 86 AD, Scupi was elevated to colonia status, and became a seat of government within the new province of Moesia superior. The district called Dardania (in Moesia Superior), was formed into a special province by Diocletian, with the capital at Naissus. From 395 AD, it passed into the hands of the Eastern Roman (or Byzantine) Empire.
The first known bishop of the city is Perigorius, present at the Council of Sardica (343). Scupi was probably a metropolitan see about the middle of the 5th century (Latin: Archidioecesis Scopiensis).
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Medieval era
When the Roman Empire was divided into eastern and western halves in 395AD, Skupi came under Byzantine rule from Constantinople (today's Istanbul) and became an important trading and garrison town for the region. The Byzantine Emperor Justinian (527-65AD) was born in Tauresium (about 20 km southeast of present-day Skopje) in 483AD, and after Skupi was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake in 518AD. Justinian built a new town at the fertile entry point of the River Lepenec into the Vardar. The town was known as Justiniana Prima. During much of the early medieval period, the town was contested between the Byzantines and the Bulgarian Empire. From 972 to 992 it was the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire. After that, it was a capital of Byzantine administrative region (katepanat) Bulgaria after the fall the First Bulgarian Empire in 1018. Skopje was a thriving trading settlement but fell into decline after being hit by another devastating earthquake at the end of the 11th century. It was a capital of the estate of the Bulgarian feudal lord, later Emperor Konstantin Asen in the middle of 13th century. The Byzantine Empire took advantage of the decline in Skopje to regain influence in the area, but lost control of it once again in 1282 to King Stefan Uroš II Milutin of Serbia. Milutin's grandson, Stefan Dusan, made Skopje his capital, from which he proclaimed himself Tsar in 1346.
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Ottoman era
Rolling back Byzantine rule across much of the Balkans, the Ottoman Turks finally conquered Skopje in 1392 beginning 520 years of Ottoman rule. The Turks named the town Uskub. At first the Ottomans divided the greater Macedonian region into four vilayets, or districts — Uskub (Kossovo), Manastir and Selanik - and as the northernmost of these, Uskub was strategically important for further forays into northern Europe.
Under Ottoman rule the town moved further towards the entry point of the River Serava into the Vardar. It also became predominantly Muslim and the architecture of the town changed accordingly. During the 15th century, many travelers' inns were established in the town, such as Kapan An and Suli An, which still exist today. The city's famous Stone Bridge (Kameni Most) - was also reconstructed during this period and the famous Daud Pasha baths (now a modern art gallery) was built at the end of the 15th century. At this time numerous Jews driven out of Spain settled in Uskub, adding to the cultural mix of the town and enhancing the town's trading reputation.
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Old BazaarAt the beginning of Ottoman rule, several mosques quickly sprang up in the city, and church lands were often seized and given to ex-soldiers, while many churches themselves were converted over time into mosques. The most impressive mosques erected during this early period include the Sultan Murat or Hjunkar Mosque, Aladza Mosque and the Mustafa Pasha Mosque. In 1555, another earthquake hit the town, destroying much of the centre. The outskirts survived and the town continued, nonetheless, to prosper with traders and travelers. Travel reports from the era number Uskub's population anywhere between 30.000 and 60.000 inhabitants. For a very short period in 1689, Uskub was occupied by the Austrian General Piccolomini. He and his troops did not stay for long, however, as the town was quickly engulfed by the plague. On retreating from the town Piceolomini's troops set fire to Uskub, perhaps in order to stamp out the plague, although some would say this was done in order to avenge the 1683 Ottoman invasion of Vienna.
For the next two centuries Uskub's prestige waned and by the 19th century its population had dwindled to a mere 10.000. In 1873, however, the completion of the Uskub—Selanik (now Skopje—Thessaloniki) railway brought many more travelers and traders to the town, so that by the turn of the century Uskub had regained its former numbers of around 30.000. Towards the end of the Ottoman Empire, Uskub, along with other towns in Macedonia - Krushevo and Manastir (now Bitola) - became main hubs of rebellious movements against Ottoman rule. Uskub was a key player in the Ilinden Uprising of August 1903 when the native population of the region declared the emergence of the Krusevo Republic. While the Krusevo Republic lasted only ten days before being quelled by the Ottomans, it was a sign of the beginning of the end for Ottoman rule. After 500 years of rule in the area the Ottomans were finally ousted in 1912 during the first Balkan War.
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Balkan and World Wars
As the administrative centre of the region, Uskub also administered the vilayet of Kossovo under Ottoman rule. This did not go down well with the increasingly Albanian population of Kosovo, who preferred to be ruled by Albanians rather than the Turks. The Ottomans were shortly expelled from the city in August 12, 1912 by the local Albanian population when 15,000 Albanians marched on Uskub. The Turks, already weak from other battles against the united front of Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria during the first Balkan War, started to flee.
When Serb reinforcements arrived some weeks later, the 23 October Battle of Kumanovo (50 km northeast of Skopje) proved decisive in firmly driving out the Ottomans from all of Macedonia. Skopje remained under Serbian rule during the second Balkan War of 1913 when the formerly united front started to fight amongst themselves, until in 1914 the town was finally taken over by the Bulgarians. By 1918 it belonged to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, and remained so until 1939, apart from a brief period of six months in 1920 when Skopje was controlled by the Yugoslav Communist Party. The inter-war period of Royalist Yugoslavia saw significant immigration of ethnic Serbs into the region. An ethnic Serb ruling elite dominated over the rest, continuing the repression wrought by previous Turkish rulers. During World War II, Skopje came under German fascist occupation and was later taken over by Bulgarian forces. March 1941 saw huge anti-Nazi demonstrations throughout the streets of the town, as Yugoslavia was dragged into the war. But Nazi war crimes were not to be stopped and on 11 March 1943, Skopje's entire Jewish population of 3.286 was deported to the gas chambers of Treblinka concentration camp in Poland. One month after the communists took power in Sofia and the Bulgarian army was sent to fight the Germans to the west front, Skopje was seized by the People's Liberation Army of Macedonia, and then joined Yugoslavia in 1944, when it became the capital of the newly established People's Republic of Macedonia.
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Socialist Republic of Macedonia
From 1944 until 1991 Skopje was the capital of the Socialist Republic of Macedonia. The city expanded and the population grew during this period from just over 150.000 in 1945 to almost 600.000 in the early 1990s. Continuing to be prone to natural disasters the city was flooded by the Vardar River in 1962 and then suffered considerable damage from a major earthquake, measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale, which killed over 1.000 people and made another 120.000 homeless. Eighty percent of the city was destroyed by the earthquake, and numerous cultural monuments were seriously damaged. The losses from the quake amounted to a massive 150% of Macedonia's GNP at the time and 15% of Yugoslavia's GNP. A major international relief effort saw the city rebuilt quickly, though much of its old neo-classical charm was lost in the process. The new master plan of the city was created by the then leading Japanese architect Kenzo Tange. The ruins of the old Skopje train station which was destroyed in the earthquake remain today as a memorial to the victims along with an adjacent museum.
Nearly all of the city's beautiful neo-classical 18th and 19th century buildings were destroyed in the earthquake, including the National Theater and many government buildings, as well as most of the Kale Fortress. International financial aid poured into Skopje in order to help rebuild the city. Sadly, the result was the many "modern" concrete monstrosities of 1960s communism that can still be seen today as well as hundreds of now abandoned caravans and prefabricated mobile homes. Fortunately, though, as with previous earthquakes, much of the old Turkish side of town survived.
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Independence
Skopje made the transition easily from the capital of the Socialist Federal Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to the capital of today's Republic of Macedonia. The city livened up considerably when Skopje housed the headquarters of the NATO intervention into Kosovo in 1998 and 1999. The city saw some rioting during 2001 when internal conflict between the Albanian community and the Macedonian majority erupted over lack of Albanian representation in government and other social institutions. Today, Skopje is seeing a makeover in buildings, streets and shops. The Kale fortress was restore and was rebuild the beautiful 19th century Army House, the Old National Theatre, and the Old National Bank of Macedonia - all destroyed in the 1963 earthquake. Other projects under construction are the "Macedonian Struggle" Museum, the Archeological Museum of Macedonia, National Archive of Macedonia, Constitutional Court, and a new Philharmonic Theater. The city's national stadium Philip II Arena and the city's Alexander the Great Airport are also being reconstructed and expanded.
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