If you really want to learn about a certain country, there is no place better to start than a museum. There are, naturally, different museums, that you can visit depending on your interests, and, like any other capital city, Skopje too, is filled with them. So if you need a bit of that culture fix, you know what to do.
The Archaeological Museum of Macedonia is situated on the left bank of Vardar river, next to Skopje's landmark the old Stone Bridge. This museum institution is the oldest of its kind in the Republic of Macedonia existing for almost a century. Its permanent exhibition presents over 7000 artifacts of extraordinary historical, cultural, and art values. These artifacts tell stories of the local inhabitants, their material and spiritual cultures from early prehistory to the end of the Ottoman period.
Opened in 2011 on the 20th anniversary of Macedonian independence, the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle for Statehood and Independence to give it its full name charts the long and often painful history of the nation as it sought to seek its own sovereignty from the period of Ottoman occupation through to 1991. Composed of 13 separate rooms focusing on different aspects of the struggle, the museum is packed with fascinating artefacts, documents and weapons and also features a collection of wax models representing some of the most important heroes of the period. Visitors are guided through the exhibition by a group of young and friendly local historians.
The large, white and distinctly decrepit Yugoslav-era building just below the Mustafa Pasha Mosque is the central location for a series of museums located around the Old Bazaar, including at the must-see Kuršumli Han. Elsewhere in the complex you can find an Historical Museum, Ethnographic Museum, Natural History Museum and Icon Gallery. Packed with various cultural items - there were around 66,000 last time we gave them a thorough count - from traditional women’s bridal costumes to icons, despite the state of the place, it’s still a highly recommended place to visit.
The National Art Gallery is located in the Daut Pasha Baths, a building of Turkish bath dating from the 15th century, and also has exhibitions at Čifte Hammam, which was also an historic bath. However, don't get the idea that Macedonians like to put all their art in their baths, sometimes it's just more practical, like it is in this case. Even though the choice of location is unusual, both locations are definitely worth visiting for the art on display. There is a third location at Mala Stanica.
Owing its existence to the 1963 earthquake after which several sympathetic nations bequeathed works of art to the flattened and impoverished city, this much talked about building between the Skopje Fortress and the massive US Embassy features works from home and abroad of which the latter includes pieces by Pablo Picasso and Alexander Calder. As tempting as it sounds, the admission price is pretty steep, the staff could be more helpful and most of the work can be seen through the windows. You decide.
Drawing on a collection of almost 22,000 individual artefacts, what this fascinating museum housed inside the ruined carcass of the city’s exquisite 1940 train station lacks in financial support it more than makes up for in content. Among the exhibits are costumes, photographs and personal possessions from a number of Macedonian minorities including the Albanians, Jews, Romani, Serbs and Vlachs, and the 6,000-year-old, 15cm clay Adam from Govrlevo (Адам од Говрлево) statue, discovered in 2000 and put on display here six years later. The statue is ranked among the world’s top 10 Neolithic artefacts, as is perhaps the earliest representation of a human figure including ribs, spine, belly button and a regrettably chopped-off erection.
Holocaust Memorial Center was opened in March 2011 and it is located in the City Center, at the location of the old Jewish Quarter of Skopje. Holocaust Memorial Center commemorates the 7,144 Macedonian Jews, or 98% of the Jewish population of that time, who were murdered during the Holocaust. Through a series of exhibits that draws heavily on a number of sources, the exhibition presents more than 2 Millennia Jewish life in the Balkans, with a special focus on the Holocaust. On March 11, 2019, on the occasion of 76 years since the deportation of the Macedonian Jews to their death in the killing center Treblinka, in occupied Poland, the Holocaust Memorial Center opened its permanent exhibition.
Laid out on two floors with fossils, invertebrates and mammoths through the entrance and vertebrates located upstairs, this cash-strapped diversion next to the equally poverty-stricken zoo features scores of ancient wooden cases packed with stuffed animals and other treats, including when we visited real birds nesting in the roof above the room full of former birds, an accidental sound effect that only added to the utter strangeness of the place. If you’re interested in the subject you could easily spend at least an hour in here. On the other hand you may find yourself finished in less than five minutes.
Built on the site of the former Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral in which she was baptised and located inside a like contender for the title of the world’s ugliest building, this interesting diversion for some and compulsory pilgrimage for others celebrates the life and work of the Skopje-born Catholic nun and missionary Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, better known to the world as Mother Teresa (1910-1997). On two floors and entered through the door at the top of the stairs, inside is a host of Teresa-related memorabilia, personal effects and, on the top floor, a veritable shrine complete with large windows, intricate filigree and a large black and white photograph of the woman herself.
To experience just how much your eyes and brain can be deceived, go check out the fascinating and informative Museum of Illusions. Best enjoyed by groups so you can see each other be transformed, take the family, friends or colleagues for a fun-packed hour or two exploring its three floors of optical illusions and mind-bending installations. There’s also a projection room where you can try your hand at one of their mind-bending puzzles.