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Modern Skopje

Skopje is the capital city of the Republic of Macedonia. It has 600,000 inhabitants (2000 estimate) and is located on the upper Vardar river. It is the political, economic and cultural centre of Macedonia and a major centre for the metal-processing, chemical, timber, textile, leather and printing industries. Industrial development has been accompanied by an intensive development of internal and external trade and banking, as well as activities in the fields of culture and sport.

Skopje was not known to the Ancient Greeks, and appears to have been founded in the 3rd century BC by the Dardanians, a people on the fringes of the Kingdom of Macedon. In Roman times there was town on the site called Justiniana Prima, but this was destroyed by an earthquake in 518. The town was refounded, perhaps by the early Romanians (or Vlachs), and in Byzantine times it was known as Skupi. It was captured by the Ottomans in 1392 and known by the Turkish name Üsküb or Uskup during the half-millennium of Ottoman rule.

Ottoman Üsküb was the capital of the vilayet (district) of Kosovo. The Turkish writer Dilger Zede visited the city in the 17th century and wrote: "I travelled for a long time across that country of Rumelija and I saw a lot of beautiful cities and I was amazed from the Alah blessings, but not one has impressed and delighted me so much as the heavens city of Skopje across which passes the river Vardar." In 1689, however, it was burned by the Austrian general Picolomini.

In 1905 Üsküb had a population of about 32,000, a mixture of Serbs, Bulgarians, Turks, Albanians and Gypsies. It was the seat of an Orthodox Greek archbishop, of the archbishop of the Roman Catholic Albanians and of a Bulgarian bishop. In 1910 Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, later to become famous as Mother Teresa, was born in Üsküb into a Catholic Albanian family.

In 1913 the city fell to the Serbs during the Balkan War and was ceded to Serbia, which became the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1918 and Yugoslavia in 1929. Most of the Turks and Bulgarians left and it bcame a Slav town called Skopje. It was under Bulgarian rule from 1941 to 1945 but returned to Yugoslavia in 1945, when it became the capital of the Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. In 1963 Skopje was struck by a major earthquake, and numerous cultural monuments were seriously damaged.

Under Yugoslav rule Skopje grew rapidly and became a major industrial centre for the southern Balkans region. In 1991 the Yugoslav federation broke up and Skopje became the capital of the independent Republic of Macedonia. Greece objected to the use of the name Macedonia by the new state and imposed an economic blockade, which severely damaged Skopje's economy by closing its access to the sea through Thessaloniki. The blockade was lifted in 1995 following an agreement between Greece and Macedonia.

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