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The Great Skopje Fortress (Kale) – 9 Important Things To Know

The phrase city of contrasts often gets thrown around when it comes to travel-related articles. In fact, so much that it has entirely lost its meaning. I’m pretty sure that if you Google any city’s name and enter the phrase city of contrasts, there will be at least one article claiming that this particular city is a city of contrasts. But Skopje, the capital of Macedonia makes a pretty compelling case of why it’s the ultimate city of contrasts. One of the most important reasons for this contrast is the Skopje fortress, proudly standing between the Skopje Old Bazaar (the medieval-looking part of the city) and the modern city square on the other side of the Vardar River.

In this article, we’ll introduce you to this great Skopje landmark and teach you everything there is to know about it.

But first things first…

What Is The Skopje Fortress?

places to visit in Macedonia bucket list

The Skopje Fortress is a medieval, impressive stone sentinel, perched high on a hill overlooking the Vardar River, the Old Bazaar, and the city square. Think of it as a city’s open history book; it hasbeen around for hundreds of years and has survived many different invadors, Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans, just to name a few. Today, the fortress is one of the main symbols of the capital and is even depicted on Skopje’s coat of arms and the city flag.

The History of Skopje Fortress

skopje fortress

In the early 6th century, that Emperor Justinian I, with a glint of imperial ambition in his eye, lays the first stones of Skopje Fortress. Think Roman ingenuity meets Byzantine grandeur – sturdy yellow limestone and travertine blocks, echoing the might of a rising empire.

Fast forward a few centuries, and Byzantine emperors stroll these ramparts, gazing out over their domains. The fortress witnesses whispers of conspiracies, grand pronouncements, and the clatter of armor as soldiers prepare for battle. It’s a center of power, a symbol of Byzantine might in the Balkans.

Time marches on, and in the 14th century, a new wind blows across the region. The Ottoman Empire arrives, and Skopje Fortress undergoes a makeover. Walls thicken, Ottoman architectural flourishes appear, and the fortress morphs into a formidable military stronghold.

Centuries weave by. The fortress weathers earthquakes, wars, and the slow decline of empires. It’s used as a military prison, an arsenal, even a tobacco warehouse. Yet, its spirit endures, a silent witness to the city’s changing fortunes.

Then, in the 20th century, Skopje Fortress awakens from its slumber. Restoration efforts begin, peeling back layers of history and revealing the grandeur of its past.

Significant Historical Events

skopje fortress kale

6th Century:

Emperor Justinian I, with his vision for a fortified city, laid the foundation for this architectural marvel.

7th Century:

The 7th century brought a new challenge to Skopje Fortress – the formidable Saracen army and a relentless siege that tested the fortress’s defenses with the fortress repelling the invaders after long battles.

12th Century:

In the 12th century, Sultan Mehmed II, with his eyes set on expanding his empire, laid siege to Skopje Fortress but the fortress turned out to be impregnable (at least for now).

14th Century:

After a series of long, exhausting battles, the Skopje Fortress finally fell gave in under the persistent Ottoman pressure in the 14th century.

16th Century:

Under Ottoman rule, the fortress was expanded, new fortifications were added, and it became one of the main Ottoman military strongholds, guarding the crossroads of trade and power in the Balkans.

20th and 21st Century:

The 20th century is a time when the medieval battles are long forgotten and this era is marked by significant restoration efforts that turned the fortress into a vibrant cultural center and home to numerous cultural events.

Skopje Fortress Architecture

skopje kale

The first thing you’ll see when visiting the fortress is the main gate, a grand and imposing structure that gives a brief introduction of what lies inside. Inside the fortress, you’ll find the remnants of various buildings and walls that were built throughout the years. Perhaps the most picturesque part of the fortress is the watchtower that offers a panoramic view of the city and the Vardar River and used to be a key component in the fortress’s defense system.

One relatively new addition to the fortress is the outdoor amphitheater used for cultural events, concerts, and festivals. Last but not least, we shouldn’t forget about the various artifacts scattered throughout the fortress, including inscriptions, sculptures, and fragments of ancient buildings.

Changes And Restorations Over The Centuries

skopje fortress kale

After the fort was built in the 6th century, the Skopje fortress didn’t experience any major restorations until the Ottomans took over. After the invasion, a part of the fortress was destroyed; the Ottomans repaired the damage and reinforced the fortress with new walls and features. After the fall of the empire and the creation of Yugoslavia, the fort was also significantly damaged by the Skopje earthquake of 1 but was quickly repaired by the local authorities. Its most recent addition is the small amphitheater which is mainly used for musical concerts and cultural events.

Key Areas Within The Fortress To Explore

skopje fortress kale night

The main highlight of the Skopje Fortress is the main gate but also the medieval walls that are still proudly standing. Inside the fortress, you also shouldn’t miss the watchtowers, the remains of old buildings that have been destroyed over time, the writings on the wall, the amphitheater, and the underground prison chambers that are not open to the public.

Enjoying this post? Then you may also like this list of things to do in Ohrid.

Guided Tour Options And Self-Exploration Tips

skopje fortress tour

At the time of writing this article, there aren’t any individual tours that focus on exploring the Skopje Fortress Kale but there are a few walking tours in Skopje that cover most of the city’s landmarks and include a trip to the fortress (among other cool things to do in Skopje). Some of my personal favorite include the Best Of Skopje Tour, the Skopje city highlights tour, this 4-hour walking tour, this Skopje tour with a local, and this historical tour of Skopje old town.

Working Hours, Entry, And Best Time To Visit

skopje kale inside

Working Hours:

  • April to September: 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM
  • October to March: 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM
  • Closed on Mondays


  • General Admission: 200 MKD (around 3 €)
  • Reduced Admission: 100 MKD (around 1.5 €) for students, children under 18, seniors, and persons with disabilities
  • Free admission: Children under 6 years old

Best Time to Visit:

  • Spring (April to May): Pleasant weather, fewer crowds, blooming flowers.
  • Early fall (September to October): Comfortable temperatures, vibrant autumn colors, less scorching sun.
  • Weekdays: Avoid the weekend crowds, especially during the afternoon.
  • Early morning: Enjoy the peace and quiet, capture amazing photos with sunlight hitting the fortress.
  • Evening: Witness breathtaking sunsets over the city from the ramparts.

Accessibility And Facilities Available For Tourists.


You can get to the main entrance by car but from there, you have to proceed on foot. The fortress has ramps and paved pathways, making it accessible for wheelchair too. Onside, there are a few public restrooms, a water fountain, a souvenir shop, an information center, and during special events like the local Pivofest, you can even find eateries and improvised bars/cafes but they’re not around throughout the year.

Enjoying this post? Then you may also like this list of landmarks in Albania, most beautiful places in Serbia, list of reasons why should you visit Bulgaria, and beautiful places in Romania.

Helpful Resources For Visiting Skopje

For the cheapest flights to Skopje, this Qatar Airways special offer can save you up to 15%. It is an affiliate link but I also use it when booking my flights to and from Skopje.

For the best travel insurance for your trip to Skopje, consider getting one of these SafetyWing deals.

Looking to rent a car in Skopje? This page can help you save 15% on all car rentals.

Last but not least, if you want to save on accommodation, this Booking discount code and this IHG Hotels special offer can get you up to 15% off on all accommodation rentals in Skopje.

A Few Words For The End

Finally, another very unique thing about Skopje is its architecture and its surrounding, untouched nature that’s just a short ride away from the city (such as Vodno Mountain, Matka Canyon, Kozjak Lake, etc.). Skopje has a lot of new, baroque architecture in the city square but you can also see some impressive, old brutalist buildings from the socialism era.

And if you explore Skopje, you will see that it has a very different architecture than all the other Yugoslavian capitals. This is mainly because of the severe earthquake of 1963 that completely changed the look of the city. After the earthquake, the city hired Kenzo Tange, a Japanese architect with very unique ideas, to plan the rebuilding. His futuristic style combined with the already existing socialist, brutal architecture gave the city a completely new look. This created Skopje’s own futuristic urbanism, still noticeable in parts of the city.

Did this article give you a few reasons why should you visit Skopje? Would you visit Skopje and why? Let us know in the comments and don’t forget to share this article on Pinterest.

why visit skopje

katy kuhlwilm

Tuesday 16th of June 2020

Nice article. We visited Skopje last year. Major identity crisis going on here! I loved the old Bazaar and the Ottoman architecture, not do keen on the gaudy statues. Thanks for sharing.

Passport Symphony

Tuesday 16th of June 2020

Unfortunately yes! I'm glad to hear you had a nice time tho. Thank you for commenting

Nina Nichols

Monday 27th of August 2018

The baroque architecture of kopje is something that the natives must be proud of! I've never heard of the place but it seems worthy of a visit.

Passport Symphony

Wednesday 29th of August 2018

Actually, not really Nina. The baroque has never been a thing in Macedonia and many locals despite the project because it spent millions of euros of taxpayers money on statues and architecture that have little to do with Macedonian history


Friday 24th of August 2018

What a fascinating article! I must admit that I had never really heard of Skopje before, but now I am really interested in visiting. It must be an amazing place to experience.

Passport Symphony

Friday 24th of August 2018

I'm really glad to hear that, Monique. It certainly is an amazing place :)

Sumit Surai

Thursday 23rd of August 2018

Nice description. I could almost see how the city of Skopje looks like. I think diversity like this make a place more interesting.

Passport Symphony

Friday 24th of August 2018

Thank you for your comment, Summit. I really appreciate it :)

Baia Dzagnidze

Thursday 23rd of August 2018

I always wanted to go to Skopje, it looks so cute and cozy. I love exploring less know destinations

Passport Symphony

Friday 24th of August 2018

Go for it, Baia. You won't regret it :)