Roman Aqueduct in Skopje

The Roman Aqueduct is some sort of a ghost landmark of Skopje. It is known that it exists. It is even taken as a symbol for the water supply company of the City. However, not a lot of people have seen it, nor there are a lot of people that actually know where it is. Though, this is very much justified, because one really needs to look in order to find the right road to get there.

To get to the Roman Aqueduct is not a simple thing. There are no signs for directions or any kind of hint, that along the dusty and dirty roads there lies something so magnificent and so beautiful. I remember the first time I went there. I had a detailed map, yet it took me quite some guessing I got there. Even the road was not an obvious one. It is a simple dirt road that just stretches along the River Serava (when approaching from West). So the only way one can see the Roman Aqueduct is if one goes with the intention to get lost, explore, and eventually be surprised of the finding.

Either way. The road is not really a road, and even I can not think of a simple way to explain how anyone can get there. Perhaps, the most simple idea is to try to circle around (on either side) the “Ilinden” army barracks, and once you start to think you are lost and it is best to turn back home, it will appear on sight. And in that moment standing close enough, a magnificent view appears. From North too South, a very long, bridge like construction, just lying there in the open field.

On my last visit, it was a wonderful, sunny, winter day. I really wanted to make this trip then, because the sun was quite low on the horizon, even at mid day, and it gave a wonderful light for making photographs. Besides, the distance of only 5 km from the centre of Skopje makes it a perfect destination for an ad hock decision. The down side is that, it really is in the city, though it feels like being outside of Skopje.

The Roman Aqueduct is not, or most probably newer was, Roman. It has, though forever, been referred to as the Roman Aqueduct, and probably it will continue to be called as the Roman Aqueduct. The Aqueduct hides well the mystery about its origin. The dating of the Aqueduct is not clear, though there are several assumptions. (Steenberghen et. al., 2010, p.14)

The oldest dating is related to the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. According to this assumption, the aqueduct was built some time in the sixth century to bring water from the Mountain Skopska Crna Gora to the town of Justiniana Prima. (Steenberghen et. al., 2010, p.14)

Another, different dating is related to the arrival of the Ottoman Empire in Skopje. In fact, there are several assumptions related to the Ottoman Empire and the aqueduct. One says that it was built in the 15 century by Mustafa Pasha. Other places the construction in the 16 century due to the growing demand for fresh water for the numerous baths that were built in Skopje at the time. (Steenberghen et. al., 2010, p.14)

The assumptions about the dating related to the Ottoman Empire are disputed, since there are writings from the 19 and early 20 century that the aqueduct was repaired on numerous occasions during the Ottoman presence, since it was in use until some time early 20 century. (Steenberghen et. al., 2010, p.15)

The last repair is very obvious. It is from 1968, when the army decided to make a demonstration of taking down bridges (Steenberghen et. al., 2010, p.14). Logical, right – blow up a 1400 years old structure and then restore it. Those few columns stand out like brand new in comparison to the others.

Today, the aqueduct is as it was hundreds of years ago. Naturally, on the same place. It is long 386 meters, with 54 arches. It is considered that it was a part of a larger water supply system, going for about 10 km bringing water to Skopje (or whatever was there when it was first built) from Skopska Crna Gora. (Steenberghen et. al., 2010, p.14)

There is absolutely nothing else there. Just a field, the fence of the army barracks and the aqueduct. It is peaceful and perhaps only an army guard may look upon you. My guess is that for many more years to come it will stay like that – without a sign for directions and with some litter here and there, like an abandoned field. But just because of that. Just because of the isolation and difficulty to get there, the Roman Aqueduct is worth seeing. The culture, history and beauty come like a bonus. Though, you might want to get some device to guide you, and take this GPS coordinates to help out in the search: N 42.02245 and E 21.4188.

Steenberghen, T. et. al., 2010. Strategic vision for the preservation and rehabilitation of the Skopje aqueduct and environment. [online] Skopje: Strategic plan for the preservation and rehabilitation of the archaeological site and environment around the Roman aqueduct in Skopje.

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