Stobi is an archeological site in the middle of Macedonia. Surprisingly underrated, this ancient city was an economic and strategically valuable hub, and once the capital of a Roman province named Macedonia Salutaris. Nowadays, partially preserved buildings fill this massive excavation site, packed densely enough to spark your imagination.
From tall columns and spectacular mosaics, to the monumental amphitheater, Stobi Macedonia is an archeological site that is worth visiting.
The city rests on 3 terraces, surrounded by walls, narrating the colorful history from the Arc, Roman, Byzantine, and Slavic eras. It is a truly rare example of a massive ancient city where several empires have left their mark.
As a tourist attraction, Stobi will teleport you twenty centuries back. With a garden variety of preserved structures, and impressive layout, it will allow you to imagine how life was like during the Archaic period. Easily accessible, affordable, and captivating, it is definitely a Macedonian attraction worth visiting.
The History of Stobi
Established somewhere in the Archaic period, this settlement was an ancient town of Paeonia, annexed later, around 200 BC, by Philip V of Macedon. Covering an area of around 25,000 square meters, the town was a significant economic, strategic and trading center.
This, of course, was largely due to its geographical position. Resting at the junction of two rivers and close to the main road connecting Danube and the Aegean Sea, Stobi was one of the most important settlements in what is nowadays the territory of the Republic of Macedonia. The fertile soil of the central-Vardar valley, has greatly contributed to agriculture as well, setting the foundations for what became a rather prosperous growth.
The name Stobi is an old Paeonian word, similar to a contemporary Macedonian word [столб], meaning pillar or post.
The first history mention was in 197 BC, by the historian Livy, narrating the victory of Philip V of Macedon over the Dardani. This was many years after Stobi enjoyed a thriving economy, driven by the Peonian people and various groups of immigrants.
The Roman era
A Roman conquest followed right after Perseus, the last in the lineage of Antigonid dynasty kings, was defeated in 168 BC. Divided into four independent republics, and then united once again after 20 years, the territory of Macedonia became a Roman province.
The town of Stobi, during this period, and under Augustus reign, would witness a significant expansion. Becoming a municipium, which was the Latin term for city, Stobi will grow its economy, trade, and strategic importance, transforming into the capital for the entire Roman province of Macedonia Salutaris.
Excavations will later witness building remains, and Roman coins which indicate that the city was important enough to have its own coin production facility.
It is also known that the inhabitants of Stobi have enjoyed Lus Italicum. A special privilege given by Rome, which although doesn’t provide citizenship extends a number of legal rights as if Stobi was on Roman soil and not an occupied territory.
Centuries later, in 479 of the new era, the city of Stobi was robbed by the Ostroghotic king Theodoric. Nearly forty years later, another catastrophe happened – the city was hit by a strong earthquake. Losing its former glory due to a number of factors, it was never properly rebuilt.
Few decades later, the Avaro-Slavic invasions destroyed pretty much of the city layout, infrastructure and economy.
Religion in Stobi
As with other settlements of the time, religion was a strong influence in Stobi as well. Buildings, rituals, décor, and artifacts all indicate that Stobi was celebrating different religions as they’ve evolved throughout the area.
There is much religious devotion to be witnessed from the Hellenistic and Roman era, and plenty of Christian remains, with some of the most captivating frescoes and mosaics.
Stobi is one of the few Christian cities from the late antique and early Christian period where you can find a large number of virtually uncorrupted mosaics. Most of the churches were built over antique buildings, and they were known for their delicate interior decoration.
There is also an ancient synagogue dating back between the third and fourth century which indicates a strong Jewish presence.
Stobi today, in modern Macedonia
As you are entering the Stobi archeological site today, there is plenty of history to be witnessed. Much of the city layout is still here, some of the buildings are easily recognized, and part of the streets are excavated and restored, taking you centuries back.
To everyone’s delight, some of the stone carvings and most of the delicate mosaics are surprisingly preserved. And it doesn’t take much to realize that you’ve entered a large archeological site that would take a while to explore.
The focal point is a massive Roman amphitheater. A monumental structure that put’s the importance of Stobi into perspective. It was constructed between the second and third century AD, from white marble blocks transported all the way from what is now Pletvar.
The amphitheater, in its prime, was large enough to seat 7638 people, while fights between gladiators and wild beasts were raging below.
Much of the original seating has been destroyed, as other projects required marble to be redistributed to more important buildings of the time. Nevertheless, what we have today is still impressive, and hard to find elsewhere.
Important places to visit in Stobi
Having mentioned the amphitheater, your expectations can justifiably soar. And considering the rich remains from years and years of excavations at Stobi, you won’t be disappointed.
The central basilica, which can be and entered from the Via Principalis Street, was built on top of an old synagogue.
The Northern basilica, which has three main parts, displays spectacular colonnades and an artrium constructed of marble. You can find the baptistery and the Slavic graves, as well as the church which was built during the beginning of the 5th century.
Another basilica is to be found nearby, which is now named the civil basilica, and you can get there after seeing the Thermae Minores (little baths) that were made of large stone blocks.
One of the main streets in Stobi was the Via Axia, with an east-to-west orientation. However, only a small part of it has been discovered and restored.
The House of the Psalms, which is positioned in front of the central basilica, showcases a delicate yet preserved mosaic floor, colonnades, and a big pool.
Magnae Thermae, which is translated into Big Bath, was in use until late into the 6th century. Today, we can see two rooms, with a statue and pool made of large stone blocks.
Another street, called Via Principalis Inferior was connecting the central basilica to most of the other buildings such as the House of Psalms, the House of Partenius, and the Main town fountain.
The Episcopal basilica, which dates from the 5th century AD, has an impressive baptistery to the south, and one of the rarest mosaic floors showcasing a peacock. This iconic mosaic art is depicted on the Macedonian Denar coin and Macedonian Denar banknote.
Other important remains include the Valavica, the House of Pertenius, the House of Peristerius, the Palace of Theodosius, and the Main town public fountain.
You can study the layout of the Stobi archeological site, and learn more about Stobi excavations by reading Excavations at Stobi, 1973-1974 by James Wiseman and Djordje Mano-Zissi published in the Journal of Field Archaeology.
But even if you don’t fancy history books and lengthy writings on archeological findings, there is still plenty of fun to be had while at Stobi. The archeological site is perfect for discovering Macedonia in another light, by connecting with the past, and imagining what life was like in ancient times. The nocturnal illuminations of the city walls and most of the monuments make the entire scene even more attractive.
Getting to Stobi
Positioned in central Macedonia, Stobi is close to the town of Kavadarci, Negotino, and Veles. You can get here by taxi, and it will cost around $12 dollars taken from Kavadarci and covering 20 kilometers.
Driving from the capital Skopje is also easy as the Skopje-Stobi distance is 82 kilometers, and you can travel by car, getting there in exactly one hour. Veles is even closer, at nearly half the road. The E75 corridor makes Stobi easily approachable, and signs are all over the place. GPS navigation can get you there as well.
You can also travel by train, as the closest populated area is the village of Gradsko and it has a train route passing through, as well as train station. The line, if you are familiar with train routes connects Salzburg to Thessaloniki, which is rather convenient as people often connect the dots on their archeological exploration tours heading down to Greece.
All of the local guides understand and speak English, and you can contact the National Institution of Stobi if you want to arrange tours, workshops and other types of educational visits.
Currently, there are many groups with children from different schools coming from within and outside of Macedonia organizing workshops where they lean history, paint, and create mosaics in stone. However, there are other, more serious academic programs where you can learn from renowned professors who are well known in the field of archeology.
Spring and summer season
Monday to Sunday, 08:30 – 20:30
Autumn and winter season
Monday to Sunday, 08:30 – 16:30
- Tickets for adults are $2.5
- Tickets for students and seniors are $1
- Tickets for adults, in groups larger than 10 cost $2
*Free for children under 6 and all ICOMOS members
You can call the National Institution of Stobi at +389 43 251 088 to arrange a tour or ask questions.
There are many Macedonian attractions nearby, satisfying your adventurous, gastronomic, and cultural cravings, so visiting Stobi makes a lot of sense especially considering the site, the affordable price, and the central position on the map.
You can jump to nearby Prilep and see the magnificent marble lake, or head south-west to the town of Bitola. Going back on the road to Skopje is also an option, visiting both the Chateau Sopot winery and the Stobi winery near Veles, where you can arrange for accommodation before getting back on the road. Regardless of your arrangement, you’re in for a day of fun, discovery, and some spectacular archeological exploration.