If you are looking for a piece of history, that’s been greatly preserved and conveniently located near the capital, an impressive brick and stone structure awaits. An archeological site 2km from central Skopje, the village of Vizbegovo is home to one of the last remaining aqueducts on the Balkan Peninsula. Offering great photo opportunities and medieval ambient to immerse yourself into, the Roman aqueduct is a sight to behold.
Mathematically satisfying and equally grandiose, the aqueduct commands respect. The sheer scale of the construction is unprecedented, and all it takes is a single glance in order to appreciate it.
Surprisingly preserved, it blends perfectly with the wilderness around. A layer of thick grass is covering the top, applying what can only be described as a post-apocalyptic camera filter. And stretching for an impressive length of 386 meters, with a height of about 5 meters and 54 arches in near-perfect condition, the Roman aqueduct can be considered as one of the most important archeological sites in Macedonia and the region.
The historical significance partially stems from the fact that it is the only preserved aqueduct on the territory of Macedonia. Zooming out, only two others remain in what is now the former Yugoslav republic – one in Croatia, near Split, known as the Diocletianus aqueduct, and the other in Montenegro known as the Bar aqueduct. All of them, including the Roman aqueduct in Skopje, were parts of larger water systems stretching for miles on end.
The origin of the Roman Aqueduct near Skopje
When historical facts tangle, they do so beyond recognition. The Roman aqueduct, therefore, has to be examined through the lens of historical context. To put it mildly, no one has a definitive clue on the true story behind its origin.
Three theories, however, provide answers.
According to the first theory, the Roman aqueduct near Skopje was built around the 1st century AC, and its purpose was to feed water to the legionary settlement of Skupi.
Another theory, however, puts the origin date during the reign of Emperor Justinian the First, or the Byzantine period. The timeframe is somewhere between the 527th and 554th year. As this theory would have it, the aqueduct shipped water to the new settlement of Justiniana Prima.
The third theory places the origin date much later, during the reign of the Ottoman Empire. Backed by logistical justification (there was a large number of Turkish public baths built around this period), it is believed that the origin date is around the 16th century.
And though the three theories diverge wildly, one thing is certain – the aqueduct was part of a larger water system, connecting the Skopje-based settlement with the spring site north of the city, well into the foothills of Skopska Crna Gora. The spring called Lavovec, was located near the village of Gluvo. Assuming that the aqueduct followed this trajectory without interruption, it implies that the length of the longest line measured around 10 kilometers – which is beyond impressive considering the sheer scale of the construction.
No wonder it found itself on a postcard during the Kingdom of Yugoslavia period (1918-1943).
The water was transported with the help of large pipes carried on the top of the aqueduct, and the stream was uninterrupted regardless of the elevation and terrain. Some believe that from one end to another, the aqueduct connected the mountain of Skopska Crna Gora with the Kale Fortress.
The aqueduct was restored only once, after the devastating earthquake in 1963, but it is interesting to note that only 3 of the arches suffered from the violent shakes, while the rest remained intact.
How to visit the Roman aqueduct?
Let’s first stop for a moment and discuss the name. While nobody knows the exact title for this magnificent object, it’s been called by a number of different names. Nowadays, however, it has already entered Macedonian culture as the Roman aqueduct. Calling it by another name can generally cause confusion.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about directions and what to expect.
First of all, the Roman aqueduct near Skopje is open to the public. Army zones often stretched left and right around the archeological site, and the accessibility, depending on your point of approach, can vary.
No signs and directions are placed around the archeological site, and it is relatively hard to find even if you follow a map.
To our knowledge, several plans were made to restore the site and turn it into a tourist attraction, but they all took the back seat to the comically grandiose project of Skopje 2014. While the center of the city was decorated beyond recognition, much of everything else was seriously neglected.
That being said, the infrastructure connecting this archeological site to the center of Skopje is lacking, and you have to either explore the wilderness and get there by foot, or call a taxi and follow a dirt road. Visiting during day hours is much recommended for you don’t like to be here once the sun starts to set.
How the authorities are neglecting this archeological marvel still puzzles tourists and citizens alike, but let’s hope that things are going to change.
If you take the bus (line number 18), you should go to the village of Vizbegovo, which is the last stop on the route, and ask locals for directions. Hiring a guide can be helpful, but it is not really necessary if you follow the map and sacrifice a bit of time.
And though getting there might be taxing and frustrating for some, the sight of the aqueduct is well worth it. Located in the middle of nowhere, it will immerse you into a medieval setting like no other.
The photo opportunities look surreal, and the entire site is unforgettable, taking you centuries back, only to marvel at the grandiose infrastructure of the past, seeing how it stretches far ahead. If you are staying in Skopje for a while longer, definitely go and pay this place a visit. You will be happy that you did.