Skopje Kale (Fortress) takes one of the dominant positions in the center of the City of Skopje.
Archaeological excavations have shown that the castle was inhabited since prehistoric times, during the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. This is illustrated by the remains of structures build from earth, huts and palisades.
From that time until the building of the first fortified town, whose ruins we find today, it was a very long time, a few millennia. Kale lived due to its excellent strategic position in the rich plain. But the history of the castle until the building of the first fortress is not well known.
What in this sense speak written sources: Comes Marcellinus, Procopius, Evliya Çelebi and other historians and travelers, generally agree with what can be seen on today Skopje Fortress.
Studies have shown that for building of this fortress, were used stone blocks from the ruins of the city Skupi, whose site is located near the fortress.
Taking into account the historical sources that provide data for the barbarian attacks, we can come to conclusion that shortly after the building of the fortress, it was demolished or in most damaged, which can be seen by its repairs and re buildings of certain parts.
It is not known the exact date of the building of the medieval city of Skopje Fortress.
However, it may be considered that it is the period when these areas were re-occupied by Byzantium.
In the eleventh century Skopje is an important administrative and military center. Across the major efforts to preserve its territories, Byzantium undertakes building fortresses key positions. In this period, according to many researchers, the Skopje medieval fortress was built also, which, naturally, included the already existing early Byzantine fortress, which at that time was probably in ruins or less damaged. Based on archaeological evidence some fortress parts date back to the X-XI century.
Being important strategic position at the junction of the roads, the fortress was besieged and attacked many times, as by the Barbarians, and also later by medieval Serbian rulers and finally by the Turks.
Through several centuries of existence of this fort, we have no direct data on the appearance and life. Therefore we will mention some historical data that we think might be closely associated with the fortress.
Thus, after the fall of Samuel’s state in 1018 AD, the city was occupied by the rebels under the leadership of Peter Deljan (1040-41).
A few years later these parts were attacked by the Cumans destroying everything in their way.
Not yet stabilized after the raid of the Cumans, came the Macedonian Slav incited rebellion again in 1072, which had been suffocated by Nicephorus Vrijenie. That same year were the Scythian and Pechenegs (lat. Pacinacae) raids in these parts, when Skopje and Nis were destroyed. Just a few years later the Normans capture Skopje and Polog region, and what was left after this campaign destroys the Serb ruler (Zupan) Vukan.
By the end of the XIII century, Skopje often was captured and re captured by the Byzantine and Bulgaria and vice versa. In 1282 King Milutin captured Skopje and annexed it to the Serbian state. After the change of several rulers, Skopje in 1392 fell into the hands of Ottoman Turks.
Detailed description of the Skopje Kale (Fortress) gives the traveler writer Evliya Çelebi:
“It is a fortified city, firm and strong with double ramparts. City Gate and walls are built of well formed stone which shines like polished. Such refinement and art in processing cannot be seen in any other city. The city lies in the center of Skopje. It is a high capital building with five pentagon shape. Wall, which surrounds the city on all sides, is high up to fifty “arshins (1 аршин = 65 – 75 cm)”. The city is decorated with seventy bastions and three Demir (Iron) ports south-east side, and in the courtyard every high port are a lot of guards. The door and walls of the lobby are decorated with a variety of weapons and tools needed for the weapons. There is no other position which dominates the town as the Fortress which stands tall on the rocks so that it sees the whole plain.
On the western side flows the river Vardar. That side has a path leading through the caves to the “water tower” which is located on the banks of the river. Because that side of town is broke, scary with big depths, there are no trenches there. The eastern, southeastern and northern side of the city, are deep trenches. On that side, the gate is a wooden bridge thrown over trench. Guards sometimes raise the bridge with Winch and so create a dam in front of the gate. Above this port is inscription which tells when this port was repaired:
“Wise son Mehmed Khan in the year one eight hundred and fifty” (1446 AD).
In this position this fortress was found by the Austrian general Piccolomini in 1689, and from his letter to the Emperor Leopold we can see that:
“… fortress is built on an old way, now completely defenseless and without water, there is no room for cavalry “…
From travel writers visiting the fortress in the nineteenth century we learn that here were magazines and gun powder depot, war hospital and prison.
The 1963 Skopje earthquake had made the fortified city great harm. After the earthquake, measures were taken for the conservation and restoration of its walls. After that event were conducted archaeological excavations.
From May 2007 started extensive excavations of the fortress Kale, which are supposed to highlight a number of issues related to this site.