Shtip, the city below the Isar
Štip (or Shtip) is the largest urban agglomeration in the eastern part of North Macedonia, serving as the economic, industrial, entertainment and educational focal point for the surrounding municipalities. As of the 2002 census, the Štip municipality alone had a population of about 47,796.
The city is located at the intersection of the Lakavica, Ovče Pole, and Kočani valleys. Two rivers pass through Shtip: the Bregalnica which is the second largest in North Macedonia and the Otinja which divides the city center.
It is probable that the capital of the Paeonian royal house was in the area of Astibus. The area itself is first mentioned in the writings of the historian Polien from the 3rd century BC, who talks of a river named "Astibo" which is presumed to be the river Bregalnica today. Polien also states that the Paeonian emperors were crowned in Astibo. The first mention of a settlement dates to the reign of Roman emperor Tiberius (14-37 AD), when Estipeon is mentioned as an important settlement in the Roman province of Paeonia and the second stop on the Roman road from Stobi to Pautalia.
The Paeonians were situated in the region west of the fertile river Axius basin, around the 5th and 4th centuries BC. The two tribes that lived along the river Astibo, an estuary to the Axius, were the Derrones, named after their god of healing, Darron, and the Laeaeans, who minted their own heavy coins as a sign of their sovereignty following the example of the Greek city-states on Chalkidiki. Although these tribes were heavily weakened by the Persian invasion of 480 BC, led by King Xerxes I, they remained a formidable power and a well-organized people, renowned for the production of their exceptionally heavy coins with emblems including domesticated specimens of the wild aurochs for which Paeonia was also famous. They were absorbed into the Macedonian empire by Alexander I before 360 BC.
The hill Isar, with its early medieval fortress on top, dominates the city and provides for the common reference as The city under the Isar.
Between the two rivers, 150 meters high on the rocky hill over the town, the Stip Fortress, or better known as the Isar stands guard. The exact time of the construction of the fortress is unknown. It can only be said that it dates from the early Middle Ages, having all the characteristics of medieval art. Located high above, it guarded the town of Stip in the state of Tsar Samuil. In the 13th Century the fortress was under Bulgarian administration and after that under the Serbian ruler Stefan Decanski. In 1382 it was conquered by the Ottomans.
Three churches were built under the fortress as protectors from three sides: The Church of St. Vlasius is to the north (today only its foundations can be seen), The Church of Holy Archangel Michael to the east and The Church of St. John The Baptist to the south. During Ottoman times the fortress was destroyed and till today it remains mostly in ruins with very little preserved parts of the construction.
The environs area of Shtip are home to:
- Bargala, a Byzantine fortified town constructed between the 4th and 6th century
- Novo Selo is another nearby destination. A small village that has many houses built in traditional Macedonian style
Besides the the three churches, the Isar and the surrounding areas, the city itself has many things to visit, see and experience. For instance one cannot visit Shtip without trying the Shtipska pastarmaliya which is the local dish known countrywide. It is made out of a special dough topped with different types of meat and is a salty and delicious meal that usually goes well with hot green peppers.Walking down the centre of Shtip you can visit the Museum of Shtip that has many artifacts from the nearby archaeological dig Astibo, the clock tower that was initially built as a protection tower for the local Ottoman Bay and the old Bezisten that used to be a closed market but today is used as an art gallery. The central area of Shtip is also full of coffee bars, coffee shops and clubs full of nightlife.
Field Schools in this Region