Macedonia is a small country in the Balkan region of Europe. It covers 9,800 square miles (25,300 sq. km), making it a bit larger than the state of Vermont. It shares borders with Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia. It should not be confused with the Macedonian region of neighboring Greece, and is sometimes referred to as the Republic of Macedonia to distinguish it.
The area has been inhabited by people for millennia, eventually being settled by tribes of Illyrian and Thracian origin. In the 4th century BCE Philip II of Macedon began to expand his borders, conquering nearby regions. His son, Alexander the Great, continued that work, eventually ruling over the Persian Empire, Egypt, and even parts of India. Rome eventually took control of Macedonia around 150 BCE, holding it for centuries.
Slavic tribes moved into the area beginning in the 6th century, and by the 9th century it had become a part of the Bulgarian Empire. This began a period of sharing between Slavic and Bulgarian culture, which would form much of the country's modern day culture. By the beginning of the 11th century the Byzantine Empire had conquered Macedonia and absorbed it into the Empire.
When the Byzantine Empire collapsed, Macedonia moved to the control of Serbian nobility, until being conquered by the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. Serbia reclaimed the country in 1912, just before World War I, and at the end of the war it was assimilated into the new Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Following World War II, the Yugoslav Communist Party took control of the region, and created an autonomous zone for the People’s Republic of Macedonia. The reemergence of a distinct Macedonian identity was seen by some within Greece as a preamble to a Yugoslav claim to parts of Greece that had historically been a part of Macedonia, but although there were many bad feelings, no official land grab ever occurred.
In 1991 the country held a referendum to assert its independence from Yugoslavia. It attempted to enter the world as a republic. The Greeks saw this as another political ploy, and blocked its attempts. By 1993 the UN had come to a compromise, recognizing the nation officially as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, although this failed to satisfy Greece. Since then more than one-hundred nations have recognized the nation by its Constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia.
Following the Kosovo War in Serbia, relations between Albanians living in the area and ethnic Macedonians worsened. This led to the formation of the Albanian National Liberation Army in 2001, who formed a military presence and began demanding formalized rights for ethnic Albanians. After a brief conflict and NATO support, a ceasefire was reached, with Albanians receiving more guaranteed rights.
Like many nations in the Balkans, it is advisable to check on the most recent political situation before planning a trip to the area. However, in the past few years the ethnic strife that had threatened for some time to boil over has subsided, and the country can be considered relatively safe. There are a number of attractions in the region, including a number of monasteries which are nearly a thousand years old, such as the Sveti Jovan Bigorski Monastary, which is still fully operational. There are also many scenic small towns, with Ohrid being the hands-down favorite among tourists; its lovely cobble-stone streets, beautiful beaches, and awe-inspiring Byzantine churches make it a true experience.
Flights arrive in Ohrid daily from many international airports in Europe, and local airlines operate flights from nearby countries. Busses and trains run around the Balkan region, and occasionally go as far as Germany.