Matka Canyon (Macedonian: Матка) is a canyon located west of central Skopje, North Macedonia. Aside from being a major attraction for its stunning nature, it is also noted for the numerous important medieval churches and monasteries that are located in and around it. The canyon is located within Saraj Municipality, one of the ten that make up the City of Skopje. Despite being within the city, this area is not urban at all.
Matka Canyon is characterized by towering rocks above the Treska River, which was dammed in 1938 creating the first artificial lake in the country. The area is home to unique biology and multiple caves, of which Vrelo Cave is the deepest.
Saraj is the largest municipality by area in Skopje. It is the only completely rural one, containing expansive nature like Matka Canyon, and was added to the city limits in the early 2000s. As Saraj as a whole is primarily Albanian-inhabited, its controversial addition to the city limits bumped the proportion of Albanians in Skopje to 20%.
- Saraj can be reached via lines 2, 11, 12, 56, and 60.
Matka Canyon can be explored by hiking and by boat.
1 Matka Canyon (Матка кањон). One of the most popular outdoor destinations in Macedonia, Matka Canyon is formed by the river Treska, a tributary of the Vardar which has been dammed forming a lake also called Matka. It is home to 10 caves with depths of 20 m (66 ft) to likely over 176 m (578 ft) and a great diversity of wildlife including 77 indigenous specifies of butterfly. Aside from the nature, a major draw of the canyon is its numerous medieval churches and monasteries.
- 2 Saint Andrew's Monastery (Манастир „Св. Андреја“). Located on the west bank of the Treska gorge, Saint Andrew is a well-frequented monastery due to its scenic and easily accessible location at the foot of the rocks and mountains standing above the gorge. It was built in 1389 by King Vukašin's son Andrew and contains very well-preserved and highly regarded frescoes. The area around the monastery contains a restaurant, a cafe, and canoe/kayak rentals.
- 3 Šiševo Monastery (Шишевски Манастир). This monastery, which contains the Church of Saint Nicholas, was likely established in the 14th century, possibly by King Marko. It was abandoned a couple times during its history and the monastery complex, excluding the church, were burned down in 1844. The church, in the Byzantine style, has an octagonal dome and a porch. Above the entrance is a large mural of St Nicholas. Situated high above the canyon at the foot of a large rock, it is a popular rest stop for hikers.
- 4 Church of Saint Nedela (Црква „Св. Недела“). A ruined church on the west side of the canyon. While just walls and arches remain, there are icons within it as well as places to light candles. It is thus still an attraction for the religious and hikers alike. The church sits within a larger archaeological site known as Markov Grad, which extends down to Saint Andrew's Monastery. This basically consists of fortification ruins,
- 5 Church of the Holy Saviour (Црква „Св. Спас“). On the west side of the canyon, this small church dates from the 14th century. It was in rough shape for many years but is now well maintained. There are remains of other churches near it. A bell tower was built beside the church in 2010.
- 6 Matka Monastery (Манастир Матка). This monastery, dedicated to the Holy Mother of God, sits on the west side of the Treska River, just above the riverbank. The canyon may derive its name from this monastery. It is home to an active female monastic sisterhood. The 14th century monastery is one of the more easily accessible of the canyon area. According to an inscription on the church, someone named Milica found the church in poor condition and without a roof in 1497. She replaced the roof, added new frescoes, built a portico and created a vineyard. The church within is in the Byzantine style and has an octagonal dome. Matka Monastery is visited by thousands on the Feast of the Dormition in August.
- 7 Church of Saint Athanasius (Црква „Св. Атанасиј“). Just east of the Treska River on a small hill within the village of Šiševo is the Church of Saint Athanasius. It dates from the 14th century, with its impressive frescoes originally being painted in 1565. The church features a single large cupola atop its pitched roof.
- 8 Vrelo Cave (Врело (пештери)). With a thus far discovered depth of 230 m (755 ft), Vrelo is one of the deepest caves in Europe. The system consists of one cave underwater and one above water. A boat can be hired from near Saint Andrew's Monastery that will take visitors to the cave opening; the ride is about 20 minutes. There is a staircase and light fixtures upon entering. The cave interior consists of grand halls and tighter sections, covered by stalactites and stalagmites.
- 9 Hussein Shah Mosque (Хусеин Шах џамија), village of Saraj. This 16th century mosque was built by a prominent Ottoman figure. It was damaged multiple times in its history. The mosque has a main dome, a single minaret, and a porch. The courtyard contains numerous old graves.
- 10 Dona Duka Cave (Дона Дука), village of Rašče. On the eastern slopes of Žeden Mountain is the country's fourth-largest cave. It is a complex system with multiple canals.