Quirky architecture of Skopje, Republic of North Macedonia

FEATURED ARTICLES, STAFF, EUROPE, QUIRKY PLACES — By on June 29, 2018 at 23:23

Text & photos Copyright © Estrella Azul

IN A PREVIOUS travel article I talked about discovering Skopje, Republic of North Macedonia’s Ottoman influences, the biggest of influences still left standing.

Today, I want to tell you why I deemed Skopje as having the quirkiest architecture I have ever seen—the Ottoman bazaar with its winding cobblestone streets seems a world away from the other side of the old Stone Bridge.

View from the Old Bazaar and across the Stone Bridge towards Macedonia Square

View from the Old Bazaar and across the Stone Bridge towards Macedonia Square

Since 4000 BC, and through to 1991 when the city became the capital of the independent Macedonia, Skopje has been seized and annexed to over seven historiographical administrative divisions and states. Naming the country is still an ongoing discussion until an upcoming referendum to formally accept the change to “Republic of North Macedonia.”

All of these have left their mark on the city and its architecture.

Socialist modernism and currently unfinished buildings

Socialist modernism and currently unfinished buildings

Skopje also went through various re-building phases following earthquakes in 1555 and 1963, and after bombing hit it during the First and the Second World Wars. Very few historical monuments were left, and reconstruction between 1960 and 1980 left the city with modernist, yet grey streets. Such a building is the Central Post Office, with a design best described as “Soviet modernism.”

Central Post Office, a Soviet modernist building

Central Post Office, a Soviet modernist building

One recent renovation project was the controversial Skopje 2014, which the authorities deemed necessary to help bring in more tourists and give the city a more monumental and historical atmosphere. The purpose of the project was to give the capital Skopje a more classical appeal by the year 2014.

“Warrior on a horse” statue in Macedonia Square

Locals were glad to see long-destroyed buildings rebuilt, but felt the cost was too high. The newly-built baroque, neoclassical buildings were simply nationalistic-historicist kitsch rather than historically accurate.

Hardly-fitting architectural styles

Hardly-fitting architectural styles

Drawing similarity between all of these hardly-fitting elements and Las Vegas’s monumental scale or a theme park came to mind several times during our stay. How else would you explain having old-style wooden sailing ships resembling pirate ships on the Vardar, in a landlocked country in the Balkans?

On the upside, they act as a hotel, restaurants and cafes, so they could never be described as a boring feature.

“Pirate ship” on the Vardar River

I don’t know how many tourists the Skopje 2014 project brings in by itself, but to my boyfriend and I it sure was interesting to walk around among the many new monuments four years later.

Scratching the surface with statue examples from all over Skopje

Scratching the surface with statue examples from all over Skopje

We took to trying to find all the bronze statues, only to lose count and keep noticing new ones—even noticing a new one on the last day of our stay. They adorn especially bridges but also roads, parks, squares and the rooftops of buildings. One and a bit can even be found in the Vardar River itself.

Bronze statue in the Vardar River (the paintball vandalism actually looks cute on this lady)

Bronze statue in the Vardar River
(the paintball vandalism actually looks cute on this lady)

Locals protested by using paintball guns on the newly erected statues, bridges and buildings—one can still see some of the mess on these. Or maybe some people still take to “hunting” monuments in their free time.

While I can understand their emotions, I personally can’t understand this form of protest, since the government needed to spend even more money to get the monuments cleaned up.

 New monuments beautifully lit up at night

New monuments beautifully lit up at night

I have to agree that on the one hand, the city could’ve invested more money into restoring old heritage, since Skopje does have some lesser delights when it comes to archaeological sites and existing monuments. Probably any place in the world has such sites, however.

Contrast of new facade on old socialist buildings

Contrast of new facade on old socialist buildings

On the other hand, I believe the place does look better than it would if only the old socialist grey buildings were left lining the streets. You can see one of the best examples of the contrast between the newly-added facades and the old buildings on either side of it in the photo above.

The city of Skopje is still beautiful, too

The city of Skopje is still beautiful, too

An interesting fact is that Skopje’s train station is built on an elevated platform over bridges and allows for the separation of traffic and pedestrians. It forms the upper level of an integrated transportation center, with public transport buses arriving and departing from underneath it. Here’s a good aerial view of Skopje’s train station.

Enjoying the street views, riding a double-decker in Skopje

Enjoying the street views, riding a double-decker in Skopje

This train station took the place of the old one closer to the city center, which partially collapsed in the earthquake of 1963. It was left in its semi-destroyed state and currently houses the City Museum and serves as memorial to the disaster. The clock on its central facade stopped at 5:17, the exact time the earthquake struck.

The old Railway Station, now functioning as a museum

The old Railway Station, now functioning as a museum

Very modern, even futuristic buildings are beginning to shape Skopje’s newer neighborhoods, such as in Aerodrom, the most urban municipality. This is where we noticed the most new flats being under construction, including Cevahir Sky City, the tallest-to-be building complex in the country.

Cevahir Towers, behind a cross resembling Millenium Cross

Cevahir Towers, behind a cross resembling Millenium Cross

Several such buildings are creeping their way into the city center as well among the utilitarian housing blocks of the communist era. One such example is the Memorial House of Mother Teresa, a modern, transformed version of Mother Teresa’s birth house—a complete contrast to Mother Teresa herself and all she stood for.

Memorial House of Mother Teresa

Memorial House of Mother Teresa

All this being said, I greatly enjoyed discovering the true history, hospitality and the atmosphere behind the made-over facades and eccentric embellishments. I would go back in a heartbeat!

———

Estrella in the Greek Amphitheatre ruins, Taormina, Sicily

Estrella Azul is a young emerging writer, passionate about reading, floral art and photography, with an artistic personality and a soulful outlook on life. She is a Hungarian girl living and writing from Cluj-Napoca, Romania, the capital of historical region Transylvania. Estrella is our European correspondent, she currently serves as the photo editor here at Milliver’s Travels, and she dreams of embarking on a round-the-world trip. To read more of her creative writing, her thoughts and daily happenings, visit Life’s a stage – WebBlog©. Read more of her stories on Milliver’s Travels by visiting Estrella’s story index.


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