Large government spending programs attract controversy like bees to honey, and Skopje’s contentious, large-scale building project, called “Skopje 2014” is no exception.
It’s a huge, city-wide effort to improve and upgrade the look of the city, but the primary focus is in the city center. There are three published objectives for the makeover. It was intended to:
- present a more “historic” look
- draw in tourists
- instill a sense of patriotism in ethnic Macedonians.
But not everyone agrees that it was a good idea to spend such huge sums of money on big government and civic buildings as well as hundreds of statues scattered around the capital. We won’t argue the merits of either side here, and we don’t know what Skopje looked like before, but it’s undoubtedly very lovely now.
All of the new construction we saw was along the The Vardar River in central Skopje. Standing proudly on the west side of the river, a number of gleaming, Neo-classical government offices, museums, and a new opera house are the keystone of the program.
Directly across the river from this string of attractive buildings is a tree-lined promenade with so many inviting outdoor attractions and restaurants that it’s difficult to tell where one ends and another begins. This beautiful section of the river could rival any waterfront in Europe.
A few hundred yards north, the nearly 600 year-old Stone Bridge forms the top of the “T” where we left the realm of fancy new buildings and entered the world of grand plazas, huge statues, and geyser-like fountains. We don’t know who designed this wonderland of patriotic kitsch, but it’s a good bet there was a stop in Las Vegas for some inspiration.
On the west end of the T, Macedonia’s most famous native son, Alexander the Great and his rearing warhorse sit mid-fountain on a huge carved pedestal surrounded by warriors at the ready.
The warriors stand guard over a large, snow-white plaza with a kid-friendly fountain in the center and benches on all sides. With all his madcap running and hysterical laughing, this little boy had a hard time staying dry.
At the other end of the T directly in front of the entrance to the Old Bazaar, a giant bronze statue of Alexander’s father, the warrior King Philip of Macedon, overlooks a smaller square.
At the base of the column, a young Alexander sits between his loving mother Olympia and father Philip.
Our favorite fountain paid tribute to the Mothers of Macedonia.
This whole extravagant show was a delightful surprise that brought smiles to our faces time and again. We’ll leave the criticism and controversy to people who know more about Macedonia’s economy, unemployment, and infrastructure problems. Maybe there was a better way to spend some of this money. But in the meantime, if one of the objectives is to attract tourists – well we’re tourists and it certainly got our vote.
James & Terri