Monumental Skopje

Waiting in the Ljubljana Airport on the way to Skopje, I met another professor who had just come from Macedonia. He remarked about the number of statues in the Skopje. Well, I didn’t believe him until I ventured around the city. The monuments are overwhelming.

My first stop was the square near the Mother Theresa Memorial House (more on that later). In the square, a new Orthodox Church was being built in classic Byzantine style. The decoration was just stunning.

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Down the street, you’ll find Skopje’s own Charging Bull statute. Though, it’s not outside the stock market like in most countries. Here, it protects a shoe store.

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Not surprisingly, one of the largest monuments is to Alexander the Great located in Macedonia Square near the Vardar River. Built in 2011, it has a fountain and lights. It was completed to mark the 20th anniversary of Macedonia’s independence from Yugoslavia.

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You can tour the Mother Teresa Memorial House, which though not located where her childhood home sat, contains a number of artifacts from the house as well as numerous items, like this stained glass, paying tribute to her.

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Fountains and statutes mark nearly every bridge in Skopje. This is on the Bridge of Civilizations looking toward the old Stone Bridge. As you can see, the street dogs in Macedonia have no shortage of water (or fun). This guy was tagged, which means he was neutered and current on vaccinations. He was also well-fed and quite sociable.

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The Stone Bridge in Skopje dates back to 1469 under Sultan Mehmed II.

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But, given that Macedonia is an earthquake-prone country, much of it has been reconstructed. As for earthquakes, I experienced a small one while in the city. Earthquake Track lists a magnitude-5.1 quake in Burrel, Albania, that we felt in Skopje.

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Once you cross the (unimpressive) Vardar River, you are in the Old Bazaar area of Skopje. The area is still full of sculptures, including the giant Olympius Monument pictured below.

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The Old Bazaar area is the best place to try local cuisine and drink, and the prices are insanely cheap. I tried the Macedonian version of Rakija, a fruit-based spirit, which is less strong than its Albanian counterpart. Most shops serve homemade Rakija because it is far cheaper than commercially produced.

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After downing a shot or two — any more would put hair on your chest and make you weak in the knees — I headed to the fortress. I must admit, having seen a number of fortresses and castles on this trip, that Skopje’s was perhaps the least impressive. But, it gets points for being the most accessible because the hike up was minimal.

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Along the Vardar River, you can find many impressive looking buildings. However most are quite new in their construction. A major earthquake in 1963 (magnitude-6.1), destroyed more than 80 percent of the city’s buildings and killed more than 1,000 people.

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The fountain at the bottom of the Alexander the Great monument contrasts nicely with the Coca-Cola and other signs in the square, which is home to Skopje’s fanciest hotels (and not where I stayed while visiting).

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Skopje even has its own triumphal arch, known as Porta Macedonia. Built in 2012, it cost nearly 4.5 million Euros. Not surprisingly, in a country with economic struggles, residents are often less than enthused about all the money spent on these monuments.

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Near Porta Macedonia is a lovely park full of monuments. But, this one — Monument of the Woman Freedom Fighter — struck me the most. A60C167A-391B-4D1A-B28D-4A28C38A7DA9

Skopje is a fabulous city — overwhelming at times because of all the sculpture. But, its residents are warm and welcoming. The food is delicious, and the history is rich.

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BoundfortheBalkans

American expat. University professor. World traveller. Dog lover. Eating and drinking my way through the Balkans for 7 weeks.

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