The ‘new’ Skopje is not my cup of tea.
I first visited in 2006 and loved the vibe of the place. Authentic, a little run down but an earthy energy to the city.
Fast-forward a decade and what I found was massively different, a horrendous beautification project akin to a woman having plastic surgery to turn her from as nature intended to trout pout, skin-stretched monstrosity. Why?
Skopje, North Macedonia
Imagine having hundreds of millions of euros to invest in improving the infrastructure of your city. You might think about a new train/bus station, improved roads, the introduction of a tram system perhaps.
Imagine instead employing Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, Liberace and Kim Kardashian and asking them to come up with plans on how to turn your city into the envy of other major cities worldwide.
For good measure, you could also indulge them in as many mind-altering drugs as they wanted. The result would probably be very similar to whatever the planners of Skopje have come up with.
Vast Italianate buildings festooned with columns, plinths, statues, frescoes & ornate guttering, grotesque fountains with huge concrete lions belching out water, statue clustered bridges crossing the Vardar River every twenty metres (and another one on the way when we visited), giant wooden galleons resting on concrete stilts above the river to provide sleeping & dining experiences, massive statues towering higher than the buildings, including of course the controversial likeness of Alexander the Great on horseback (virtually every other nation considers him Greek and forger of the Greek Empire).
There are so many statues that the Macedonian equivalents of REO Speedwagon, Ben Stiller and Sharon Osbourne must have been honoured in stone!
The planners would have been on a roll (and still continue). A garish ‘house’ in memory of Mother Teresa, a ruined castle so renovated that it looks 21st Century not 6th when it was actually built, and perhaps the greatest travesty, the beautification of the old Arabic quarter, once wonderfully tumbledown with artisan workshops, crooked buildings, a stony network of alleyways and small craft shops, but now with shiny marble concrete slabs to walk on, purpose built jewellers & coffee shops and a five star luxury hotel overlooking a brand new mosque.
Don’t get me wrong, I applaud progress and absolutely agree that every city (especially the capital) should strive to be the best it can possibly be. What I do not agree with is cramming in more statues than the Holy Roman Empire had in the whole of Byzantium and turning the place into a cross between Vegas, Disneyland and Ybor City.
When I saw they had wedged in an Arc de Triomphe, I started looking round for a Trevi Fountain and a Taj Mahal!
I understand that a lot of the locals hate the grandiose waste of money and this was certainly in evidence judging by the amount of graffiti sprayed onto perfectly white walls and the remains of coloured paint splattered on many of the statues.
I am so pleased that I visited in 2006 when the ancient stone bridge stood in splendid isolation as the only central footbridge spanning the Vardar. The city was in need of a face lift for sure, but one carried out tastefully and in keeping with its history, not some tacky attempt to outdo the Jones’s (or perhaps Belgrade, Zagreb or Ljubljana).
One person’s eyesore can make another’s heart soar, so if you love the new Skopje, then you are right and I am wrong. Enjoy the spectacle if you are in this camp.
Travelling By Train Across The Balkans
Read about my North Macedonia visits and train travels in all Balkan countries in my book now available on Amazon.