Donnerstag, 21. April 2016

The many monuments of Macedonia

A more inviting city centre is hard to come by.
The Vardar River flows lazily through. Folks mill about from early morning until the after-dark blaze of neon lights.


One side of the river holds a plethora of restaurants and cafes; the other side boasts a museum, national theatre and government buildings in neoclassical and baroque style. 
And here, there and everywhere are stunning monuments of historic figures and national heroes. 
I am amazed to learn most of these edifices and statues have been constructed as part of an urban renewal project dubbed Skopje 2014, only officially announced in 2010.
All the statues are impressive, but the one of Philip II of Macedon is outstanding. Towering above in gleaming bronze with his fist raised, I envision him mouthing a phrase attributed to him, “Divide and conquer.”


And he did just that — being the first to conquer the Greek states and later uniting them.
He was king of Macedon from 359BC until his assassination in 336BC, when his son Alexander the Great continued his mission for empire building in the worthiest of manners.
Across the river in Macedonia Square (Ploštad Makedonija), an eight-storey monument dwarfs its surroundings.
“Alexander the Great,” is offered by locals, as we stand mesmerized by a heroic figure perched on a rearing steed atop a gigantic fountain with soldiers and lions around its base.
Two bridges cross the Vardar from this central area. The showy Art Bridge is a pedestrian walkway lined with statues of famous painters, sculptors, writers and philosophers — 29 in total.
Within a stone’s throw is a second crossing — the Old Stone Bridge (Kameni Most) built on Roman foundations by the Ottoman in the late 15th century.
It leads us to aršija (Old Bazaar), where the Ottoman past lingers in architecture and colourful market streets.
From here, my husband Rick and I climb a lengthy set of steps with bustling eateries built on platforms that jut out from the hillside.
The jovial mood of the customers is catchy and our resistance to the tantalizing aromas lasts but a minute.
We are soon feasting on a delectable bean, onion and dried red pepper dish served in the earthenware bowl in which it was baked.
Fortified for the remaining climb, we reach the Kale Fortress, originally built on a hilltop in the 6th century by the Byzantine rulers of the day.
Some towers and walls have been restored, while others remain in the crumbled state of battles once fought.
From the fortress cliff, although the day is misty, we are eye-to-eye with the Millennium Cross.
This 66-metre (217 ft.) high cross was erected on Vodno Mountain in 2001, for the 2000th Anniversary of Christianity in Macedonia and the world. 
At night, it is illuminated with 20,000 light bulbs.
Another day, we seek out the triumphal arch, Porta Macedonia, completed in 2012 to commemorate 20 years of independence from the former Yugoslavia, the newly formed country taking the name Republic of Macedonia.
We walk to see the Old Railway Station with its clock that remains at the time it stopped at 5:17 a.m. on July 26, 1963, when the catastrophic earthquake struck.
Eighty per cent of the city was destroyed, more than 1,000 people died, thousands were injured and 200,000 were left homeless. Part of the exterior has been left in its ruined state; the interior houses the Museum of the City of Macedonia.
Our relaxed wanderings through Skopje were akin to a walk through history, showcasing the rich blend of cultures that make up this country, enhanced by red-carpet treatment shown to us by its citizens every step of the way.

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