You may not think of Macedonia’s capital city Skopje often, but once you’ve been there one thing nearly impossible to forget are the Mario-super-mushroom sized statues everywhere. Massive bronze statues sitting high up on stone pillars with the central Macedonian Square lit brighter than the near side of the sun, you can’t initially help but be impressed.
As unusual as the sight is from afar, things get even strangers the closer you look.
Rapid Rise And Transformation
All of the gigantic monument construction in Skopje began in 2011, as part of a government project to rebuild landmarks lost in a large 1963 earthquake. Within 2 years, more than 20 new buildings and 40 statues had been constructed, including a 22-meter (72 feet) tall Alexander The Great in the middle of Macedonia Square. Oh sorry, it’s called “Warrior On A Horse” wink wink, so as not to completely piss off Greece, who among many things has a problem with Macedonia calling itself Macedonia.
Locals also have a strong disdain for the gross displays of manufactured nationalism with money that might be better spent elsewhere. Estimated costs for the Skopje 2014 project range from 90-565 million US dollars; nearly 6% of the Macedonian GDP in a country with 25% unemployment. Such large ranges for costs estimates usually indicate unaccounted money – in other words, corruption – in a nation that doesn’t score well in that particular category internationally.
There is something to be said however for the potential tourism effect; since Skopje 2014 began, the country has seen an increase of 500,000 annual tourists, up three times the 2011 average.
Arch Of Abortion
Macedonia is clearly spending all of this money, upwards of 168 million dollars a year, to bolster an infant tourism industry. That makes one particular inscription, a quote by Mother Teresa who was born here, on its iconic Porta Macedonia Arch odd indeed:
“I think that abortion has become the greatest destroyer of peace today.”
Not the kind of message you expect to see on a tourist monument. Maybe, “welcome to Skopje” instead? Or perhaps another quote by Mother Teresa, “Never travel faster than your guardian angel can fly,” seems a little more travel-related?
Look Down On What Goes Up
The more you ask about Skopje’s newest landmarks with a dopey traveler’s naivete, it becomes increasingly clear Macedonians are very skeptical. You know there’s a big doubt when people look up at the 66-meter tall Millennium Cross (worth visiting I must say) and curse the government for building it while trying not to get struck by lightening.
Though as a traveler passing through, you are drawn to the spectacle that illuminates memorable experiences like watching the universe from Macedonia Square. Skopje in particular becomes much easier to recommend because of the artificial ambiance that is contagious for everyone who visits these sights. A lot like Austin, Texas, Macedonia has chosen to keep Skopje weird, though I’m not sure how intentionally.