Greece is ticked off about the use of that name as Greece still has a region named Macedonia, which includes part of the ancient Macedonia. See the green area below:
Of course, the current country of Macedonia also includes part of that same ancient region of Macedonia. (Confused? Yeah, me too.) Anyway, because of the fight over who gets to use the name "Macedonia," the country Macedonia is called the "Republic of Macedonia" or "The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)," which you can see on the map above. On the map below, the Republic of Macedonia (hereafter called simply Macedonia) is the yellow, land-locked country.
Our first introduction to the Macedonian flag was at the border. Macedonians love their flag, and we saw it flying more than any other Balkan country's flag.
Almost immediately we were introduced to Macedonia's obsession with Alexander the Great:
This is also an issue for Greece, which considers Alex the G. as part of their history and culture, not part of the Slavic culture. Ah, but Athens is far, far away, and so for now, we will head to the capital city of Skopje and enjoy our Slavic Alexander.
|Wonder of wonders, a street sign! It had been days|
since we had seen something like this!
A 6.9 earthquake in Skopje in 1963 killed over 1,000 people and destroyed 80% of the city:
If there is any bright side to such a tragedy, it is that old buildings made way for new construction, and fifty years after the earthquake, there is a lot of construction going on. Overall, Macedonia seems to be positioning itself to be the next great tourist destination in the Balkans. A project entitled "Skopje 2014" is revitalizing the capital city with huge building and arts projects at a cost of up to 500 million euros ($660,000,000). The Marriott Hotels Corporation must believe in Macedonia's future, because the first Marriott Hotel in the Balkans is being built next to Skopje's main square. I would have guessed Dubrovnik or one of the other cruise-friendly coastal cities would have beat Skopje to the punch.
The first sign we saw of this grand building scheme was the 70-foot-tall Triumphal Arch, just completed in January of 2012 at a cost of 4.4 million euro.
this famous arch in Paris.
Then on our way to our hotel, we saw this massive bronze statue. We were beginning to get the idea that size is a very important part of Skopje's master plan.
|Vasil Chekalarov (1874-1913), a revolutionary and soldier in the First and Second Balkan Wars|
|Signs with English translations point the way for tourists|
|This is a brand-new, still-under-construction building, one of 20 buildings and 40 monuments|
that are part of the Skopje 2014 plan.
|The soldiers around the base of the intricately carved support column are about twice life-size.|
The lighting at night is, well, a bit on the gaudy side.
Macedonia Square is bisected by the Vardar River, and the major pedestrian bridge that connects the two parts of the Square is known as "The Stone Bridge."
The official name of this statue, erected in May 2012, is Warrior with Accompanying Elements, another title designed to avoid upsetting Greece. I don't buy it. Do you think the Greeks do?
|This photo taken from a news article about the installation|
gives some perspective on the size of these pieces.
At the base of the statue, however, is a tender little family scene of the young Alexander flanked by his mother Olympias, his father Philip, and what must be their pet lion.
|The statue is frequently sprayed by the surrounding fountain, so the happy family is|
appropriately sculpted with somewhat revealing wet clothing.
The statues of Alexander and Philip supposedly cost 9 million euros each, or almost $12 million.
While those two statues dominate, they are surrounded by dozens of others. None are quite so massive, but most are bigger than what I would consider the norm.
|Tzar Samoil, the ruler from 996-1014 who greatly expanded the empire|
|Karposh, the leader of a great uprising in the 17th century who was executed |
in 1689 on the Stone Bridge. (Great mustache!)
|Justinian I (483-565), first ruler of the Byzantine Age,|
author of a code of laws known as the Code of Justinian,
and builder of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople
|This one looks like it was just plopped down|
in the middle of the construction zone.
I have no idea who he is.
|Dimitrija Pop Georgiev-Barovski (1840-1907),|
yet another revolutionary
|MORE revolutionaries--the Boatmen of Thessaloniki,|
a group high school-age anarchists active around 1900.
|Four bronze statues of mothers with children. A very nice change|
from all those warriors, revolutionaries, and anarchists.
|Horses springing forth from the cement? Not sure what this one is all about,|
or if there is more to come on that bare podium in the center.
This huge expenditure of funds has been widely criticized. With an unemployment rate of about 30% in Macedonia (actually quite low for the Balkan countries), many feel the money could be better spent. However, this bizarre combination of Athens and Las Vegas will no doubt draw in tourists, and Skopje may come out ahead in the long run.
|We especially liked this one of two women diving into the |
river right below the Stone Bridge. The water wasn't
really this mossy green color--it's just my photo.
|Another favorite on the outside of a jewelry store, this one entitled|
"I'm Still Waiting." (He is checking the watch on his wrist.)