The distinctive character of North Macedonia’s relatively small capital, with a population of roughly 600,000, is encapsulated by the whimsical question: “How many statues grace Skopje’s streets? I can’t say for sure, but there may well be more statues than residents!”
In fact, the city center is adorned with hundreds of extravagant, faux-classical, patriotic sculptures that didn’t exist prior to the turn of the millennium. The Bridge of Civilizations serves as a prime example of this abundance, boasting an impressive collection of over 30 sculptures along a single downtown pedestrian crossing.
Skopje’s eccentric transformation commenced in 2008 with a budget ranging from €80 to €500 million. The project aimed to boost tourism and establish a distinctive city identity but sparked debates about diverting funds from essential infrastructure projects in favor of constructing kitsch, ornate statues, and neoclassical structures adorned with elaborate columns. This controversy led to protests and incidents of vandalism, including frequent paint-bombings of monuments.
In Skopje’s main square, you’ll discover the city’s largest statue featuring Alexander the Great on his loyal steed Bucephalus. However, it goes by the alias ‘The Great Warrior’ due to ongoing disputes between North Macedonians and Greeks regarding his heritage. This impressive 72-foot (22-meter) bronze statue, surrounded by warriors and a central fountain, serves as the centerpiece of the city’s nightly light shows. Yet, it remains an anonymous tribute to one of history’s greatest military commanders. The irony lies in the city’s quest for recognition while unable to use his true name, Alexander the Great, showcasing the complex historical narratives woven into Skopje’s streets.
Know Before You Go
Most of the statues in Skopje are situated either within or near Macedonia Square in the city center, which is approximately a 20-minute walk from the train and bus station.