Every major city has many faces. Some parts of it look like being in another city, another country, even another continent. Architects from around the world claim that in the last 50 years cities have become more global rather than national, incorporating a variety of features that reflect their multicultural character. If you take a look at the long and complicated history of Skopje you will find a stream of conquerors who all changed and added something to the city, a chain of disasters that helped “correct” the errors or even gave way to architectural experiments, and you see that diversity is absolutely guaranteed.
The following are some parts of the world that Balkon 3 recognizes in the capital of the Republic of Macedonia.
This is the Old Bazaar, also known as the Turkish bazaar. It is the oldest living part of the city, packed with merchants, craftsmen and artisans (mostly goldsmiths), restaurants, tearooms, cafès and even Absinthe bars that could only be seen in the exotic travels of Sherlock Holmes. This is the heart of Skopje by all criteria and it has the oriental spirit deeply carved into it.
Broad boulevards with drab, mostly gray housing blocks built along the sides are typical of many Eastern European capitals. Skopje is in that part of the world and many of its quarts have been built in that style, including this section of the Ilinden Boulevard.
Despite the 1963 earthquake and subsequent modernization, there is enough evidence to prove that the city was trying to reach the charm of Western capitals a hundred years ago. Several buildings on the Nikola Kljusev Street (former Maxim Gorky Street) still stand as witnesses of that period.
The scenic American suburbia is a symbol of wealth and economic progress of the United States. But in Skopje the neighborhoods that were built following a similar model and had the a similar purpose – to symbolize the decent and comfortable life of the middle-class. Lisice is one of several such quarts.
We have written about the blossoming Japanese cherries which are located in the Western part of the city but Skopje has many other Japanese symbols. The megaprojects of the Japanese architect Kenzo Tange from the 1960s, especially the housing blocks in the center of the city called the City Wall.
This city is not very bicycle friendly. However, there is at least one area where they are the main means of transport as in the Netherlands. The quay by the river has a bicycle lane about twenty kilometres long. It is mainly used for recreational purposes, but since much of the city is situated along the Vardar many people use it as a quiet and safe way to get to work.
We don’t have the Copacabana beach here, nor the spectacular skyscrapers of Sao Paulo, but there are scenes similar to those found in the Brazilian favelas like the famous Topaana. Favelas are not only typical for Brazil. Every major city in the world has parts of it stricken by great poverty, but the Brazilian shanty towns became famous by being exploited in pop culture. Topaana has also been an inspiration for films and music.
Bustling shopping streets occupying parts of the road and turning them into sales area, and you can find anything here! You see these streets from Thailand to Turkey, but also in Skopje Dukjandzik.
When in a semi-urban area you see people from all walks of life driving expensive, cheap or no cars at all, and living next to each other in their huge or tiny houses, which are neither particularly attractive nor repulsive, but quite simple – you know it is the Balkans. It is Gorce Petrov quart that best exemplifies that kind of city life.
In the past ten years there have been many draft projects under the same working title – Skopje Manhattan. The idea is to build skyscrapers in several locations with the maximum height of up to 500 meters. So far, the only skyscrapers in Skopje that have been built are the two towers (out of four planned) in the Sky City project which stand 130 meters tall. It is hard to predict whether Skopje will continue to evolve in this way and grow up in height.
photo: Husamettin Gina