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The Skopje Statues: The Most Pointless Tourist Attraction in Europe?

The Skopje statues was Macedonia’s plan to attract more tourists to the city. It worked, but for the wrong reasons. Here’s a look at the statues in Skopje!

skopje statues

I genuinely think the Skopje statues in Macedonia is one of the most fascinating city redevelopment projects I’ve ever come across, for a number of reasons. Some of them good, most of them bad.

If you’ve never heard of the Macedonian redevelopment project ‘Skopje 2014’ before then you’ll want to read on. Trust me, I bet you won’t of heard anything like this situation before.

A bit of background: There’s a of a joke with Macedonians, and it goes something like this:

Question: “How many statues are in Skopje?”

Answer: “I don’t know but I think there are more statues than people!”

Okay, so it’s not remotely funny at all, but it does highlight the problem. In a capital city of just 640,000 people, the place is absolutely littered with statues.

And after being here myself, at times it does almost seem like there are more statues that people in the city. It’s a really weird feeling, and I’ll explain why.

A great way of seeing Skopje and all the statues is on a city tour with a local. This means you really get to see all the city has to offer!

statues in skopje

These are just some of the Skopje statues in North Macedonia

Skopje attractions: The city of statues

If there’s one thing Skopje is famous for it is statues and sculptures – they are just everywhere.

They are on every street corner and in every square. Because there’s so many of them dotted around the city, all these statues have inadvertently become a tourist attraction in themselves.

Of course, this is what the Macedonian government wanted when they set out their plan to build all these statues in the first place, for more people to visit the city, but perhaps not in quite the disparaging way they do.

things to do in skopje

While travelling around the Balkans and Eastern Europe, as soon as you mention you’re going to Skopje, almost immediately someone will say “ahhh, the city of statues! It’s a very interesting place!”

I already knew Skopje was undergoing a redevelopment project to make the city more attractive to tourists, but I was still shocked and surprised at the sheer number of statues I saw, and at how extravagant they were.

This isn’t a joke, but you’ll be hard pressed to walk down a street without seeing one. It’s fascinating. It’s kinda weird. It’s also morally wrong.

skopje attractions

Some of the statues are pretty strange

What are the Skopje statues?

Most backpackers and travellers find all these statues quite garish and a waste of money (I’ll get on to what the locals think in a minute), but it has created a new game in Skopje – how many statues can you count in a 24 hour period. This has become one of the top things to do in Skopje!

I scored 68. Honestly. I walked around the city, and every time I saw a statue I marked it on my phone. If you ever play the game yourself, let me know what you score in the comments below! I’m kinda geeky about these type of things.

macedonia statues

Some of the Macedonia statues really brightened up the city

The reason there are so many statues in Skopje goes back to 2008 when the economy crashed. Much like many countries around the world, Macedonia targeted tourism as a major source of income and revenue. That’s when the government came up with the ‘Skopje 2014‘ redevelopment project.

With a budget of estimated to be between €80 and €500 million, they decided to make the capital more “aesthetically pleasing” by building statues. Lots and lots of statues. Big ones too. When it comes to how many statues in Skopje, it’s thought they build 136 over a 5 year period from 2010-2o14. However, the number is expected to be way higher than this.

Obviously this infuriated a lot of the local residents as they felt the money would have been better spent on infrastructure, say building a metro or tram system, or improving a number of buildings, but the Macedonian government wanted to make a statement. They wanted to announce themselves on the world stage.

However, critics have argued that the project is an attempt to distract people from the country’s real problems, such as high unemployment which hovers around 30%, poverty and stalled progress towards EU and NATO membership.

They aimed for 2014 as the date to finish this redevelopment project, hence the name. However, even today they are still building new sculptures in the city. How crazy is that?

alexander the great statue skopje

The biggest statue, the Great Warrior, is right in the centre of Skopje

The Alexander the Great Statue, Skopje

The biggest statue is right in the centre of Skopje, and even this is a bit of a joke.

The name of the statue is ‘The Great Warrior’, yet it couldn’t be more obvious it is of Alexander the Great riding atop of his horse Bucephalus.

Yet the Government can’t make reference to one of the greatest men that ever lived due to current disputes with Greece.

Macedonians think he is Macedonian, Greeks this he is Greek, so instead of causing offence, Alexander the Great is just referred to as the Great Warrior, remaining anonymous in the centre of a city that is desperately trying to make a name for itself. Anyone else seen the sense of irony there?

how many statues in skopje

The Great Warrior really is one of the finest statues I have ever seen

Don’t get me wrong, it is one of the finest statues I have ever come across, one steeped with the history of nearly 2,400 years, one that would have made Alexander proud (after all, he was an incredibly vain man), but not to be able to call him by his real name almost seems a disservice.

In fact, all the sculptures in Skopje are fascinating, some more so than others. I for one would love to know more about a few of them, but you do have to question the mentality behind building them in the first place, and you can’t help but wonder if the money would have been better spent elsewhere. Like all the locals who live here, you can’t help but think it’s all a waste of money.

Even though the ‘Skopje 2014’ plan has worked and tourists are visiting the city, they’re now visiting for all the wrong reasons. It’s almost like the city has become a circus act. There no way of denying the outcome all of this has had.

People are talking about the Skopje statues and they are visiting the city to see them.

Who knows, maybe this was the governments plan all along. Weirdly enough, it seems to be working too…

Some of my favourite photos of the statues in Skopje

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Have you ever been to Skopje before? What did you think of the Skopje sculptures? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Posts from a Flashpacker

Thursday 30th of September 2021

I'm here now and fascinated and creeped out by the sheer volume of statues and the size of them too! And I went into one of the museums (and was the only one there) and there were extremely lifelike wax - you got it! - statues everywhere. Super spooky. My favorite is the two girls swimming near one of the (too-many-in-one-stretch) bridge across the river. All you see of one girl is her legs because she's underwater... But. Skopje is one of the friendliest and interesting places I've been. I'm enjoying my week here!

Macca Sherifi

Wednesday 6th of October 2021

It's crazy, isn't it!? I really enjoyed my time there too, it's a really cool city and I would love to go back again to see what's changed. I can't remember the name of it, but if you've got time then make a daytrip to the canyon nearby!

Zoe

Monday 12th of July 2021

I actually love all the statues. Shame politics is deeply involved is everything so the statues are not called what they are. But it is such a beautiful country to visit with a great history, welcoming people and great relict and endemic species to see.

Macca Sherifi

Tuesday 27th of July 2021

Yeah, I agree with you. It really is an amazing place to visit. I would love to go back there someday.

Tina

Wednesday 1st of May 2019

Why so many negative points of view about Macedonian statues? Macedonian culture has ancient roots and should show that to public. I like to read and see all that Macedonia is and was since ancient time. After all isn't that what history is all about? Show and tell? I also discovered that name Makedonia is ancient and precious to history since biblical time. Also everybody should respect Macedonian culture which took good care not to loose it all to thieves and destroyers of antiquity . It funny to read that history is stuck only to Aleksandar the third as Macedonian history. But who created Macedonian union and history before him so we can learn he was Macedonian. The world is filled with Macedonian name of Alexander and Phillip. And then politic steps in and try to destroy it?? By bestowing those ancient Macedonian names to Greece and Greece did not even exist at that ancient time.Historians are in constant peril when trying to speak truth. Politics make them go other way. Make them lie about ancient truth. It is true that truth is power and politics chose to whom to be-stove that power.

Peter

Tuesday 17th of September 2019

Because todays North-Macedonia and it´s people has absolutely nothing to do with the ancient Macedonians. The geography of todays North-Macedonia isn´t even where ancient Macedonia was. Skopje was in Dardania, an Illyrian state, meanwhile Alexander the Great was born in Macedonia, Northern-Greece today. The controversy is that North-Macedonians, with their Slavic culture, language and heritage has tried to portray Ancient Greek, Roman and Illyrian history as their own, when most of these people were dead hundreds of years before Slavs even immigrated to the Balkans.

Macca Sherifi

Monday 25th of January 2016

Yeah, good point, but still a contentious issue. Borders were a lot more blurred 2,400 years ago. (For the record, I know it is only the Greek minority who think Alexander the Great was a true Greek. Obviously ancient history states otherwise).