Macedonia: Day 2 (Skopje)
After meeting the entire Israeli futbol team (a/k/a soccer to you Americans) at my hotel patiently awaiting their big match against Macedonia (and yes they were smoking hot), I sauntered out the front doors of the Marriott headed left for about 3 yards when my heart skipped a beat and my breath caught in my chest. I mean I have been to Paris, to Prague, to Budapest, how could a square in Skopje Macedonia compete right? It not only competes, it exceeds. How could this square – the heart of the city – be so clandestinely hidden amongst what is otherwise a relatively predictable capital city? And while I thought everything was bigger in Texas, we’ve got nothing on Skopje square. This square takes the cake and eats it too! The square is the largest I’ve seen with a monster-size horse and rider statute representing Alexander the Great at the center of a fountain with lions facing towards and away from the statute. For some reason the balls of the lions are painted red. The square is surrounded by lampposts with speakers filling the air with Chopin, Mozart and even the Star Wars theme and the fountains many spouts are dancing rhythmically with the music. They even have their own Arc du Triumph called The Triumph Gate to enter the square, a stone bridge over Vardar river leading to the old Kale fortress and two unexpected pirate-like looking ships docked on the river. The government buildings were massive and flying the beautiful red Macedonian flag with yellow rays of the sun decorating the center of the flag. It was the kind of square you wanted to twirl in so I did just that! This square is so large it is filled with at least a million people on the day of Macedonian’s anniversary of its independence evidencing the loyalty of Macedonian citizens.
Skopje is a city immersed in legends. There are seven roads into Skopje which are narrow passages and gorges. Skopje itself is situated in a shallow basin surrounded by seven mountains. Legend has it that all seven mountains were once part of a huge monolithic rock that was centered right where Skopje is in the basin. The monolith was round like a human head and the myth is that this rock was the head of a giant and the seven entries into the city were the seven holes in the giant’s head (2 eyes, 2 ears, 2 nostrils and the mouth of the giant) and that one day a hero walked through with a magic spear unsealing these holes thus creating the seven passageways into the center. As such, the city got its name from the word Sokopje meaning “with a spear”. Because of the giant’s giant head the city became the “head” of the country also known as the capital. They say these openings in the giant’s head is how the city sees, listens, breathes and talks and everyone who travels through will be able to see with the eyes of Skopje, hear with the ears of Skopje, breathe in Skopje and understand Skopje’s speech. I can tell you I personally didn’t understand a lick of the Macedonian language by the time I left but strangely understood some Albanian 🙂
Another story is the story of the Daut Pasha Hamam – the Turkish baths of the city. It was destroyed in a fire but was restored later but, unfortunately, no longer functions as a bath. The story goes that Daut Pasha built the Hamam as a sign of his love for an unknown girl. The Hamam confirmed the purity of his love; the two domes symbolized this unknown girl’s perfect breasts; and, at the top the nipples were made of the finest and most transparent alabaster and through them in this “temple of love”, the light of God shone through. During the night, except in summertime, dozens of candles were lit under the alabaster vaults sending light into the sky as a sign of his love. But in the summertime, they put swarms of fireflies in a fine silk net to light up the alabaster nipples making them flicker a marvelous blue light into the heavens above.
My favorite statue is of a man and woman in a loving embrace and is best described as Rodan-like. It sits in a gazebo in the square and as you move in a circular fashion around the interior of the gazebo it seems like they are dancing to the music blaring from the lampposts located in the square.
Breathtaking is the word to describe the Skopje Square and, of course, the seven mountains surrounding it. I can certainly attest to the mountain I drove through to get to Skopje from Lake Orchid yesterday.
That’s all for now. From Skopje, Macedonia with monstrous amounts of love.