This year Macedonians celebrate the 20th anniversary of their country’s independence from the former Yugoslavia.
In the first of a three-part series euronews is in Skopje to find out more about a nation on the move.
People in the capital are witnessing a transformation.
After much public debate the government has launched a major construction project.
Some of the new public buildings, including a court house and a museum, will not look modern.
Architects have gone for a style from the past.
Art historian and archaeologist Lucija Kirovska said: “Looking at things retrospectively, Skopje is building at a very fast pace, in a retro style, which is not something typically found in other European cities.”
The capital also has its share of modern buildings and many structures date back to the late 1960s.
This is because Skopje had to be rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 1963.
Among the newer landmarks, Skopje-born Mother Teresa has been honoured with a memorial house in the city centre.
The new transformation is expected to be completed by 2014.
- - A major facelift of the capital was launched by Macedonian authorities in February 2010
- - The project is called “Skopje 2014”, the year when the work is expected to be completed
- - The project was not without controversy, sparking much public debate
- - Dozens of new public buildings, monuments and sculptures are being constructed
- - Many of the buildings, including a court and a museum, are designed in a classical style
- - The population of Skopje, the largest Macedonian city, is estimated to be about 700,000
- - 80 per cent of Skopje was destroyed in an earthquake in 1963
TV and radio host Dimitar Antanasovski said: “Before the earthquake my grandparents said that Skopje was more beautiful than it is now.
“So, practically, with the whole thing the government and the city of Skopje is building – I’m talking about the look of Skopje – they’re trying to achieve the same look of Skopje as it was 50 years ago and to give a modern sense on the whole thing.”
Statues can be found everywhere and most of them are newly created, even if some of them do look ancient.
The emphasis here seems to be on preserving the old styles of the past but at the same time depict Skopje as a modern city forging a new identity.
But not everything is so recent. One prominent landmark in the city centre, the Stone Bridge, has a rich history that goes back hundreds of years.
Lucija Kirovska said: “We are at the Stone Bridge, a place that links the left and the right sides of the city. The bridge was first mentioned in 1376 in the writings of Tsar Dusan.”
Over the bridge the Old Bazaar can be found. It is popular with locals and holidaymakers alike with its narrow market streets that date back to the Ottoman-era.
Macedonians have always had a passion for coffee and cafés and they are still very much a part of the Skopje landscape.
City planners say they want to strike the right balance to achieve urban harmony.
Dimitar Antanasovski said: “If we respect the people who live here – I’m talking about the Macedonians, Albanians, Turkish and the other nationalities – and live in a multi-ethnic culture and work together, we will have a nice life.”
There is also a growing emphasis on sport and leisure activities, as well as on the chance to get away from the urban bustle.
The nearby Matka Canyon is just one of the popular spots.
And after the sun goes down in the city more and more Macedonians are making the most of the burgeoning nightlife.