Macedonia was a funny one, we took a wander into town once we arrived in Skopje and were initially impressed by the sights that met us in the centre of town. We assumed that the grand buildings that lined the riverbank and statue-filled bridges were a slightly over-enthusiastic reconstruction of previous buildings that were destroyed by the earthquake in 1963.  We’d heard that the oldest bridge had been rebuilt so just guessed that everything else has had the same treatment. After we crossed the bridge towards the old town we did start to think the Macedonians had gone a bit overboard… there were huge fountains and giant statues everywhere we looked and the more we saw, the less impressive and more ridiculous it became. We walked through into the old town which is a complete contradiction to what we had seen so far, a maze of narrow cobbled streets jam-packed with shops and cafes with a lively atmosphere. This seemed more like the heart of the city and was certainly busier than the ‘new build’ section by the river.

It turns out that all of these buildings, fountains, statues etc were designed as part of the ‘Skopje 2014’ project. Some of them are reconstructions of former neoclassical buildings but most are new and designed to ‘give the capital a more classical appeal’. The project has been hugely controversial and is seen by many as a ‘waste of resources in a country with high unemployment and poverty. The project is also believed by critics to be a distraction from these problems’, a sentiment echoed by the staff we spoke to in the hostel.