Thursday, December 13, 2018

North Macedonia | Skopje | Stone Bridge

Macedonia Square with statue of Warrior on a Horse (Alexander the Great, but don’t tell anyone). Click on photos for enlargements. 
The northeast side of 435 foot-long and 250 foot-wide Macedonia Square faces the famous Kameni Most, or Stone Bridge, across the Vardar River.  The 241 mile-long river, which drains at least two-thirds of the country and divides the city of Skopje into two parts, finds its source only about eighteen miles to the northwest of Skopje, near the Kosovo border, but loops far to the south before heading north to Skopje, picking up many tributaries along the way, including the sizable Treska River (home of the famous Matka Canyon resort area), which flows into the Vardar 4.5 miles upstream from downtown, and has already grown into a sizable stream by the time it flows through the city. The river continues on to the southeast and crosses the Greek border near the town of Axioupoli, where is suddenly takes on the Greek name of Axios River, before flowing into the Aegean Sea west of the city of Thessaloniki in northern Greece. The meaning of “Vardar” is much debated, but the name it probably based on an ancient Proto-Indo-European word meaning “Black Water”. 
The Stone Bridge
The Kameni Most, or Stone Bridge, across the Vardar, has become a symbol of Skopje and is found on the city’s coat-of-arms and on the city flag. 
Skopje-coat-of-arms
According to an historical signpost on the bridge itself, the Kameni Most was built by order of Ottoman Sultan Murad II during the years 1421–51 on the foundations of an earlier bridge dating to the sixth century when current-day Macedonia was part of the Byzantine Empire. Other sources suggest, however, that the bridge was by Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror between 1451 and 1469. Perhaps both sultans had a hand in its construction. As for the earlier bridge, the historical record is unclear, but since it was built in the six century, it is interesting to speculate that it was constructed during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565), who was born in the village of Tauresium (now called Taor), twelve miles southeast of current-day Skopje. In any case, as part of the Skopje 2014 Project an imposing 16.5 foot-high white marble statue of Justinian sitting on his throne has been installed on the bank of the Vardar River just a hundred feet north of the bridge. It was made in Florence, Italy, reportedly at a cost of over just over one million euros.
Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565)
Justinian

Justinian is perhaps most famous for building Hagia Sofia in Constantinople (Istanbul), to this day one of the world’s most magnificent edifices (it was first a church, then a mosque, and now a museum), and for marrying the notorious ex-prostitute Theodora
Interior of Hagia Sophia
“Glory to God, Who has deemed me worthy of fulfilling such a work. O Solomon, I have surpassed thee,” Justinian reportedly said when entering the newly completed Hagia Sofia for the first time. History does not record what he said after entering Theodora for the first time. 
Four of the twelve arches of the Stone Bridge

The bridge built by the Ottomans was heavily damaged during an earthquake in 1555 and eventually repaired. Further repairs and renovations took place in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, with the last update in 1994. In 1944 Nazi troops who had invaded Macedonia rigged the bridge with explosives, intending to destroy it to cover their retreat, but this plot was foiled and the bridge survived.The current bridge, 702 feet long and twenty feet wide, consists of columns of huge stone blocks divided by twelve semicircular arcs.
View downstream from the Stone Bridge, toward the Bridge of Civilizations in Macedonia, also known as the Eye Bridge.
View upstream from the Stone Bridge. Another pedestrian bridge is under construction.
About two-thirds of the way across the bridge is a column containing a mihrab, or prayer niche, apparently pointing in the direction of Mecca, dating to 2008, although there may have been an earlier version.
Prayer niche on the bridge
A bit further on, on the other side of the bridge is an historical signpost marking the spot where the illustrious Karposh, the Christian leader of an anti-Ottoman uprising in 1689, was executed by the Ottomans. The northern end of the bridge debouches onto Karposh Square, named after the Macedonian freedom fighter.
Sign indicating where Karposh was supposedly executed
Northern end of the Stone Bridge debouching onto Karposh Square
Statue of Karposh
Statue of Karposh
Statue of Karposh

2 comments:

  1. A quick note to thank you for your Uzbekistan posts some time ago. I recently visited and returned spellbound. Very few tourists in early December. In Bukhara, I stayed at Komil's. Wonderful place, thank you for mentioning it.

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  2. Wow, I envy you. Hope to get back to Bukhara some day soon. Glad to hear all is well at Komil’s.

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