Skopje - City of Solidarity

Every year on July 26, Skopje remembers the most dramatic event in its recent history: the 1963 Skopje earthquake, tragic event that changed the face of the city. The city was rebuild from the ashes with help from countries from all around the world and, because of that act of solidarity Skopje gained its motto - "The City of International Solidarity".

In the early hours of July 26, 1963, Skopje was struck by one of the most severe catastrophes in its history. That morning a massive earthquake (6.9 on the Richter scale) destroyed 80 % of the town and left more than 200,000 people homeless. 1,070 citizens lost their lives and more than 3,300 persons were seriously injured.
The earthquake was the end of the Old Skopje and the starting point of rebuilding the whole city from the scratch. The pre-earthquake Skopje can now only be seen in the yellow photos remaining from that era, hung on the walls of the City Museum and local restaurants.
One of the city landmarks and a monument of that catastrophe is the building of the old train station, standing at the end of Macedonia Street. The building was half demolished, with the clock stopped with its mechanisms pointing to the fatal 5:17 AM and it was left like that for remembrance. In 1970 the old train station was adapted into a museum and until today, the Museum of the City of Skopje is situated here. 

Old Train Station before the earthquake
Old Train Station after the earthquake

Immediately after the impact, the citizens and the soldiers of Yugoslav National Army undertook rescue operations in saving the trapped citizens. The injured were evacuated to improvised medical points where they received first aid. News about the earthquake was spread and rescue teams from other parts of the country arrived to take part in the rescue operations. On the same day in all parts of Yugoslavia was organized and collected full emergency assistance (food, clothes, blankets, medicines, blood plasma, health care, etc.). This significantly contributed to very fast restoration of basic living conditions, and prevented of the spread of an epidemic.

In the days after the earthquake, help from all over the world joined the humanitarian effort. 35 nations asked the United Nations General Assembly to put relief for Skopje on its agenda, and a campaign directed at national governments and international agencies began to identify resources to assist in recovery efforts. Relief in money, material goods and supplies, including medical, engineering, and building teams came from 80 countries and very soon, the sky over Skopje was full with aircrafts bringing aid.
For the urgent shelter of many inhabitants,  20 tent settlements with over 10,000 tents were constructed together with the necessary infrastructure. For urgent needs, light industry and services were accommodated in prefabricated barracks. Urgent repairs and the strengthening of apartment units, schools and other earthquake-damaged buildings took place immediately after damage and usability classification was undertaken. The heavily damaged buildings were demolished and the ruins cleaned up, including the city landmarks - the National Theatre and the Old City Hall (Oficerski Dom).Today, as part of the Skopje 2014 project, these buildings are fully reconstructed.

Old City Hall before the earthquake
Old City Hall after the earthquake

During these days, the countries worldwide show enormous will and eagerness to help and Skopje became the place where troops from different countries were working together and in peace. It's worth to mention that during this humanitarian action, Skopje was the place where the American and Soviet troops meet for the first time since their historical encounter on Elbe in 1945 and were working together for the same cause.
Thanks to the numerous important decisions made at federal level, and as a result of the investment efforts, numerous economic concessions and facilities that were granted to the citizens of Skopje, the city plans for systematic reconstruction and rebuilding were quickly established.
Much research was carried out in geology, seismology and urban studies in order to allow reconstruction to get under way. The main aim was to house the homeless and to reshape the city. Then in 1965, the UN open a limited competition for the redevelopment of Skopje and the honor to make the master plan of the city was given to the Japanese architect Kenzo Tange. The master plan for post-earthquake Skopje was a civilization achievement of its time, based on two metaphorical concepts – the City Gate and the City Wall. The plan offered proximity of the residential areas of the new Skopje (the City Wall) and the business realm so that vitality can come back in the central area of the city.

The architect Kenzo Tange with his masterplan

As the town began to recover, the need for revival of cultural life arose. The international community of artist’s responded and very quickly famous names of painters and sculptures were on the long list of international artists who participated and sent more than 1700 works for the new Museum of Contemporary art in Skopje, building that was donation from Poland. Art works were donated from some of the best-known artists in the world at that time, including Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder, Alberto Burri, Georg Baselitz, Christo, Robert Adams and many others. 
Beside the Contemporary Art Museum, other principal projects for the post-earthquake Skopje were the Macedonian Philharmonic Orchestra building and the new concert venue - Universal Hall, which was build with donations from 35 different countries.
Although the master plan was not fully completed, Kenzo Tange and his team left a true architectural legacy in the Macedonian capital. Today, the whole architectural legacy is now under the shadow of the new city plan - Skopje 2014, project that aims to reshape and redefine the urban space of Skopje.

Macedonia Square before the earthquake
Macedonia Square after the rebuilding

This dramatic event changed the lives of many in Skopje and deeply affected the lives of others. With idea not to forget how the world react in that devastating moments, every year the town is marking the disaster with art performances, exhibitions, theatre plays and a commemoration service for the dead. 

Today Skopje exists because of the international help and solidarity that the world shows to the city. The humanitarian action proved that together and with joined forces people of the world can achieve great and wonderful things. 1963 earthquake reminds us how nature can be powerful and devastating, and also how solidarity and love can overpower everything. Prove for that is Skopje - the City of Solidarity.