Earthquake ruin of Skopje train station
The remainder of what used to be Skopje
's main train station until the disastrous earthquake of 1963 caused part of the building to collapse. The rest was left standing as a memorial.
>More background info
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
More background info:
the Skopje earthquake of 1963 was one of the major tragedies in Yugoslav
and indeed European history. It struck at 5:17 in the morning of 26 July. The tremor, whose epicentre was directly under the main square and which measured more than 6 on the Richter scale (figures available usually range between 6.1 and 6.9) destroyed large parts of the city, between 40 and 80 %, depending on who you believe. Over 1000 people were killed, and tens of thousands made homeless, according to some sources possibly even as many as 200,000.
Amongst the architectural casualties were a hotel, the Army House and the grand bank building on the central square, which is now called Macedonia (Makedonja) Square and is much wider than it used to be precisely because of these lost buildings that were not reconstructed.
The city's appearance was completely changed by the earthquake and through the massive reconstruction in the aftermath, which gave Skopje much of its modern appearance ... although currently more construction efforts are changing the face of the city once again – see under Skopje
The city's principal landmark, the old Stone Bridge, survived intact, but was later altered (disfigured even) and has only recently undergone refurbishment to make it look more like the original. Skopje's other main landmark, the fortress on the hill on the northern bank of the river, was severely damaged in the earthquake and for many years remained one of the starkest reminders of the devastation caused in 1963. However, in recent years it has been partly reconstructed, especially the battlements and towers so that from the city below it now looks almost too new to appear genuine.
The old train station, which partly collapsed in the quake, was left in its semi-destroyed state and is now the premier memorial to the disaster. Its remaining half still stands at the head of Macedonia Street, with the clock on its central facade stopped at 5:17, the exact time the earthquake struck.
What there is to see: not that much: the main feature is the great clock in the middle of the central part of the building, stopped at 5:17, i.e. when the earthquake hit. To the left you can see one pillar of the colonnades of the south-eastern wing of the building, which had collapsed. On the side facing north-west you can still see the letters – both Cyrillic and Latin – of the name of the station.
If you walk round the southern side you get the best view of the starkest reminders of the destruction: here the building looks like it was sliced apart – you can practically look in, as if into a doll's house … only that the doors and other openings are boarded up. On the southern side some of the colonnades that are virtually gone on the front of the building are still in situ.
If you continue round the south and west of the former station – i.e. where the platforms would have been until July 1963 – you get to an area with bars and restaurants (of a rather grubby appearance). Some of these even involve old train carriages, though at least one of them is totally derelict now and the windows have been smashed in.
UPDATE 2017: a reader of these pages has alerted me to the fact that the area behind and to the side of the old station building is being redeveloped and that you can no longer walk into these parts to see the earthquake damage as I had a few years earlier (see photos
). Shame! I hope that in future access may be possible again or, better still, that Skopje one day chooses to make more of this unique relic, perhaps even turn it into a proper memorial. (However, having got an impression of what tastes seem to be preferred by Skopje
's city developers I am not holding my breath ...)
At the front of the building you can still find a plaque which quotes Tito's emotional pledge of solidarity with the city's inhabitants which he delivered on the day after the disaster. Next to it is another plaque apparently praising rail workers. The large-scale Tito text which used to adorn the side of the building, as seen on older photos, is now gone (there's just a plain grey area – so apparently it's simply been painted over).
The inside of the remaining old station building houses the City Museum. It's supposed to be about Skopje
's city history, which you would expect to include the earthquake and the Yugoslav era. But apparently it contains only a dimly-lit and "decidedly lacklustre" (to quote the "In Your Pocket" guide for Skopje) exhibition with some old archaeological bits dug up nearby. At one point at least, it allegedly also had an exhibition more relevant to dark tourist interest (I overheard a tour guide saying so – and also found some rudimentary web references), but I can't give you more info from first-hand experience, as I didn't go inside (it was closed at the time of my visit anyway).
on Mito Hadzivasilev Jasmin bb, the southern inner ring road around Skopje
's modern city centre, about halfway between Vodnjanska and Koco Racin boulevard ; the front facade faces Macedonia Street.
Access and costs: easy to get to, free.
easily reached on foot from anywhere in the modern centre of Skopje
, thanks to its location right at the intersection of two central boulevards. From the central Macedonia Square by the city's touristy hub of the old Stone Bridge, simply walk down the length of Macedonia Street and you will already see the main facade of the old building with the clock on it.
Viewing the building from the outside is naturally free and possible at any time. If you want to see the more dramatic ruined side facing south-east, then go and see it in daylight.
The City Museum inside the old train station is open Tuesday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (some sources say only to 3 p.m.) and on Sundays to 1 p.m., closed Mondays. Admission free. When I was there, however, I saw a group of tourists with a local guide being turned away at the entrance even though it was well before closing time. I don't know what the reason was, and I didn't bother trying myself, but potentially the opening hours have changed or the place was undergoing refurbishment or whatever. Better check ahead if possible, or be flexible when you go there if you desperately want to see the museum (however unlikely that may be).
Time required: not long at all to take a look at the station ruins from the outside; I spent about 20 minutes circling it once and taking pictures. The museum, if you can be bothered with it at all, is unlikely to take up significant time either.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
in general see Skopje
– on the corner at the southern end of the former train station building you can stumble upon a little Tito shrine of sorts. I presume it's somehow connected to the Socialist Party or something, as it appears to be an active source of socialist propaganda as well as of nostalgic tributes to the deceased former leader of Yugoslavia. Peek through the window of the little "office" off Mito Hadzivasilev Jasmin bb and spot the bronze busts of Tito, portraits, an old Yugoslav flag and other bits and bobs related to the country's former (and in part current) communist