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News 26 Jul 13

Skopje Marks Half-Century Since Shattering Quake

The Macedonian capital on Friday has commemorated the 50th anniversary of the devastating earthquake that changed the face of the city with a variety of events.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Poster for the theatre play 5:17 dedicated to the earthquake

“It was dawn. All of a sudden, cats could be heard mewing and dogs barking. Dreadful cries from animals could be heard from as far as the Zoo. Flocks of birds in panic were leaving the rooftops.”

Such is how one eyewitness recalled that terrible morning in 1963, immediately before the earthquake struck Skopje at 5.17am.

“Immediately after, there was a terrible, sinister silence followed by a strong roar. A cloud of thick dust covered the street. When it settled I saw that everything had turned to dust,” the quake survivor added

Fifty years on, Skopje has marked the disaster that killed over 1,000 people and left more than half of the 200,000 residents homeless with art performances, theatre plays, exhibitions and a commemoration service for the dead.

An independent performer, French audio artist Lea Promaja, has set up an interactive, traveling show called “Voice Earthquake”, which changes locations in the city throughout the day.

Passers-by are invited to listen to a creative audio documentary about the earthquake while observing contemporary Skopje through the hole of a box put over their head.

Authors Sergej Nikoljski and Milan Mijalkovic have made a sculpture in a form of a tent in the main park, dedicated to the memory of the time that homeless quake victims spent under open skies. “Erected amid natural surroundings, the tent becomes a symbol of freedom,” the authors said.

The independent Wonderland theatre from Skopje held a premiere of the theatre play 5:17. Directed by Nikola Vitosevic, the play takes its name from the moment when the quake struck.

“This play is to all of those who love the city, who resist destruction… and to the notion that the city is not a faceless 'factography' of victories and defeats, but consists of the lives of the people who imprinted their existence on it,” writer Goce Smilevski said.

Despite the devastation that it caused, the earthquake is also seen seen as a major turning point in the city’s development.

Some 90 countries provided aid in the aftermath of the disaster, after which Skopje was dubbed “the City of Solidarity”.

In the decades that followed, the city was rebuilt under the leadership of the Japanese modern architect Kenzo Tange.

“From an anonymous, marginal city, Skopje begun to rise from the dust of its ruined low-quality buildings. It turned into a recognizable centre of world solidarity, of leading urban design, modern architecture, contemporary art and earthquake engineering,” Goran Markovski, Architecture professor at the Skopje University, recalled.

Meanwhile, the official programme led by the city authorities, began on Thursday morning with a commemoration for the victims at the city cemetery.

Poster for the art performance "Voice Earthquake"

Mayor Koce Trajanovski later awarded certificates of gratitude to foreign representatives who either personally aided the recovery or whose country did so.

An exhibition will meanwhile open in the Museum of Skopje, which is situated in the old railway station, which partly collapsed during the disaster.

Itself a symbol of the earthquake, the clock on this historic building stopped at the exact time of the quake.

The main event is set for the city's central square where on Friday evening a multimedia art performance dubbed “Skopje Remembers” will take place.

“When everything else stopped, love, courage and solidarity continued,” the slogan of the performance says.

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