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Skopje, Macedonia: Kitsch Capital Of The Balkans

The tension over the venture reached its height in March 2009 when a group of Skopje's architecture university students tried to protest peacefully against the project, and were beaten by nationalist party activists in the presence of the police and media.

The centerpiece of the construction bonanza is the 28-meter (92-foot) tall bronze equestrian colossus called "Warrior on a Horse" â¿¿ a monument that bears an uncanny resemblance to Alexander the Great, the ancient hero of Greece.

Officials were careful not to name it outright after Alexander the Great because Macedonia and Greece have been locked in a 21-year dispute over the right to claim the region's ancient heritage. Greece says its northern neighbor is falsely laying claim to its name, history and ancient heritage and has blocked Macedonia's accession to the European Union and NATO.

Macedonians, however, claim they have the same right as Greeks to call themselves descendants of Alexander, arguing that Macedonia in ancient times was one geographical territory, and its heroes now belong to everyone living in the separate states.

One of the main symbols of the project is Porta Macedonia, a triumphal arch situated near the main Macedonia square. The 21-meter-tall (70 foot) arch is meant to commemorate the long struggle for Macedonian independence â¿¿ the country became independent of Yugoslavia in 1991 â¿¿ and 32 reliefs carved on the outside depict events from centuries of earlier history and struggles.

Among the many monumental buildings under construction on the banks of the Vardar river dividing the city are a new archaeology museum, a dome-shaped cylindrical financial police headquarters and communications ministry â¿¿ all in different neo-classical and baroque styles. The new ornate foreign ministry building has dozens of statues of late foreign dignitaries standing on its roof edge, including Churchill and American presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

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