In its long history, Skopje has been struck several times by devastating earthquakes, most recently on July 26, 1963. At 05:17 on that day, a 20-second tremor measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale hit the city, killing some 1,100 people and making an estimated 120,000 people homeless. About 80% of the city's buildings were destroyed or made uninhabitable. The quake is still very recent in memory and everyone in Skopje who was alive at the time will have a story about it. The pompous 1930s National Bank and the Army House from 1929 at the southern end of the Stone Bridge were destroyed, as was the large National Theatre from 1927 on the northern bank below the fortress. The large administrative buildings of the fortress and many of the old walls and towers collapsed. In the old bazaar area, many monuments including mosques, hans and hamams suffered damage. In the centre, the remaining half of the train station building was preserved as a memorial to those who died, with the clock stuck at the time of the quake. The city centre was hit badly, although it would go too far to say the earthquake dramatically changed the way the city looked.
Until that time, Skopje's centre still was mostly filled with small and unremarkable houses, and the local authorities had already cleared old neighbourhoods away to make place for 1950s high-rise buildings including the ugly blocks lining Bitpazarska, buildings that date back from well before the earthquake. The rebuilding of the city after the disaster continued along the same lines, with lots of modern, large apartment blocks lining the sides of wide new roads. After the earthquake, a massive international relief effort helped the rebuilding of Skopje and many countries from both east and west gave generous donations. The Romanians built a hospital, the Poles built the contemporary art museum (which was filled with works donated by the artists) etc. The Japanese architect Kenzo Tange won the UN competition for re-planning Skopje, with a master plan that envisioned a city wall of high-rise blocks surrounding the centre, mirroring the fortress walls. His original designs were completely out of this world (see pictures at www.ktaweb.com/works/en_scopje.html) and were never executed, but they did build a depressing grey wall ring around the southern part of the centre which has actually changed the microclimate, stopping cold wind descending from the mountains. Look for the ring when viewing the city from the fortress or Mount Vodno.