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Beware the Pseudo-Historical Retrofit Craze Sweeping Over Europe

The planning debate that sparked Turkey's recent protests is part of a larger, kind of weird architectural trend.
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Robert Atanasovski/AFP/Getty Images

Turkey’s ongoing wave of anti-authoritarian protests has spread so fast and far that it’s strange to recall its first spark was a small Istanbul planning struggle. Protestors first gathered last month to defend Gezi Park, among central Istanbul’s last green spaces, from being partly torn up to rebuild an Ottoman era barracks, demolished 73 years ago, as a shopping mall designed to nest within the remaining facade. Thanks to police brutality, government persecution of anyone involved and domestic media rotating coverage blackouts with one-sidedly pro-government reporting, the protesters’ grievances have since extended well beyond Gezi Park. But what makes this rapid spiral yet more striking is that the initial debate – on appropriating public space to construct ersatz historical monuments – is actually being played out across Europe.

Last week, demonstrators in Skopje, capital of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, formed a human chain around a 1970s shopping mall, fighting plans to clad it in neoclassical colonnades and domes, with a roof bristled by statues. This grandiose, kitsch, and expensive refit is just one part of a larger plan to flatten and rebuild central Skopje along grander lines. Across the center, communist concrete is receding and being replaced with pseudo-classical edifices, triumphal arches and monumental columns that resemble a mash-up of CGI backdrops from Game of Thrones or 300