Macedonia: A mecca of history and culture

Macedonia: A mecca of history and culture

by Jeana Coleman
Stripes Europe

What is in a name, Shakespeare once asked, in the prose of “Romeo and Juliet.” He was referring to the issue of how a name, or title, can create conflict and change by those who share it, or those who want it. That conflict is indeed evident in the controversy that surrounds the Republic of Macedonia, a small European country whose namesake describes both a powerful nation of ancient times as well as one of the newest formed countries in Europe. Yet, its name and culture have survived and evolved through more than 2,500 years of conquering forces and control. 

Macedonia’s history and future 

One of the oldest known world civilizations, the history of Macedonia, or Macedon, is one to be proud of. Archeological surveys show civilizations as far back as 7,000 BC. Alexander the Great and his father, Phillip II, rulers of Macedonia during 4th century B.C., helped shape Greek (and modern) civilization while building a powerful Macedonian Empire.  Alexander unified Macedonia with Greece and other foreign tribes to build one of the most powerful empires in ancient times. It was only after his death at the age of 33 that Macedonia was divided to be ruled among his generals, subsequently leading to conquests by Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. 

Macedonia would continue to be controlled by foreign rule well into modern times, falling behind the Iron Curtain and Communist occupation after World War II. Gaining its independence in 1991 and recognized by the United Nations, the Republic of Macedonia, a very new country, now seeks admittance into the European Union – but not without controversy. 

Culture, conflicts and controversy

Bordered by Greece, Serbia, Kosovo, Bulgaria and Albania along the Alpine/Himalayan region, present-day Macedonia holds little ties to the ancient Macedonian heritage, instead a melting pot of traditions, cultures and languages of modern Macedonians, Albanian, Turkish, Roms (Gypsies), Aromanians and Serbian influence. In fact, the boundaries of ancient Macedonia and its people have shifted after years of conflict, now lying within Greece, Bulgaria and a small portion within the borders of the new Republic of Macedonia. 

Modern historians continue to argue whether ancient Greece and Macedonia were considered separate countries or if Macedonia was indeed a city-state of Greece. Yet with little historical documentation, the argument continues. Therefore, today’s modern Greece claims ancient Macedonians as co-nationals and lays claim to the modern Macedonian namesake as part of its own history. Will the Republic of Macedonia finally gain entrance into the European Union? The saga continues. In the meantime, don’t let that stop you from heading there to enjoy ancient yet modern Macedonia. 

Great things to see and do

Although the country is landlocked, its ancient history, multicultural influences and beautiful scenery lend to enough activities, excursions and events to attract a steady stream of annual tourism.

History buffs, your mecca awaits. Visitors can take a multitude of tours to and from a variety of locations to see well-preserved, detailed examples of the influences of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Those interested in learning about religious influences should take note that in the city of Ohrid alone there are 365 houses of worship of both ancient and modern studies; from temples to mosques, cathedrals to chapels, there’s something to see every day of the year. 

Sports enthusiasts can enjoy mountain activities such as sport and ski climbing, canyoning, paragliding, skiing and more. Summer sports include biking, cycling, skiing, hiking, boating and swimming on one of the many magnificent lakes. Hunting enthusiasts, have you been missing hunting while stationed in Europe? Not anymore. Macedonia provides a variety of big game hunting expeditions; excursions are available for wild boar, fallow and red deer, stone partridge, roe and mouflon.  

Wine enthusiasts, head straight for the beautiful Tikves wine region; visit one of the three famous vineyards or wander them all. Taste, shop, taste again. Shoppers will also enjoy the unique industry of traditional crafts of textiles, pottery, jewelry, beads, costumes and artwork. And foodies, you’ll want to try a little tavche-gravche, or bean casserole, the national dish. Or, have sarma, which are pickled and baked cabbage leaves stuffed with meats. Then, sample their beautiful breads and types of rakija, their famed fruit brandy. Macedonia truly offers a little bit of everything for anyone’s tastes and interests.

Need a few more ideas? Check out these specific locations, destinations, attractions and events you won’t want to miss:

Ancient theatre, Ohrid – Built around 300 B.C., this ancient theater in Ohrid was first used for theater productions. After Romans conquered Macedonia, it was used for gladiator fights and executions of Christians. After the fall of the Romans, citizens literally buried the structure and its unsavory history. Discovered by archeologists in the 1980s in its near untouched state, the theater is once again used for live theater performances.

Bay of the Bones, Pestani, Lake Ohrid - “Museum on Water” is a group of reconstructed pile dwellings on an archeological discovery site from a civilization that dates to 1,500-700 B.C. Visit the dwellings, see discovered artifacts and learn more about this unique civilization and their way of life. 

Korab Mountain – Approximately 80 percent of Macedonia is mountainous, separated by riverbeds and lakes. The country’s most famous peak, Korab Mountain, is more than 2,700 meters (8,858 ft.) tall and joins borders with both Kosovo and Albania. Join in organized hiking tours for the most exceptional views.

Lake Ohrid - Macedonia’s largest and most important lake is also one of Europe’s most significant, oldest and deepest, measuring 288 meters (944 ft.) deep. In 1979, Lake Ohrid was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site to help preserve the lake’s natural, rare and world-important ecosystem; the lake is home to more than 200 endemic species – meaning they are indigenous and found nowhere else in the world – that cover the entire food-chain. 

Celebration of Saint Triphon/Trifun, Negotino - Lovers of wine and each other should plan a Valentine’s getaway to Negotino of the Tikves wine region, for the annual Feb. 14 celebration of Saint Trifun and its Blessing of the Vineyards and popular wine fair. Held in the town square, locals gather as crops are blessed with the ritualistic trimming of vines and watering with red wine and rakija. Tourists can join in the day-long celebration of traditional dance, foods and, of course, consumption of wine and rakija. Plus, don’t forget the wine fair, where everyone is welcome to purchase souvenirs and regional wines at discounted prices.

Galicnik Wedding Festival, Galicnik – Join the locals and other tourists for this unique, UNESCO protected, 2-day public wedding festival held the weekend following St. Peter’s Day, July 12, in the ancient village of Galicnik.  A couple is chosen among eligible hopefuls (must be born in Galicnik) to wed with traditional costumes, customs and rituals during the annual festival. The entire village joins in celebration of dance, food and libations.

Guess what? The secret’s out! Now it’s up to you to go there and tell others what they’re missing in amazing Macedonia.

Visit Explore Macedonia, Travel 2 Macedonia, Macedonia Timeless and TKM for extended information to one of Europe’s best-kept secrets.

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