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Samstag, 2. Dezember 2017

World's Best Archaeology site Kokino | Macedonia

On Dezember 02, 2017

Kokino (Macedonian: Кокино) is a Bronze Age archaeological site in the Republic of Macedonia, approximately 30 km from the town of Kumanovo, and about 6 km from the Serbian border, in the Staro Nagoričane municipality. It is situated between about 1010 and 1030 m above sea level on the Tatićev Kamen summit and covers an area of about 90 by 50 meters, overlooking the eponymous hamlet of Kokino.

It was discovered by archeologist Jovica Stankovski, director of the national museum in Kumanovo, in 2001. In 2002, Stankovski together with Gorje Cenev (who is the head of a planetarium at a Youth Cultural Center in Skopje) published the claim that the site contains a "megalithic observatory and sacred site".

The oldest archaeological finds date from about the 19th century BC, corresponding to the early European Bronze Age. It shows signs of occupation for the period from the 19th to the 7th centuries BC. Finds from the Middle Bronze Age (c. 16th to 14th centuries BC) are the most numerous (mainly ceramic vessels, stone-mills and a few molds). An agglomeration from the Iron Age was discovered in 2009.

The Kokino "megalithic observatory" should be distinguished from the wider Kokino archaeological site. While the observatory consists of two platforms of a combined area of about 5000 square meters, the site covers about 30 hectares. From this area, an abundant amount of fragments of ceramic vessels, dated to between the 19th and the 11th centuries BC. Also found was a mould for casting bronze axes, and a pendant. The remains of vessels filled with offerings were found deposited in cracks in the rocks, which gave rise to the interpretation of the site as a "holy mountain".

The claimed archaeo-astronomical site itself consists of two platforms with an elevation difference of 19 m. The claim of the site representing an astronomical observatory was made by Stankovski and by Gjore Cenev in 2002. According to this interpretation, the site includes special stone markers used to track the movement of the Sun and Moon on the eastern horizon. The observatory used the method of stationary observation, marking positions of the Sun at the winter and summer solstice, as well as the equinox. Four stone seats or "thrones" are placed in a row on the lower platform. According to Cenev, A stone block with a marking on the upper platform marks the direction of sunrise on summer solstice when viewed from one of the seats.

Kokino was mentioned in a poster made by NASA's "Sun-Earth Connection Education Forum" in 2005.

The Cultural Heritage Protection Office of Macedonia's Ministry of Culture declared the site a "property under temporary protection" on 13 November 2008 (Decision nr. 08-1935/6). In 2009, Minister of Culture Elizabeta Kancheska-Milevska declared Kokino "one of the priorities of the Ministry of Culture’s 2009 programme".In 2009, the Republic of Macedonia also suggested the site be inscribed on the World Heritage Site.

Mittwoch, 1. November 2017

The Macedonian Stone Puppets - Kuklica

On November 01, 2017

Grouped together in a tiny area of just 74 acres, 120 massive stone pillars stand at attention and have stood there for 100,000 years. Or, depending on your beliefs, since a local woman cursed her wedding party when her husband chose a different bride.

According to local lore, a man was struggling to choose between two women. Not able to make up his mind, he figured he would marry both on the same day and not tell the other. Unluckily for him, during his morning wedding the second wife came to check out the scene and was horrified watching her husband’s double-crossing nuptials. In a rage, she cursed the whole wedding party and they turned to stone where they stood and created Kuklica.

Whether you believe the legend or not, the area has a been described as having a somewhat mystic aura, and the stone formations, that were actually created by volcanic rocks and uneven erosion, have managed to draw in visitors for decades.

Getting to Kuklica is not an easy task and there are few signs marking the way. The easiest way to find the field of pillars is by asking a local or hiring a tour guide to lead you to the petrified wedding party.

Mittwoch, 25. Oktober 2017

The Kruševo Makedonium

On Oktober 25, 2017

In 1903, a group of brave Macedonians charged into battle against the Ottoman Empire, sparking a movement that led to the creation of a free Macedonia. In honor of the uprising, a bizarre space-age monument and memorial complex was constructed 70 years later. If the artist and surrounding memorial park didn’t state explicitly that the building was in honor of the Ilinden Uprising, it stands to reason that no one would ever make the connection.

The Makedonium almost looks like a heart valve, except it’s white and has around 10 massive stained-glass skylights poking out from its circular base. In Macedonia, it has become a symbol of statehood, even making it onto the national currency on the 10,000 Denari bill. It overlooks the town of Kruševo from over 4,000 feet, which makes it fairly prominent, but that’s where the symbolism ends.

There are no statues of soldiers holding a flag or grand statements of statehood. There is only a weird African-cucumber shaped modernist expression of freedom. Maybe that’s the point of the monument, it is looking toward the future, where free expression meets innovation without the stifling influence of a crumbling Turkish empire. There are probably no right answers, but a trip to the Makedonium will at the very least allow visitors to overlook a beautiful and well-preserved medieval town while they scratch their heads in confusion.

Sonntag, 22. Oktober 2017

Ohrid: A medieval town in search of its roots in the 21st century

On Oktober 22, 2017

Ohrid is a stunning medieval Ottoman town on the shores of a mountain lake. The old town drags and clambers all over the hills behind the lake. Terraced cobblestone avenues run between tall, narrow houses, and age has tinted the facades of the buildings so the whole city looks tea-stained. We got lost in the flower-strewn corridors of the old city. We saw a church of dusty brown stone which looked like a dribble castle. We swam in the cold blue of the lake and walked along the beaches.

We went to cafes in the public square in the morning, and we went dancing at a club on the docks at night. We stopped at a café in a stone house which had been a private mansion until it was sold in the 80s. And, while searching for the bus station in the new part of town, we walked through a rustic village and saw a fat brown bulldog lounging on a porch behind a custom-made BEWARE OF DOG, which portrayed the same fat brown bulldog sitting on that same porch in the same pose. Ohrid is a beautiful old Ottoman town in a crater lake in a geographic nowhere and I love it.

Most of what I learned about Macedonia, and the town of Ohrid, happened over a plate of kebab, and came from a Slavic-origin dog enthusiast from New York.

We were walking down the square in Ohrid away from our hostel when a man in a dirty gray t-shirt saw our dog and came over to pet it. His wife, smoking spindly cigarettes, descended on the dog in a frenzy of sweet words, cuddles, and cooing. The guy, Kosta, was from Brooklyn, but his parents were Macedonian and he had partially grown up in Skopje. He recommended a kebab place called "Delicious" (Fkuzna), the thought of which apparently made him so hungry that he and his Slovenian wife came with us and ordered for us. We got Macedonian kebab, called "cevap," tiny logs of meat served with amazing grilled bottle-green peppers. Kosta said that he and his wife visited last summer for about two months and kept meaning to try other restaurants, but they just kept coming back here, every day. This was their favorite restaurant in Europe, maybe the whole world which meant that they ate ten tiny meat logs every day for like two months. Fkuzna.

Macedonia, or the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), was the last state to break away from the former Yugoslavia. The name itself comes from the region of Europe they're in, Makedonia (with that hard k sound), but even that's controversial as it is also the name of a region in northern Greece. This is why when they entered the United Nations, they had to pick a name that wouldn't make Greece upset, hence the somewhat off-center acronym of FYROM.

Ohrid: A medieval town in search of its roots in the 21st century

Secondly, they have a bit of an identity crisis, since their language and the Bulgarian language are mutually intelligible, for the most part. Bulgaria used to have this big ol' kingdom in the middle ages which included modern-day Macedonia. The city of Ohrid was an ancient capital of the kingdom, and Bulgarians still feel like it was stolen from them by the Macedonians, who are certain that it was the Bulgarians who'd usurped the just Macedonian king from his throne. You see how complicated this stuff is.

Macedonia as a nation has this need to distinguish themselves. Though most Balkan countries feel a deep need to assert their nationalism, organized around a heroic figure, Macedonia most recently started playing this game, as they only became a republic in the nineties. Out of this great need for a national pride, in Republic Square in Skopje, a colossal gold Alexander the Great rises out of the earth on a pillar, surrounded by phalanxes embossed into the pillar's base, obscured by a spray of mist from the fountain. When people ask, hey, what's Macedonia? Anyone in the country can say, "Take a look at that enormous pillar."

When we first arrived in Ohrid we noticed none of this nationalism – just a lot of history concentrated in one beautiful spot. It was a bit too late to start sightseeing, so we dropped our things at Sunny Lake Hostel and headed to Çınar restaurant in the Turkish quarter for some kebab. Cinar, for our non-Turkish-speaking readers, means "Sycamore," and an enormous Sycamore tree was rooted in the cobblestone roads, sheltering the outdoor tables at this restaurant.Before being a suburb for rich Turks, Kosta informed us while as were sitting down for meat logs at Fkuzna the next day, Ohrid was a Slavic university town from the middle ages which has 365 churches, actually literally truly one church for every day of the year. Good Christians would actually visit a different church for every day of the year in a peculiar keeping-up-with-the-Joneskis medieval contest. The Cyrillic alphabet was invented here, at the University of Ohrid, by a couple of monks who felt the Greek alphabet was inadequate to describe the liturgy in the Slavonic dialect of the time.

Ohrid: A medieval town in search of its roots in the 21st century

Lake Ohrid is nestled in a hollow between the mountains. If you walk around the lake, you can see the ridges extending far into meadows where you will never walk. From the old town, a boardwalk runs along the side of the lake bolted to a sheer rock wall, and then the trail goes up past a ruined church – the Church of Sveti Jovan (St. John). This is probably the most photogenic building in the whole town. It's easy to see why: against the backdrop of the plaintive blue lake and low sloping mountains, a series of bricked octagons topped by a zigzag tile roof cuts into the horizon. Inside, if you want to pay the 100 Macedonian Dinars as admission ($2) you can peep at all the icons.

Past the church, then into the woods, a trail runs down onto a secluded beach. This was a premium spot, as nobody was there, though we did find a nearby hobo shack and broken refrigerator which had last been used to store hundreds of thousands of spiders. The scenery was ethereal.

Felix, a Swiss guy from our hostel, and I got into the water. I dived in, but jumped out soon afterward because it was too cold. Felix said "You have to meditate into it," and waded in, centimeter by logical centimeter. Cassidy, a Canadian EMT with a probably-not-coincidental zest for life, arrived late and leaped into the lake, and said Woo! Let's swim to that cave over there. His vitality was inspiring and we followed. It is an attitude I wish to emulate: take enormous leaps and then follow them through. But the water was icy: we swam and it was like swimming through crude oil. I had to keep moving to stay warm. Every time my head dipped beneath the fresh clean water, the mountains would disappear, and then reappear back into view.

Then, it was time to towel off and head to Samuil's Fortress, towering above the town. You haven't looked behind you yet? Oh, be careful, because you might get crushed by the shadow of Tsar Samuel's walls. The 11th century was a good time for the Macedonian kings. They had enough money and territory and rocks to build an impressive skyline, most of which still lines the background of any photos you might want to take.

Just below the fortress by the shores of the lake is the Plaosnik church and archeological complex. The church dates from the 4th century, and it's surrounded by the stubby walls common to enormous monastic compounds of the past. This one used to host 3,500 scholarly monks. Most weirdly, one of the mosaics on the floors of the compound features a swastika. It didn't mean anything bad back then! It was a good luck symbol! (Though, I was a bit perturbed by the graffiti swastikas on streetlights outside of town.)

After you've hit up the big names in Slavonic churches, I strongly recommend you spend the rest of the afternoon just strolling past the chunky wooden houses and along the cobblestone roads of the old Ottoman town. There aren't nearly enough gorgeously-preserved Ottoman cities in Europe, with the clean white walls and brown wooden trim of their domiciles, and every time I find myself inside them I feel a great warmth towards the many craftsman who built these houses for the Balkan middle class several centuries ago. Today, you can either rent apartments from the locals or eat in their restaurants – as in most Balkan countries, the residents of antique houses have figured out that they can rent their restored flats out to tourists for as low as 25 Euros a night. Monks in the 11th century probably paid a bit less, but you at least get to order as many meat logs as you can eat. Fkuzna.


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