From the dramatic heights of the younger Šar mountains in the west to the older, more weathered Osogovska mountains in the east, I’m constantly surprised and delighted by the natural beauty here in Macedonia. Green rolling hills and snow caped peaks dominate the landscape almost anywhere a person travels within the country. I’ve had lots of opportunities to travel in Macedonia, and I’ve really enjoyed it. For more stories, check out the logbook on Matka Canyon from week six or the field note on nature featuring Lake Ohrid.
Recently, and by surprise, I had another amazing opportunity to explore a new part of Macedonia with my friend Laura. I met Laura working at the American Corner in Štip. Laura works for Peace Corp and has been living in Macedonia for over a year. As we talked, we realized that we both love art, and, as a result, we decided it would be fun to take a road trip to Greece to check out some of the historical sites there. There’s a lot of neat art history and architecture in Greece, and traveling with friends is often much more fun than traveling alone. On our way to Greece we stopped in Prilep, Macedonia.
The roads from Štip to Prilep meander through a series of mountains. I couldn’t close my eyes for a second as our bus zigzagged toward south because I didn’t want to miss any of the scenery. I committed everything I saw to memory. I also took lots of pictures from the bus. As we drew nearer to Prilep, I saw a jagged granite mountain with very interesting rock formations leading up to a huge metal cross. What is this place? I had to find out more.
In Prilep, our plan was to stay with another Peace Corp member before taking a morning bus to Thessaloniki. Terri, our host, has also been in Macedonia for a little over a year. As we walked away from the bus station, I couldn’t help but hope we might get a chance to investigate the mysterious mountain overshadowing the city of Prilep. To my surprise and delight Terri suggested to us to go for a hike to see the Fortress Towers of Marko after lunch. The mystery became even more interesting. At the top of this jagged, granite hill lay the ruins of a fortress dating back to the fourteenth century.
Although the hill looks very imposing, the hike to King Marko’s fortress wasn’t too hard. It only took us about an hour to climb to the top. Prilep is known for its white marble, and the trail was lined with small white stones that I think might have been unrefined marble. Before we started our hike, Terri had explained that the Fortress Towers of Marko are under consideration for UNESCO protection. Climbing towards the top, I could understand why. The views were breathtaking! The ruins combined with the granite of the surrounding rock created an almost other worldly atmosphere. This surprise hike reminded me again how much I love the natural beauty of Macedonia.
Overlooking Prilep from the Marko’s fortress ruins
How are people connected to the environment?
People in Macedonia are intimately connected to their environment and agriculture is very important. One of the things I really like about Macedonia is that many people grow their own fruits and vegetables. Many people own livestock like cows, chickens, goats, and sheep too. There are also lots of people in Macedonia who grow their own grapes in order to make wine.
Another interesting connection to the environment is that many people keep bees. (See the picture of the bee hives!) Here in Macedonia I get to host an English conversation hour for young people at the American Corner. Almost all the participants told me that their families keep bees, raise their own grapes for making wine, produce their own fruits and vegetables or do some combination of these things. Macedonians have a much closer relationship to the land than in bigger cities in the United States.
There are many naturally preserved places in Macedonia with few big cities. Prilep, where I visited most recently, is known for its white marble and tobacco production. Generally, industrialization has slowed down in Macedonia since the break up of Yugoslavia. Although this hasn’t been helpful to the economy, it has been better, in some ways, for the environment.
What parts of this environment help people to live here?
Macedonia is a rich, beautiful country with many, many mountainous regions. Most of the country is covered in beautiful, dramatic cliff rock faces and rolling green hills. Macedonia hasn’t been as industrially developed as many other countries in Europe, and because of this, the natural environment has been well preserved. The mountainous regions are perfect for grazing sheep, goats, and even cows! Recently, while climbing to King Marko’s fortress, I saw a variety of different animals grazing along the countryside.
Macedonia is in southern Europe and the sun is very powerful here. As I’ve walked through my town, I’ve seen many people taking advantage of this fact by using solar powered panels. There are several houses right in my neighborhood with solar panels fastened to roofs. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, my neighbor across the street had a solar panel installed. The house where I have an apartment, though, does not have solar power.
What challenges do people face living in this environment?
Unfortunately, Macedonia is experiencing deforestation. People are using up forests faster than they are growing. Many people in Macedonia use wood to heat their homes during the winter. Almost anytime of year you can see piles and piles of chopped logs waiting to be used to heat hot water heaters, which in turn keep homes warm during the winter. This is creating a problem because there is more demand than supply in Macedonia for firewood. Deforestation in Macedonia also contributes to weather issues. In Macedonia, there is also a problem with water contamination from soil runoff, agricultural pesticides, and waste. In March this year, after a very heavy rainfall we didn’t have clean water in Štip for two weeks. Better solutions to water and waste management need to be explored in Macedonia.
Here are more pictures from the hike: Cows and goats grazing the Marko’s fortress ruins; A path of white marble; Laura and me in Prilep.
Town after a flood
Using firewood is the cheap for the people but costly for the environment