The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Sunday, June 21

Macedonian Legends

I'm in historic Dorjan in southern Macedonia at a Peace Corps language camp. We're here to learn more Macedonian and soak in the culture of this fascinating country.  

Our location is Lake Dorjan. People have lived here since prehistoric times.  Even the Greek historian, Herodotus, wrote about the Paeonians who were fishermen and lived in settlements accessible only by boat.

During a break from Macedonian classes, I join a group who are searching out ancient ruins amidst the modern building of this place. We walk along the rim of the Lake. 

In the far distance are mountains and the shore of Greece. If I was strong enough swimmer, I might be able to swim to Greece. Imagine that.  The lake is round in shape formed by powerful tectonic movement under the earth's crust. It's maximum depth is only 10 meters keeping the waters warm.

It's known for abundant algae that not only feed an abundance of fish, but whose mud is said to have curative powers. People come to cover their bodies with the mud, bake in the sun and realize relief from aches and pains of modern life. 

Does it work? People swear by it.  

I'm learning that there are many truths tempting belief.  Here's another.  It's the legend of how the lake was formed.    

Once there was a young woman named Dojrana. Everyday she went to draw water from the powerful springs near her village. Like everyone she knew that the springs had to be resealed after use to prevent flooding.

As she was filling her jugs, suddenly her lover appeared having returned from battle. She rushed to embrace him and in their passion retired to the village.

Of course, the springs kept flowing and the result of their love and deep, though mindless,  passion is what we now call Lake Dojran. 

We cross a road and begin climbing steps up a hillside. I notice that they're made of thick slabs of stone. Each one is cut into the hillside. Some are broken or slanted to the side. It's probably caused by that tectonic movement or centuries of use. My brother, Warren, who undertook a similar project on a hillside of his home in Connecticut, would appreciate the work which has endured so long.  

At the top is a church built in 1874 and named for Saint Ilija. The yard thick walls show faint evidence of frescoes. It must have been a beautiful church.

I say "must have been" because the church was bombarded during WWI.  The walls stood firm, but the dome was destroyed. It was rebuilt only to have it destroyed again by the warfare of WWII.  Macedonia has often been in the cross-hairs of bloodshed.  For decades the church stood broken and open to the elements.

Then villagers began to notice something strange. On Saint Ilija's feast day in August, a drowning would always seem to occur. Our guide, who tells us this story, swears it is true since both his grandmother and mother told it to him.

Strange as it sounds, these yearly drownings continued.  "No one knew what to think about this," says the man, "until an old Baba had a dream."

Her dream warned that until the dome was rebuilt drownings would continue. People heeded the warning and in 1992, the dome was finally restored.

No one has drowned on Saint Ilija's feast day since then,” swears our guide. 

I couldn't help but notice that 1992 is about the same time when Soviet influence collapsed and religion could once again be openly practiced. 

Coincidence? Connection? Causality? Who knows? With legends, truth is in the eye of the beholder.   

Further at the top of the hill is an ancient clock tower. Exact date of its construction is unknown, but it's likely to be from the late 1300s. At that time, a great Ottoman general, Evrenos, was sweeping through Macedonia consolidating the lands of the empire.

As legend has it, he came upon Lake Dojran. Fortunately, it was frozen solid. He was able to lead his army across the ice without any loss of life. To commemorate the safe passage, the clock tower was built on the highest hill. Of course, it also served as lookout and symbol of conquest.

Our walk is all down hill now. Instead of the stairs, we walk along winding roads – another legacy from Ottoman times. They apparently preferred winding paths to the straight broader roads of the lower Macedonian village.

My day concludes with a most unusual movie - Whose Is This Song? Check it out.

Adela Peeva is the film's maker and a kind of social archaeologist. She follows the history and national ownership of a traditional song. 

You Tube says in an introduction:

“In her search for the true origins of a haunting melody, the filmmaker travels to Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia, Serbia and Bulgaria. The trip is filled with humor, suspense, tragedy and surprise as each country's citizens passionately claim the song to be their own and can even furnish elaborate histories for its origins.

Watch with a few friends and it's bound to open a lively discussion. Enjoy.  

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