Time goes on and no one can stop it and so the centuries pass and one day all that is left to remind us of the people who have lived before is found by archaeologists. The technology of photography was invented very recently and when we study the life of people who lived a thousand years ago, we look at the ruins of their homes and cities and the few items that have been preserved through time. Empires rise and fall and all that is left of them is ruins. In Macedonia we can observe the heritage of some of the significant ancient civilizations and the progress of human culture in it.
The Thracians were the earliest known civilization on the Balkans. The original name of Macedonia was Emathion, named after a Samothracian king. About most ancient civilizations we can usually learn a lot from preserved writings on stone or manuscripts, but not about the Thracians – they were illiterate.
All we know about the Thracian people is owed to their cults – the hundreds preserved temples around the Balkans and most importantly – their belief in Afterlife. On the right you can see a megalith observatory. It was used by the ancients to measure the movements of the sun and the moon, and more importantly, the solstices. The traces of another interesting pagan sanctuary can be observed in rocks on the way to Marko’s towers fortress in Prilep.
I saw recently the burial of a Thracian nobleman in a Museum. It is well known that they believed that the life beyond is just like the one on earth, but it is impressive when you see how well these people were preparing for that. The remains of the person were with absolutely everything he would need for life in the underworld – pottery, small glasses, arrow tips and so on. If you visit the valley of the Thracian kings in south Bulgaria you can observe hundreds of Thracian tombs.
Macedonia and the Eastern Roman empire
Emathia soon became the homeland of the Ancient Macedonians and still bears their name. Macedonia initially was just one of the many small Hellenic states, but during the reign of Philip II, thanks to his supreme military skills, rapidly started expanding. The Macedonian empire soon became one of the largest empires of the Ancient world. The achievements of Alexander III are a lot more than just a territorial expansion of his empire – although it was short-lived and fell apart right after his death, it left a lasting impact on the ancient world.
I believe that the military success of Alexander is based not only on his superior strategies and weapons, but also on the advanced medicine which was developed at the time of reign. Here are some medical tools that were found in archaeological sites in the Balkans. Read more about the culture of Ancient Macedonia.
Today the ruins of ancient cities that were built during the reign of Alexander and his father, Philip II, can be found all over the Balkans and the Middle east and these impressive structures with large stone columns are just a fragment of all the Ancient Macedonian heritage. Thousands of years later people are still telling stories about his adventures – in medieval Europe one of the most popular books was the novel about Alexander’s life.
After the death of Alexander The Great the Macedonian empire broke apart and this soon led to it’s fall and this was not an end, but a beginning: a new period of cultural development began in the history of Macedonia, the period of the Eastern Roman empire. The legacy of this great empire can be found in many of the larger cities of Macedonia which have been there since their establishment over 2000 years ago. Such is the case with Ohrid where a roman theater was discovered recently.
The Theaters were a really important part of life in the ancient world. On the right you can see the Ohrid’s Antique theater – since it was buried it is really well preserved and even on some of the seats you can still see the names of people who had bought seats written. A theory suggests that the Christians have buried it since it may have been used for executions of the followers of Christ at some point.
Walking around Macedonia’s cities today we see the heritage of another large European empire along the Roman and Macedonian ruins – the Bulgarian empire. The large fortresses, hundreds of churches and inscriptions tell us about the life of these new Slavic inhabitants, who conquered Macedonia and became the people who call themselves Macedonians today.
During the first Bulgarian kingdom and the times of the Western Bulgarian kingdom (7th-11th century AD) they adopted Christianity and most of the scientific achievements of the the Roman empire, thus creating a new unique culture on the Balkans. One of the best places to observe the heritage of this empire, which had power over the entire Balkans, is Ohrid. Many of the churches date back to the 13th century or earlier!
St. Naum monastery, for an example, was established in the 9th century by the orders of Khan Boris. A portrait of Bulgaria’s Khan Boris I Michael from the 9th century, found in St. Naum Monastery in Macedonia can be seen on the right. The fresco is badly damaged but still, knowing its age, the fact that we can see it today is amazing.
After all the nations that lived on the Balkans and Macedonia, in the 14th century the time of the Ottomans came. Things that have happened in the past leave marks not only in architecture and writings on stone, but also on Culture. All nations on the Balkans and most of Europe were Christian and had developed a rich culture – some local culturologists claim that the renaissance of Europe first started here, earlier than the Italian.
Unfortunately, the Ottomans came and stopped all cultural development for next 500 years. What was created was left and abandoned in the state in which it was at the moment, because they were followers of Islam. During that time many buildings, and especially churches were destroyed, and this makes the ones that have been preserved even more precious.
St. Clement church at Plaosnik, for an example, is still standing today, because it was converted to a mosque. Few fortresses today are preserved in the Balkans because instead of using them, the Ottomans were destroying them, even after the battles were over.
The Ottomans introduced Islam to the old continent and although their empire is gone, they have made a significant contribution to the local culture not only when it comes to religion, but also the way of life on the Balkans and even cuisine.