Heritage & History

The Eagle’s Nest of Old Architecture

On the road to Debar there is an unforgettable view of the village of Jance (pronounced yanche). Nested high on the slopes of Bistra Mountainat 760 meters above sea level, a dozen of wonderful houses built ina traditional styleon terraces running along the mountain take away the breath of the travellers.

Going back five hundred or so years, Janceis believed to be one of the oldest villages in the region. Together with many other villages scattered over Bistraand beyond it belongs to the Mijak territory colonised by this celebrated tribe. It waspart of the medieval kingdom of Skanderbeg, who successfully resisted the Ottomans winning all the battles against the mighty empire overa quarter of a century. The legends say that originally the village was even higher in the so-called JaneckiLivadi, where it was safe from looting of the rival Albanian clans. Later it moved to its present place, to be closer to the communication routes. Some of the village inhabitants converted to Islam, and the village became religiously diverse. The number of villagers is constantly decreasing, but the seven remaining Orthodox Christian families live in peace and unity with their Muslim neighbours.

The biggest migration flow took place in the mid-twentieth century, towards the country capital Skopje, while the Muslim population also migrated to Turkey. A big impetus for the revival of the village was the business initiative of an emigrant who came back after years of work in Italy and invested his savings in a rustic style hotel and restaurant. He also bought a few old houses built in a traditional local style and saved them from crumbling or modernisation that destroyed the heritage value of some other houses in the village. He decided to stick to the wonderful local building tradition, however costly that may be. He only repaired the roofs,strengthens the walls, replaced the electric fittings and built new sanitary facilities leaving everything else in its original form – the old fireplace, the three-legged chairs, the wooden dishes and pottery. The massive furniture and the traditional round sofras in the eating areas fascinate modern visitors.

There are many natural and cultural spots to be visited near the village. The Monastery of Saint John Bigorski is only twenty kilometres away. The spectacular Elenskok (DeerJump) bridge over the abundant Tresonecka Reka, is just few kilometres further down. The glacial lake Lokuv, the Duf Waterfalls surrounded by thick pine forest are nearby. A horseback tourto the mythical village of Galicnik that lies further up on the other slope of the mountain can be organised on demand. In the pasthorses and mules were the main means of transportation, so that the road from Jance toGalicnik andfurther north was the shortest route connecting the central parts of Macedonia with the country’swest.

Traditional Mijakhouses are several floors high. The first two or three floors are built of stone, with high and narrow windows, thus serving as fortifications. Stones are nicely carved from the front side. The interior blocks are rougher in design.  The upper floors were built from wood, with spacious terraces called cardak (pronounced chardak), which stretch horizontally from the one side of the building to the other. The roofs were covered with small stone tiles, grey as the surrounding rocks. Huge chimneys rose from the bottom of the house highabove the roof. The architectural approach is rational; the houses are proportional and wonderfully nested into the surrounding landscape.

Members of the Russian Academy of Sciences recently visited Jance in order to prepare a comprehensive study of the village. They found many interesting research topics in its origin, dialect features, customs, beliefs and its population mix. Unlike other Mijak villages, Jance has not been a subject of such a study.One of the most famous village legends associates Jance with the most important city in the regionduring the Ottoman time, Thessaloniki. It says that Jance is very similar in its climate toThessaloniki. So that if there is a snowfall in Jance the same happens in the Aegean harbour.Jance is part of the Reka Cultural Summer that includes many villages in the region offering theatre performances, exhibitions and concerts. Jance contributes its Pitiad (pie festivities) where the best pie is selected by a jury amongst many.