Heritage & HistoryTravel Destinations

The Mountain and the Echo of a Battle

The deep and spacious colourful valley east of the town of Radovis, after the village of Raklis and towards Podareshas the most fertile soil of the region. Vineyards, corn, tobacco, tomatoes and peaches fill the valley overlooked by a beautiful tall mountain with a sharp peak. This mountain and its highest peak Goten are thefront door of the mountain massif stretching many kilometres eastwards towards Bulgaria.

Goten is only 1420 meters high. But as its foothills are so low in the valley, the overall impression is of a higher mountain. But even at the actual height, nothing is amiss. It is a summer destination for the local population escaping the hot and dry climate of the Strumica-Radovis basin. It is home to herds of sheep and cows putting the region on the map of quality cheese producers. It is also a destination for mountaineers, forest fruits collectors,  and mushroom gathe- rers. The backside of the mountain however, reveals that it is just the first step of the big Rodopiareagoing deep into the territory of Bulgaria and Northern Greece. Goten is nested between Plackovica in the north and Ograzden in the south. The slow road full of curves and serpentines leads from the valley towards Malesevo region, through the DxamiTepe passage. There, in contrast to the valley, a Swisslike landscape opens. It is one of the most popular hunting grounds, but also a picturesquelandscape full of trees, fast crystal clear streams, bee hives, plums orchards, and cottagesproducing white and yellow cheeses, sour milk and other dairy products.

Apart from these natural beauties ideal for the development of rural and mountain tourism, Goten keeps a trace of one not so widely known episode that may provide a theme for developing history tourism, as it has potential for annual re-enactment. It is the Goten Battleof Easter Day (6th April) of 1903 at the dawn of the Ilinden Uprising.

The battle at Goten is important from a few points of view. It was a winning battle of Macedonian squads (ceta) demonstrating not only the heroism, but also the skills of freedom fighters who scored a clear victory against better equipped enemy outnumbering the revolutionaries more thanoneto ten. It was also a rare example of a combat where the two fractions of the revolutionary movement were united. Cetas (pronounced chetas) from both the autonomist and the pro-Bulgarian wing helped each other and united against the common enemy.

Before the uprising there were two fractions in the liberation movement. One opted for liberation from the Ottomans by means of a national uprising, relying exclusively on‘its own strength’, while the other wanted to engage in armed incidents which would involve Bulgaria in the war against the Ottoman Empire and thus help the liberation of Macedonia. The pro-Bulgarian fraction squads started the action provoking major interventions by the Ottoman militia, which aimed to confiscate illegal weapons and discourage  the population from resistance through brutal repression. To avoid this scenario, the autonomist movement was forced to call for a popular uprising, even though they were aware that it was premature, as they lacked weapons, military skills and manpower for success.

However, both fractions started the preparatory actions. They infiltrated trained revolutionaries and weapons from Bulgaria into the eastern mountainous region. They were operating in Pirin and Malesevo region having small fights with the Ottoman militia. The Ottomans had good intelligence network so that they knew about the movements of the cetas. To intercept them, they surrounded them at Goten mountain. It would have been big success for the Ottomans as cetas from ten regions including Strumica, Radovis, Tikves, Veles, Krusevo, Prilep, Kocani and Kicevo had assempled on that mountain.

The revolutionaries were surprised and surrounded at dawn of April 6 as soon as the church bells rang for Easter. They entered into a heavy battle,but the prospects were not good. They managed,however, to send a courier who reached the ceta of the Vrhovist Voivod Nikola Lefterov. Lefterov immediately ordered his men to help the surrounded comrades. They rushed uphill and reached the battlefield crawling. They waited for nightfall and then in a fast onslaught broke the Ottoman encirclement. The revolutionaries whose overall number was around 250 lost 20 combatants dead, while the Ottoman losses counted 200.

Many other battles were fought in the months before and after the uprising, the revolutionaries displaying much heroism, but it was usually the much better equipped, trained and outnumbering Ottomans who won, and eventually crushed the uprising.