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Matka… in the heart

I said to myself: Matka is here, it is close, we will not need much time and we will finish our research quickly.
The plan was to visit all the churches and shrines, to “jump” to Vrelo, to drink coffee in the mountain lodge, to visit the hunting ground, yes … and all that in one day.
No, my friends. Matka does not allow that. It dragged us from place to place, slowed us down, tired us … all in order not to rush, not to hurry, not to run through it … but to stop and think, for example, why the ancient temples are built high in the rocks, why the “snake grape” emits orange color, or why so much mysticism is hidden in the precipices and caves. No, Matka did not allow us to underestimate her.

Only 15 km southwest of Skopje, in the lower course of the river Treska, a Monument of – NATURE has been created. No matter how you look at it: geological, geomorphological, or hydrological, you are out of breath. This magnificent work of nature, 1,000 meters high, with steep incisions over 250 meters high, was created by the vertical erosion of the river Treska during the “God only knows how” long geological history…

The adventure begins one kilometer or two above the village of Matka. We go to the church “St. Spas ”, located on a mountain hill about 600 meters high. We climb in silence. We held our breath for the moment when we reached the goal … to have the strength to fill our lungs deeply.
We reach the one-nave church “St. Spas”, (meaning Salvation). Unfortunately, we could not find the key to enter. Written documents say that it is a medieval building (late 14th century), which was probably built on a previous sacral building associated with the strong cult of St. Spas, which the local population identifies with this church…

Ten steps below we notice a wooden handwritten sign “St. Georgia.” Bricks left on the marked area. Someone’s wish … or intention ?! But we are looking for the “Holy Trinity” or “St. Archangel Michail “. I knew they have to be here. But where? We turn in a circle looking for the location and suddenly – here it is …
Many stone building parts, which according to historians and topological features date from the early Roman and late ancient periods. A beautiful “scene”. And again in moments like this, as always – I touch the stone as if it will tell me the story ten centuries-old … But, believe me, it always happens. Under that cold touch comes warmth that reminds you of both eternity and mortality. It makes you smaller than a speck of sand and elevates you with the opportunity to leave a trace, your own.

Part of yourself and your energy.
The sun is already shining brightly. We cross a narrow rocky hill called Argachine. We climb, and I fail to notice something important. Yes, Mark’s city is hard to spot. If you do not know the terrain or do not have someone to guide you, you will hardly notice it. The ancestors knew where to build their fortress. To protect them from evil, from the enemy, from the careless. Then and today.
But who was the ruler or boss of Markov Grad? There are two possibilities: in the Middle Ages it was supposed to be a fortified monastery complex with a church and lodgings, but it is also possible that it was a feudal fortress with a noble church. Here, the records say, lived Boyko, a nobleman, the master of Matka.
From the noble church today … many traces. “Holy Sunday” is a small one-nave church. It is noted that it had wide walls made of crushed and carved limestone, using both bricks and tiles. The frescoes are visible, but still difficult to recognize. The people still love this place. Candles, incense, and oil were left, there was even a match, to light a candle. It is up to you to leave something to yourself. History, on the other hand, has not yet deciphered the question of who is the founder?
“By the will of God the Almighty Father and with the help of the only begotten Son and with the cooperation of the Most Holy Spirit, this holy and divine temple was created and inscribed, in the name of the holy glorious supreme apostle of Christ called Andrew” … This is part of the inscription which is located just above the lintel of the west entrance door of the beautiful and full of legends monastery “St. Andrej ”, located in the heart of Matka. And there could not be found a more beautiful place in this part of the “world”, in this small piece miraculously giving the soul that it gives to everyone who enters it with an open heart. Today, it may be easy to reach him. By car for an hour, but imagine what it was like in 1389, when Volkashin’s second son, Andreas, picked him up! How did it “crawl” so far in ancient times? When it took hours to arrive, and even more to carry a load!

The church may be small in construction and the frescoes may not be impressive its size. But that is why the two rows of consciously chosen saint figures speak from above. Only if you want to listen.

But time was running out for us. The boat was already ready to drive us to Vrelo.

We take a ride in the boat, looking impatiently to the left or the right. I thought I will see them, in their environment, in their extraordinary flight … yes, the white-headed eagles. But so few remained. I did not see them. At least not that day. But we saw the high nests nestled in the rocks. After some thirty minutes we reached Vrelo, a mystically beautiful underwater cave about which I will say “God only knows how deep”. So far, 500 meters horizontally and 212 meters vertically have been explored … deep, really deep “blue” … among the deepest in Europe.

But, the statistics are not important – but the story. It says that you must not live in Skopje and forget about this place, and not visit the place for ten years. So much for closeness or negligence. And in the cave Vrelo, which by the way is completely adapted for tourism, you will meet the colonies of bats, and at least you will explain to your children that they are not nasty animals but, on the contrary, very useful endemic creatures. You will also hear the story of the “Russian lake” because the Russian ambassador to Macedonia bathed in it for the first time in winter. I do not know if it is true, but the story is charming.

I end the story here. I fulfilled only one part of the plan. No, Matka cannot be seen in one day. That is why she is beautiful. The story always continues … For Matka – the carrying mother, for “St. Bogorodica “, – the temple of today’s nunnery built in the 14th century, or the monastery “St. John Chrysostom”, for” Marko’s foot “, for “Gradec”, for…

Also… do you know that in the canyon of Matka is preserved an extraordinary wealth of indigenous flora and endemic vegetation. Natali’s Ramonda, a plant used to compress food for astronauts, is also found in the cracks of sedimentary rocks.