Mariovo – Morihovo

Mariovo /also Morihovo/is the mountainous region in southern Macedonia, actually the southernmost part of Macedonia, at the foot of the Kajmakcalan peak, known for its natural beauties and rich cultural legacy and wonderful tradicional music and dances, famous for uniquely wonderful white traditional costumes. The Mariovo area in present North Macedonia is somewhat large but since there has been no urban development in these spaces over the past century, this region contains no actual urban settlements and towns, but only rustic villages that represent one of the most distinctive ethnic clarity and common identity of the Orthodox Slavic population in Macedonia. Mariovo is situated at the average elevation of 1050 meters, between the mountains Selechka (highest peak – Visoka 1471 m) on the west, Nidze Mt (highest peak – Kajmakchalan 2520 m) and Kozhuf (highest peak – Zelenbeg 2171 m) on the south, Kozjak (highest peak – Baltova Chuka 1822 m) in the east and Dren mountain, (highest peak – Studenica 1663 m) in the north. Those majestic mountains of Mariovo area divide the Vardar part of Macedonia from the Aegean part of Macedonia. The largest village in Mariovo is Vitolište situated in Prilep’s municipality. Mariovo is nowadays divided in three municipalities – Konopishte is in Kavadarci municipality, Vitolishte in Prilep municipality, and Staravina in Novaci municipality, as a part of Bitola’s county.

Nidže Mountain is mountain in south Macedonia, along which goes the border with Greece. The highest peak of the Nidze Mountain is Kajmakčalan, 2521 meters. Mountain Nidže had been created by fissure in Tertiary and comes in Paleosoic slate, while in its highest part it features some Mesosoic characteristics. Mountain Nidže is known by richness of forests, mountain pastures and diversified flora. Nidže Mountain spreads on the border between Macedonia and Greece, east of Pelagonija valley, and on the eastern slope it is almost precipitous. Towards northwest the Nidže Mountain borders the Skočivir Ravine, while the Crna reka /Black River/ joins in large bend with the Satoka River, which further flows in direction of more than 90 degrees southeast to its junction with the Gradashtanska River.

Despite centuries of dispute over who owns Macedonia, a part of this recently independent state remains of great historical significance to Serbs. During World War I, from 12th September until the 3rd October 1916, the Battle of Kajmakcalan between the Serbian and Bulgarian-German troops took place at Kajmakčalan peak and around the adjacent peaks, resulting in the great Serbian victory. The Nidže mountain changed hands several times, but eventually the Bulgarian and German foes were driven back, and the Eastern Front saw a change in the course of the Great War. Yet nothing could prepare visitors for its breathtaking beauty, quietness and solitude, in contrast to the intolerable noise of the battle that raged there nearly 100 years ago. Valiant and heroic Serbian combat ended the bloodiest battle of the whole Salonica campaign with liberation of Bitola /Monastir/ within the Salonika front, and had marked the beginning of the successful outcome of the First World War. The Serbs won, but they payed a very high price – around 10.000 Serbian casualties and wounded. There is a tiny church dedicated to Saint Elias – Sveti Ilija made up of weapons, shells and barbed wire fence off the church, in a testament to eternal peace and a crypt for the Serbian soldiers who heroically died in the battle. In the church there is an urn which contains the heart of Dr. Archibald Reiss, the Swiss-German father of Forensic Medicine, who sought to bring to the world’s attention the slaughter of Serbian civilians during the Great War. It says :

“In this urn, On Kajmakčalan’s peak, The golden heart sleeps, Of a Serbian friend, 8th August 1929”.

Such was Reiss’s loyalty to the Serbian cause that he fought alongside Serbs, lived in Belgrade until his death, and declared in his will that his heart be embalmed and placed in an urn on Kajmakčalan. This testament to the indescribably heroic Serbian history is not that well known, and deserves not to remain a secret, but to gain constant admiration of the world as the legacy of Serbs among the mountains of Macedonia.

All around the mountains of Mariovo and on the Nidze Mountain are settled semi-slavicized Wallachians cattle-breeders, and in the nearby Meglen areas are continuously settled the Meglen Wallachians. Wallachians of the Meglen area are recorded in a document of the Holy Athos Monastery archive in 1094, while Tache Papagahi, Originea Munovistenilor si Gopesenilor, Bucuresti, 1935 analyses characteristics of the local Tsintsar /Aromanian/ dialect, and consider the Gopes and Maloviste villages as the original pra-habitation and homeland of the Meglen-Wallachian language of the original population. The Meglen Wallachian people live in the prefectures of Pella and Kukes of the present Greece, in the village of Hum, Konsko and Sermenin in present Macedonia. Unlike their Wallachian brothers Aromunians – Tsintsars, Karakachans and Farsheriotes, the Meglen Wallachians were never nomadic cattle-breeders, but the peasants engaged in agriculture.

The Mariovo region was settled by the Serbs persecuted from Greece and Albania after the Balkan wars and the First World War – large number of Serbs settlers, especially from the mountainous areas and the valleys from Prespa and Ohrid, as well as refugees from the Serbian lands in Korca and Elbasan and Iannina in Epir /data from 1927/.

Historical records prove that the name of Mariovo comes from Mara Brankovic – daughter of the Serbian despot Djuradj Brankovic. Mara Brankovic was one of wives of the Ottoman sultan Mutad II. After sultan s death, Mara returned to Serbia and refused the marriage offer of the last Byzantine tsar Konsantine XI Paleologus. Mara Brankovic was highly respected and had significant impact on her husband Sultan Murad II, likewise his successor, sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror that she used for help and protection of the Christians in the Ottoman Empire. Sultan Mehmed granted Mara several estates in possession, among them those in Jezeva – now in Greece, southeast of Thessaloniki where she tirelessly acted until her death in 1487.

However it is also believed and said that Mariovo was named after the beautiful and brave girl Marija. The legend has it that some Turkish Pasha who has conquered the villages of Mariovo, has fallen in love with this girl and enchanted by her beauty, was prepared to do everything to gain her love. But Marija’s father was not approving on and relationship nor marriage because his daughter was a Christian, and the Turk was a Muslim. The Pasha would not give up. Marija had answered his persistence with one condition: she would become his wife, but the entire region, from the Poloski monastery, Selecka mountain, to the village by the name of Brod, then the Bitola region, the Nidze mountain and to the reach of Kozjak, to remain Christian and that not a single Turk should be inhabited there. The Pasha agreed to this condition, signed papers on that decision and took Marija with him. He took her on the rood leading to the village of Dunje, Marija suddenly took the knife from her folds, and forcefully killed herself. Taking away her life, she did not surrender to the pasha, who later, although he wanted to, could not annul the contract he previously signed. By the power of this document, the guarantee that the entire region should remain Christian was respected. In the honor of the girl and her courageous act, and the love for her fellow people, the region was named Mariovo.

The church of  “Saint Nicholas” in the village of Monastery in Mariovo is built on an older facility, and it got today shape in 1266. The church is a three nave basilica without narthex, central vessel is arched and the sides are with an open roof construction. The east parts end with semi-circular apse from the inside and three side apse from the outside. Fresco painting of Saint Nicholas Monastery in Mariovo was completed in 1271 during the reign of Michael VIII Palaeologus. The long article in the main part explains the history of the church. It says that the painting was done under the leadership of Deacon John, the Holy Archbishop speaker, who called several prominent masters to do the frescoes of the church.