Matka Canyon

Matka is beautiful narrow canyon of the lower course of the Treska River, 15 km southwest of Skopje. The Matka Canyon covers roughly 5,000 hectares of the beautiful artificial Matka lake with the Hydro-power Plant Sveti Andreja, steep sides of mountains that are 1000 meters high and challenging caves and picturesque Medieval Monasteries.

The famous academic, engineer, professor Miladin Pecinar was the project designer of the challenging construction of Hydro-power Plant of Sveti Andreja which was the first name of this important energetic facility near Skopje. Professor Pecinar was also the head of monitoring body of the entire pioneer building process. Construction works started in 1935 and the Hydro-power Plant of Matka started its operations in 1938. This unique energetic facility of Yugoslavia was part of the development campaign of the capital of Republic of Macedonia. The main architect professor Miladin Pecinar firmly noticed all beauties of the Treska River Canyon, and had put much efforts and did his best to accomplish preservation of its most important features. The Arch Dam of the Matka Hydro-power Plant is unique in the world that features in-built belts completely independent one from the other. In such construction of a dam, if one of the belt breaks or fails there is not any possibility of a general hazard. The full capacity of the Matka Hydro-power plant was five times larger than the needs for energy in Skopje of that time. The Matka Hydro-power plant greatly enabled development and rapid growth of the city of Skopje in the 20th century. The Matka Hydro-power plant was one of the strategic targets during the Second WW, when fierce battles were waged against Nazi forces who in 1943 had put dynamite in their attempt to destroy the Matka dam. The huge catastrophe was avoided thanks to brave Italian who managed to remove and de-mine dynamite and prevent demolition of the Matka Dam which avoided flooding in Skopje. The Matka Hydro-power Plant was bombed in war attacks, especially in withdrawal of Fascists. The Matka Hydro-Power Plant several times saved the city of Skopje from floods, particularly during the terrible flooding in 1962 and in 1979 when the dam prevented a large flood inflow and terrible consequences and a catastrophe was avoided.

Matka Canyon is home to a wide variety of plants and animals, some of which is unique to the area. The Matka Canyon is home to 77 endemic species of butterfly. The caves of Matka Canyon are home to large populations of bats. Taking a boat ride along the Matka Canyon you can enjoy magnificent surroundings, the scents of flora and the songs of the numerous birds that live there. If you are lucky you will be able to see some wild animals like ducklings swimming in the Lake or a wild boar, a hare or similar animals.

Matka Canyon is among the most popular outdoor destinations in Macedonia and one of Macedonia’s foremost areas for alpine hiking. The climbing season in Matka Canyon begins around Easter and finishes in November. Kayaking on the Treska River which forms a wonderful lake is a popular activity, as are fishing, hunting and swimming. There are 10 caves within the Matka Canyon, with the shortest that is 20 meters long and the longest one, Vrelo Cave being 193 meters long, considered the longest cave in Macedonia. The Matka Canyon also features two vertical pits, both roughly extending 35 meters in depth. Matka Canyon is home to several picturesque Medieval monasteries /St Nicholas Monastery, St Andrew’s Monastery, Matka MonasteryThe Holy Virgin Monastery, Sveta Nedela, Sveti Spas, Sveti Jovan Zlatousti and others/. In the very Matka Canyon, just beside the Saint Andrew Monastery there is the popular restaurant with 80 seats inside and 400 seats in the beautiful garden, serving delicious authentic Macedonian food. It comprises the nice traditionally furnished hotel with 5 comfortable and clean rooms, all with private facilities, categorized with high A category. The rooms are equipped with shower cabins, toilette, LCD TV, satellite channels, fast free wireless Internet 24/7. The Matka hotel has a king’s apartment with open-air Jacuzzi, toilet, LCD TV with satellite channels, fast wireless Internet 24/7 (without additional fee), mini bar and all the conveniences which one apartment of such kind offers.

The Monastery of Saint Nicholas Shishovski is highly attractive medieval monastic site situated on top of a high cliff above the Matka Lake which provides visitor a spectacular and memorable view of the Saint Andrew Monastery, and the lake and its surroundings of the Treska River. The terrain around the Shishovski Monastery is completely inaccessible for cars, and it can be reached only on foot by 3 paths – from the bridge over the Treska River and the village of Matka /some half an hour of walk/, or from the Sisevo village /1 hour of walk/, or from the top of the Vodno Mountain /walk of some 2,5 hours/. It is 18 km away from the city of Skopje, and some 3 km from the Sisevo village. Just across the lake and the Shishovski Monastery the magic view spreads to the Saint Andrew Monastery which is believed to have been erected by the legendary Prince Marko.

There are no precise written records on construction of the Saint Nicholas Shishovski Monastery but some documents mention it as endowment of Prince Marko Mrnjavcevic who erected it in 1345, and it was first mentioned in the 17th century. Unfortunately, during the 18th century the Sisovski Monastery was abandoned, only to be resettled in the following century. Close to both monasteries of Saint Andrew’s and of Saint Nicholas there is the Matka Monastery dating from the 14th century, its frescoes dating from the 15th century. Frescoes that remained express sublimation of the human ugliness in subtle and formally artistic effectiveness. Very experienced in drawing and painting monks-painters depict heads of saints almost as caricatures, with large noses, sunk cheeks and small suspicious eyes – but in rich colors and in strong expressions of dark shades and nervous reflections of light. Between two world wars, there in the village of Sisevo lived an old and reputed Mohammedan Memedovic Family. Suleyman Memedovic was in 1926 elected for the mayor of the Sisevo Municipality. In his youth his father married the Orthodox Christian wife, who made their son Suleyman fond of the Christian ancestors and the Shisevo Monastery. This was the reason that Suleyman became the Serb komita who took part in numerous fierce battles against the Bulgarians and the Turks. Although of islamic faith, such a pious man donated reconstruction of the St Nicholas Sisovski Monastery. Besides the reconstructed church, he built large dormitories and hospices for monks and visitors.

Saint Andrew’s Monastery is beautifully fresco painted Serbian Medieval church situated in the wonderful gorge of the Treska River, on Matka Lake, 17 km away from Skopje. Saint Andrew’s Monastery was built in 1389 by the youngest son of the Serbian King Vukasin Mrnjavcevic, King Andrija – Andrew, who ruled the area around Prilep in the 14th century. Monastery of Saint Andrew was painted with frescoes of high artistic quality by the Metropolitan Jovan-John and monk Grigorije-Gregory, who accomplished the special quality of the experienced and technically outstanding iconography in three zones of the church. Mitropolitan Jovan also painted frescoes of Zrze Monastery in Prilep, and probably was educated in Constantinople. The Standing SS Archangel and Gabriel are painted in the first zone. Apostles and Evangelists Mark, Matthew, John and Lucas are depicted in the southern conch. On the southern wall are painted the Holy Warriors George and Demetrius. On the western wall, south from the entrance to the Saint Andrew Monastery Church is Archangel Michael depicted, while Archangel Gabriel is painted north from the entrance. The Holy Warriors Theodor Stratilat and Theodor Tyron are presented on the northern wall. In the southern conch are Apostles Paul, Andrew, Peter and the Holy Mother Zastapnica depicted. Between the first and the second zone of Saint Andrew Monastery frescoes are painted busts of monks and saints. In the second zone of frescoes of Saint Andrew Monastery are depictions of Christ Passions, that begin with the Secret Dinner in the apse. On the western wall is Assumption of the Holy Mother of God painted. In the third zone of frescoes are the Major Feasts which start with the Birth of the Christ, painted in the apse. In the northern conch of the apse are scenes of the Crucifixion and the Descent to Hell. On the pandantives are depicted Evangelists and in the tambour Prophets. The Holy Virgin with Christ child and the Holy Liturgy of Arch Hierarchs is painted the altar space. The impressive figures of the four Holy Warriors guard the entrance to the St Andrew church.

Frescoes of Saint Andrew Monastery distinguish themselves by their style, but their iconography also differentiate from the other Medieval monuments of Macedonia. Frescoes in the narthex added later after the church construction, were painted in 1559-60. Painters of the St Andrew Church succeeded in leaving the Byzantine iconography and depicted figures of the Holy Warriors in their full sizes, instead of depictions of the Holy Hermits and Jesus miracles and scenes from life of the Holy Virgin, which was a significant step in resolving the perspective and location of figures and portraits within the limited space.

Matka Monastery, or Monastery of the Holy Mother of God, built in the 14th century, is located on the left bank of the Treska River. According to an inscription above the church entrance, someone named Milica found the church, which was in poor condition and without a roof in 1497. She replaced the roof, added new frescoes, built a portico and created vineyards of the Monastery. Some reparation works were carried out at the end of the 19th century. The church of Matka Monastery has the form of a narrow inscribed cross. A cupola with four windows and four blind niches supported by pilasters sits on over the central part of the church. Matka Monastery church features the three-sided outside altar apse. The facades are enlivened with lesions while the windows are small and placed high in the walls providing larger space for frescoes. The frescoes date from the end of the 15th century and feature all the characteristics of the fresco painting during the Turkish period, represented in a considerable falling off in comparison with the nearby St. Andrew’s frescoes. Five zones of frescoes are visible inside the church: full-length figures and medallions depict the Christ Passions and the Great Feasts scenes. Portraits of the patrons Milica and Nikola, dressed in bourgeois clothes are located in the floor level zone of the west wall. The painted monastic figures testify about the ancient monastic holy place, while frescoes of the Serbian saints – the Holy Simeon Nemanya and the St Peter of Korisha – confirm domination of the Pec Patriarchate during the reconstruction and fresco painting processes of the Holy Virgin Monastery in Matka canyon. The fresco painter did not have great skills and accomplished muddy color and uncertain drawing. In regard with the iconography details the painter frequently neglected the traditional sequence of the scenes.

Matka Monastery is a popular excursion place and resort for the Skopje inhabitants and there is a small hotel nearby which is approached by an asphalt road. Existing monastery lodgings were erected in 1886. In 1998 the monastery was revived again. It is now a convent, at the head of which is the Abbess Perpetua. The Matka monastery complex today, besides the church, is comprised of mansion with the belfry, the Bishop’s residence, the housekeeper’s house and the monastery water tap with healthy and clean spring water.

The Jasen Forest Reserve was proclaimed the National Park in 1958. Jasen Forest Reserve covers an area of 24000 hectares and stretches across the mountain massifs of Suva Gora, Suva Planina and Karadzhica. This nature park of Macedonia belongs to the category of the Special Natural Reserves protecting many species of flora and fauna and other natural rarities.