Skopska Crna Gora Mountain

Skopska Crna Gora is mountainous area and unique anthropological and historical region some 25 km north of Skopje. For centuries the Skopska Crna Gora was known as the earliest Serbian Holy Mountain /Nasi manastiri i kaluđerstvo, Miloš M. Milojević/, as it is spiritually and culturally connected with the Serbian imperial cities of Skopje and Prizren and this area ranks among the largest concentration of the Serbs in Macedonia. The Macedonian-Serbian indigenous population live in the area of the Skopska Crna Gora and they speak the Torlak language dialect. Large number of colonists from Montenegro settled in Skopska Crna Gora after 1918 among whom some entirely have the Macedonian identity.

The Skopska Crna Gora Mountain rises from the Skopje valley in the south, and the Kumanovo valley in the east, the Gnjilane valley in the north and the valley of the Lepenac River in the west. The Skopska Crna Gora Mountain stretches direction south-west north-east with its highest peak of Ramno, 1651 meters. The mountain is divided into two parts by the Canyon of the Lipkovska reka River which springs in here – the western higher and the eastern part called the Karadag. Several cities are located on the slopes of the Skopska Crna Gora Mountain: Skoplje, Kumanovo, Kačanik and Gnjilane. The Skopska Crna Gora area spreads from the Kačanik Gorge on the Lepenac River to the Končulj Gorge on the Južna Morava River. The soil of the Skopska Crna Gora area contains the crystal sedimenrary rocks with layers of stone and random traces of eruptive rocks with sporadic forests and pastures and plenty of medicinal herbs and forest products.

The mountain and the area of the Skopska Crna Gora make the important ancient Serb historical core on which there are proofs longer than 8 centuries dating from times prior the reign of the Nemanjic Dynasty in Serbian lands. In the area of the Skopska Crna Gora there is the largest number of the Serbian medieval monasteries that in number exceeds every other region. The Serbian medieval kings Milutin, Stefan of Decani, emperors Dusan and Uros in the 13th, the 14th and the beginning of the 15th century erected some 50 royal endowments, churches and monasteries here in the Skopska Crna Gora. The churches and monasteries of the Skopska Crna Gora are structures built of stone with well-preserved depictions of Saint Sava and Saint Simeon on frescoes that belong to the pinnacle of the medieval art of Serbia painted mainly by unknown painters. All of churches and monasteries of the Skopska Crna Gora belonged in the past to the jurisdiction of the Pec Patriarchate but come as the cadastre of the Macedonian Orthodox church although this are has clear identity of the so-called “Macedonian nation“, that means the area ever since populated with the Macedonian-Slavic people that were officially Serbs before 1945.

The legend has it that prior the Ottoman conquest this area was called the Serbian Holy Mountain after its 365 Orthodox churches and monasteries. At present there are some 50 Orthodox churches and monasteries, mostly from medieval times. The villages of Kučevište, Gornjane, Banjane, Čučer, Pobužje, Gluvo, and Mirkovce are settlements of the Skopska Crna Gora with predominant Serb population. In the Kučevištu village that is the central village of the mountainous area of the Skopska Crna Gora mostly populated with the Serbs, there is the Holy Savior Church which celebrates the Holy Christ Ascension but until the 15th century had the name of the Entrance of the Holy Virgin to the temple. The present Church of the Holy Savior in Kučevište was erected between 1331 till 1337, during the rule of Emperor Dusan who gifted this church to the monastery of the Holy Archangels in Prizren. At that time the village of Kučevište used to celebrate 3 slava – patron saints festivities –  the Saint Athanasius, the Saint Archangel Michael and the Holy Holy Christ Ascension. Until today the one slave festivity remained – the Holy Christ Ascension which made the name of the church turned into the Holy Christ Ascension church. The interior of this church is fresco painted by figures of the holy martyrs holding crosses in their hands and some of them holding swords, and depiction of Saint archangels Michael and Gabriel next to the hardly visible depictions of the Holy warriors of Saint George, Saint Demetrius and Saint Procopius. Here are depicted the lord Radoslav who served to the Serbian kings Stefan of Decani and Dusan, and his wife Vladislava, who are depicted in full size, and dressed in lavish rulers noble clothes. Next to those portraits there are painted portraits of emperor Dusan and his wife Jelena and son Uros who make the monumental painting art from the Renaissance period of Paleaologus Dynasty. In 1501 there was a tiny church of Saint Nicholas added in the roof of the church of the Holy Savior which makes the church within the church that was again repainted in 1874 by the Miyak painters who also painted the fresco of the Holy Milos Obilic. The church of Saint Nicholas within the Church of the Holy Savior used to have interior stairway and had been reconstructed in 1905 for the liturgical services after long period of inaction. The Church of Saint Nicholas was destroyed in the fire in 1984 when its narthex was destroyed along with the rich treasury that used to keep precious books.

The Monastery of Holy Archangels which dates from the first half of the 14th century when it was dedicated to the Holy Paraskeva – Virgin, is located up in the mountain by the Kuceviska reka River. At the elevation above villages of Gornjane, Banjani and Čučer, in the area of the Gornjane village is set the Monastery of Saint Nicetas  with the chapel dedicated to Saint John the Baptist built from the 11th till the 13th century. As this area often changed rulers in the medieval times, it is to believe that the Monastery of St Nicetas for some time went through decay and remained in ruins until King Milutin overtook this area. King Milutin ordered his constructors to erect entirely new church from the foundations. By reconstruction of the Saint Nicetal Monastery, King Milutin presented it with numerous estates, mostly around town of Skopje. Those estates were included in the lost royal charter and also in the founding charters of the Byzantine emperors Andronicus II and Michael IX, that were issued as per appeal of King Milutin. The Monastery of Saint Nicetas in the Skopska Crna Gora is known for well-preserved frescoes that are work of the royal painters Michael and Eutyches who also fresco painted the church of Saint Klement in Ohrid. Given that the Church of Saint Klement features monumental features of fresco painting from the earlier period, here in the Church of Saint Nicetas artists were more liberal in expression of the iconographic traditions and patterns.

Truly attractive Monastery of Saint Elijah in the village of Banjane looks as it ‘comes out’ from a large rock. In this village is also the Church of Saint Lucas and the Church of Saint George from the 16th century which keeps the unique composition of the Last Judgement. Besides those shrines, the area of the Skopska Crna Gora has also the Church of Saint Petka – Paraskeva in the village of Pobožje, but also the Church of Saint Athanasius, the Church of Saint Nicholas in the Ljubanci village, likewise large number of the monastic and church landscapes that are places with vivid remains of the former shrines…… Although fully surrounded with the Albanians and forcibly islamized and persecutted names of the Serbs and the South Serbia, the Serbs of the Skopska Crna Gora succeeded to protect their heritage, names and customs.

The tradition of the Skopska Crna Gora villages of Ljubanci, Pobuzja and Kuceviste clearly testify on the important old road between the Skopje Valley in the south and Kosovo in the north. This road is extension of roads which passed from the east and the south-east and that used to continue along the vast mountainous area of the Skopska Crna Gora, and further along the Gnjilane/Vitina villages of Debeldeja and Binča from where it went further to Kosovo. The road on the massif of the Skopska Crna Gora led along the localities that are today known as Vlaj grob, Bel kamen, Kaleš Mara, Muratica, Ramno, Karaula and Careva livada.The living tradition has it that this road has been built as per orders of Sultan Murad, 1360-1389, that is the reason it was called the Murad road or the road of Sultan Murad or Muratica. Along this road the numerous Ottoman army passed in 1389 to ‘fight with the Emperor Lazar in Kosovo’.

In the valley of the Skopska Crna Gora – underneath the mountain bearing the same name, the population keep the other unusual tradition which proves that their region after the Kosovo Battle in 1389 which was the beginning  of the Ottoman rule, the specific local independence was preserved form some 80 years. The natural borders of this area were never passed by none of the Ottomans. Only after the period of 80 years Sultan ordered his army to conquer this part of the Skopje Ravine. It is assumed that migrations led towards the mountainous territory of the present Montenegro, although there are no historical records for such assumption, but it still deserves attention of visitors.

According to the next tradition, earlier this mountain was called the Bela planina – the White Mountain. By the Uprising in Macedonia known as the Karpos Uprising that was raised after the huge fire of Skopje committed by the Austrian soldiers under command of General Picolomini in 1689 and withdrowal the Austrians in direction to the north, the young Turkish forces had distinguished the Uprising led by Karpos. Karpoš was the leader of the rebels against the Ottoman administration in Macedonia, at first as the commander of martolosi forces in the area of the north Macedonia. Later Karpos joined the hajduks – outlaws and started the Karpos Uprising against the Ottomans, 1689-1690 which came at the same time of the Austrian conquest of town of Nis. The Karpoš rebels took Kriva Palanka, Kratovo, Kumanovo and Kačanik, when Karpoš proclaimed himself the prince of Kumanovo that was confirmed by the Austrian Emperor Leopold. After withdrawal of the Austrian Army from Macedonia, the Ottomans carried out quick campaign for crushing the resistance of rebels. As revenge, Karpos was brutally impaled in the Stone Bridge in Skopje.

During the Large Serbian Migration in 1690 inormous number of Serbs left their homes and settlements in the Skopska Crna Gora and settled in the Banat area in Vojvodina. Those who remained to live here after the Ottoman conquest, during next 80 years managed to preserve their identity, culture and habits. At present the villages of Kučevište in Skopska Crna Gora live some 3000 inhabitants. Although the large number of population of the Skopska Crna Gora are called the two-religious by conversion into Islam, their souls keep Christianity and dedication to the old faith, so they still celebrate Christmas, Easter and patron days of Đurđevdan /Saint George Day/ and Vidovdan /Saint Vitus Day/ and other celebrations and festivities of the Old Serbia.