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An Exciting Archaeological Find in Vevchani

September 5, 2005

By Christopher Deliso

Residents of Vevchani, that endearingly ornery and well-kept mountainside village in southwestern Macedonia, made an exciting discovery just five days ago: the walls of what was probably an Orthodox church, several centuries old, buried under a hillside in the very center of the village.

Balkanalysis.com was on the scene on Saturday, and is happy to bring this breaking story to the attention of readers.

According to the village’s mayor, Vasil Radinoski, the archaeological site was discovered by accident in the middle of last week, while workmen were digging to expand Vevchani’s open-air amphitheater. But when the men, working with pickaxes and shovels, ran into a very large foundation wall submerged under the earth they realized the plan would have to be changed.

Now, the area is fenced off and individual workers dig away at the perimeter – along with a backhoe on the northern side of the site – which would seem to invite concern lest any archaeological objects be damaged by mistake.

However, local authorities have summoned experts who hope to begin soon with a trained team on the inside of the structure. According to Pasko Kuzman, an archaeologist with 25 years’ experience and employed with the National Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments in Ohrid, the structure (which is around 30 feet wide and marked by elliptical curving walls 8 feet high) was most certainly an Orthodox church, forgotten over the centuries and reclaimed by the soil. There was no existing information in historical or archive texts to point to the existence of such a structure on that precise area, though of course this long-inhabited area is rich in archaeological remains.

“We aren’t certain, but it may well be an 18th century church,” Mr. Kuzman told us on Monday. “From a preliminary view, the structure seems to have had 3 altars and could well have been constructed, as was the custom, on the remains of an older church, perhaps from the 13th century.”

In fact, says the expert, the Vevchani church might even have a longer lineage – “it could ultimately derive its existence from the 5th or 6th century, as a Christian basilica.” This view was enthusiastically supported by local sculptor Boro Daskalovski. “It would be great for the village if this turns out to be true,” he said while watching the workers dig.

The most exciting discoveries no doubt remain to be made. Only when an expert team of archaeologists enters the site will it be known if small relics and historical objects can still be found in the ruined church. But until they come, the interior of the site is being left untouched.

Mr. Kuzman hopes that work can begin soon. “We have informed the Ministry of Culture, which has a special fund for archaeological work. We hope it will become a priority for them, because this is a very major and wonderful find.”

Indeed, it is remarkable that such a site could have been sitting all these years in the very center of the village without anyone having known about it. The ancient Roman Via Egnatia passed through the area, and it is thus rich in history and archaeological treasures. Locals sometimes find items such as Greek statues, Roman coins and more. But most of these wind up in local private collections and remain unreported.

Vevchani, it seems, is moving from strength to strength. Already famous for its lush springs and raucous winter carnival, the village now can boast another singular tourist attraction. This ethnically Macedonian village once famous for its stone-carvers, remains an example for the rest of the country of what is possible with a little diligence, pride and consideration of the common good.

Indeed, if every village in Macedonia were like Vevchani, the country would be revitalized. As such, the discovery of the ancient church seems almost like a fortuitous reward to the citizens of Vevchani, who will no doubt take good care of it. And this is a reason for optimism.

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