Balkanalysis on Twitter

Promising Projects for Macedonian Archaeology in 2008

January 20, 2008


By Christopher Deliso

Both tourists and academic experts will want to take note of some intriguing developments in the upper Mediterranean this year. According to Pasko Kuzman, archaeologist and Director of Cultural Heritage Protection in the Macedonian Ministry of Culture, 2008 will be an exciting year for the continued unearthing of unknown treasures from several sites around the country.

Among the government’s main priorities are some projects already in progress, and others that will be completely new.

The first major project will be the continuation of excavations on Skopje’s Kale- the highest point of the city over the Vardar, where medieval castle walls guard the river.

In 2007, preliminary digs here resulted in the discovery of many fascinating artifacts dating from prehistoric to Ottoman times, which are now on display in the Museum of the City of Skopje. Among the finds are a coin of Alexander the Great, and numerous ones from Roman, Byzantine and medieval Bulgarian rulers. Around 30 lead seals from the Byzantine period – items which have been an invaluable aid to scholars reconstructing Byzantine history in Turkey and Bulgaria, among other places – were also discovered in the soil beneath the ruined castle.


Skeletal remains of medieval inhabitants were among the finds at Skopje’s castle, Kale, in autumn 2007 (Photo: Christopher Deliso)

The museum exhibit will run until at least May and, somewhat unusually for Macedonia, is complemented by signs providing accompanying details in good English that not only describe the contents of the exhibit, but also in some cases explain the techniques by which the materials were made- particularly intriguing in the case of the pretty, multi-colored Byzantine ceramic bowls and plates on display.

The Kale dig started in October 2007, with the preparation of a project for conservation and restoration of the southwest tower and walls of the castle. The workforce for the excavation numbered up to 360 people (it is now closed for the winter, but will resume in March or April). Among the exciting large finds were the ruins of a medieval church and remnants of a southeastern tower, as well as other walls. According to archaeologist Kuzman, who is also the project leader, the dig should be completed by the end of 2008.

A second project which has attracted worldwide interest is the planned ‘reconstruction’ of the medieval university of St. Clement of Ohrid- the first center of higher learning in the Slavic world, dating from the early 10th century. Over 500 people were put to work on the digging at the university site, which is located near the church of Plaosnik above Ohrid’s old town (the church, which was rebuilt faithfully along the original Byzantine design, was finished under Kuzman’s direction in 2002).

There has been talk in the local media of plans to revive the scholarly spirit of St. Clement’s university, by inviting specialist professors and their students from other countries to conduct on-site research and continue exploring the riches of Ohrid’s undiscovered treasures.

The third item on the culture ministry’s list, also in Ohrid, involves the creation of an over-water museum at the site of a former Neolithic settlement off of the popular camping and beaches area of Gradiste, south of the town on the coast road. The settlement lies at the bottom of the so-called ‘bay of bones’ (zaliv na koski) not far off from Gradiste’s protected cove.

According to the ministry of culture, the materials for building the museum were collected last year – some 600 cubic meters of oak – but the tender for treating the wood was unsuccessful due to lack of international interest. However, a Turkish or Croatian company will now be hired to waterproof the wood, and the museum project should get underway this year.

The final upcoming projects for 2008 involve capital investment for continued work on some of the country’s best-known ancient sites, such as Stobi, the ruined Roman city near Veles in central Macedonia. The government-run site needs 16 new employees in line with the goal of making it the country’s best-equipped and most important archaeological destination.

The government hopes that with increased investment Stobi will, after five years, ‘be able to work completely independently.’ Further, the ancient urban precursor to Skopje, the Roman ruins of Skupi, will be comprehensively excavated in 2008.


The watery prehistoric museum of Gradiste, as it will look when completed (Photo courtesy Macedonian Ministry of Culture)

Also this year, another new archaeological museum is slated for the little-visited eastern town of Vinica, where one of the only known collections of late antique terra-cotta icons was found. The ministry of culture plans to create a new museum for this collection and to begin the conservation and restoration of Vinica’s own castle, Vinicko Kale, though funds still need to be located for the latter.

The man, the myth, the legend: archaeologist Pasko Kuzman exploring Ohrid’s Bay of Bones (Photo courtesy Pasko Kuzman)

Finally, in 2008 excavation will commence at the former medieval castle of Tetovo, Tetovsko Kale. Digging, restoration and work can only be started because of insufficient funding, Kuzman states, though he hopes that the state will choose to support a complete exploration of this important site.

The Tetovo dig is significant in another way as well; just a few years ago, after all, it was off-limits to most people, having been commandeered by Albanian fighters during the 2001 war. Developing archaeology and touristic sites in parts of the country with a history of isolationism is key to the long-term goal of maintaining stability, increasing lawful economic opportunities, and expanding the tourist ‘map’ so as to spark economic growth and, of course, uncover more of Macedonia’s hidden treasures.

All in all, the new impetus for archaeological and heritage protection projects is a promising sign that Macedonia will, in the not too distant future, achieve its rightful place among those countries richest in the natural resources left behind by history.

Looking for More Publications?

Find articles in the Central And Eastern European Online Library (CEEOL)

Buy articles and e-books for Amazon Kindle

2004-2009 Back Archives