To Demir Kapija and beyond

Monday 18 to Tuesday 19 February

On Monday we set off on an adventure to explore more of Macedonia.

We started by hunting for the Skopje aqueduct. It looked a little forgotten. First thing we noticed was the roadside rubbish. Not a little bit of rubbish – a lot.

There are three theories as to when the aqueduct was built – Roman first century, Byzantine during Justinian’s rule in the 6th century or during the rule of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. It was in use until the 18th century and there are about 55 arches of it still standing.

Next was the Matka Gorge (matka means womb). It is a beautiful setting and the light was lovely. How pretty it would be in summer, when it is a popular destination for the city people.

There are several historic churches and monasteries along the gorge, but St. Andrew’s Monastery is right on the water.

We continued on to Royal Winery Queen Maria in Demir Kapija in the wine region of Tikves. We were staying in the winery that was once owned by King Aleksandar Karadjordjevic of Yugoslavia. Built in 1928, he set out to create quality wine for the needs of the royal family.

The king named the property ‘Queen Maria’ after his wife, Maria Karadjordjevic.

The royal estate included a hospital, a church, a kindergarten as well as the famous Villa Maria.

The winery is now undergoing a massive upgrade with 40 hotel rooms to be added so a lot of areas were out of bounds.

We had booked three of the five available rooms. They were suites and lavishly decorated with velvet couches and flamboyant Eastern European furniture of the period. We stayed in the maroon room, Hayden and Andrea had the turquoise room and Evan and Steph had the olive-green room.

We were the only guests in the hotel. Unfortunately, dinner was cold, the kitchen must be some distance.

There were many peacocks on the property, and it was mating season, so they were putting on a wonderful show.

Evan started posting on Facebook. I always love his photos. He has a quirky eye and sees things differently.

Breakfast was as cold as dinner. Although the winery is going through a massive upgrade, I don’t think it was ready for us.

We stopped by the Holy Virginia Church, with offered views across the village of Demir Kapija. It was built in 1931 on the site of St. Atanasie which was destroyed by an earthquake.

In 1937, the Church St. Virgin Mary in – Demir Kapija was used in a religious service within a requiem dedicated to the assassinated King Aleksandar Karadjordjevic

After driving through a stunning mountain pass and reaching the melting snowline we descended again to see the Roman ruins of Heraclea Lyncestis in the town of Bitola. The main Roman road in the area, Via Egnatia went through Heraclea, and it was an important stop.

The attendant, who was probably the guard and the archaeologist, gave us an explanation of the mosaics in the Byzantine churches. Unfortunately, the mosaics were covered due to the off season. He explained that the main mosaic represented Monophysitism where the person of Jesus Christ was only one divine nature that than divine and human. He explained the elements – the Verse of David, the Fountain of Water with the thirsty deer searching for water. The beginning of life then the Eucharist, the gathering into the kingdom and the end of life.

The rest of the site was devoted to the Roman Ruins on which the Byzantium church had been built. Romans had settled here between 400BC and 400AD. There were baths, an amphitheatre, and the town fountain. Medieval ruins had been unearthed but in 1960 the archaeologists did not regard them as important and removed them.

From here we drove through another stunning mountain pass before descending towards Lake Ohrid in the west of Macedonia.