For years, there has been but a single monk in Treskavec. There is also a fountain, some birds and cats no doubt, and the emptiness.
The emptiness all around, a huge void. Maybe the monk sees there the Infinite, but for me there was only emptiness, the sun, the stones.
A dreadful place.
The monastery of Treskavec – Tрeскавец – is perched on the stones, almost on the top of the mountain overlooking the city of Prilep in Macedonia, on a small plateau, difficult to access, and close to the peak of the 1280-meter-high Mount Zlatovrv.
From a distance you can only see a pile of rocks that form a pyramid over an arid plain. We asked for directions from a passer-by; then at a gas station, we looked for the large sign on the right side, we followed the road along the cemetery. The route then passes across the fields, then a kind of a scrub, a yellowish steppe, and finally you look around in search of the monastery, of which we do not know anything yet. However, you cannot see it, you do not know where to look, you turn left and right, you don’t see anything. You drive across the arid plain, between dry reeds and small, thirsty trees, and suddenly you find yourself at the foot of the mountain. The mountain is there, before you, absolutely sealed, like a tower with no door, but the road does not care about the mountain, it does not take into account the slope, it rises dizzyingly. You drive along for some more miles, sometimes almost vertically, it seems, and you lose hope of seeing the monastery, because there is nothing on these rocks. Nothing.
And then suddenly you catch sight of it, there it is, we are still far away – we must continue the ascent on foot. The plain unfolds under our feet.
Earlier, when there was no road there, people climbed up on foot, or on horseback, or on a mule. The locals of Prilep came up on special occasions. The esnafs, the guilds of the city came to the monastery when Prilep was still under Ottoman rule, before 1913. They have beautiful Turkish clothes and and mustaches, but you can imagine, that if they climbed up this far, then they must have been good Christians. Here, the clothes and mustaches are completely different, beautiful Serbian or beautiful Macedonian ones, I cannot say, these are the troops of Prilep leaving for the front in 1916, when, after the Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913, the city already belonged to the kingdom of Serbia.
In antiquity there was already a temple of Apollo and Artemis up there, whose foundations are still visible. From the earliest days of Christianity, around the fifth or sixth century, there was a church here, but a monastery was built only in the early 14th century by the Serbian king Stefan Uroš II Milutin. On this spectacular site, on the steep cliff of Prilep, we also find a fortress founded a few decades later, the towers of King Marko Kraljević.
The monastery has been repeatedly destroyed by fires since the late 19th century, compromised by weather, deprived by its monks in 2005 due to the conflict between the Serbian and Macedonian Orthodox churches. It was restored in 2008, when the road was repaired to facilitate the access to the site. Unfortunately, in February 2013 another fire was started by a defective heater, destroying all the konaks, the traditional residential buildings in the Serbian monasteries – and the historical heritage is more at risk than ever.
Standing in front of these ruins, and knowing about the stupid, banal and domestic origin of this fire, nevertheless I feel that it’s like a shortcut for everything which was painful in this journey, a metaphorical image of all these Balkan wars,
of the depopulated territories,
of the burned houses of Kosovo,
of the burned mosques in Prilep,
of the dead and dried trees,
of the fields still mined here and there,
of the stories of abandonment, flight and exile,
of the so sensible fears,
of the hatreds and schisms,
of the rival churches,
of the borders closed in this or that direction, between Greece, Macedonia or Serbia,
of the monuments built on this or that side of these fragile borders, in this or that part of the valleys, the churches and mosques, whose bells or loudspeakers invade each other’s sound spaces, and which are observed and watched,
of the nationalisms,
of the bilingual or trilingual signs, where they furiously erase the place names, because they are written in the hated language,
of the posters in honor of persons who are elsewhere called criminals,
of wounds still fresh.