Yesterday, I left Skopje for the mountains of Macedonia (the word “Balkans” means mountains) and the hills of Stip, an ancient city in Macedonia where there is a new American Corner Library. It was a beautiful trip. The sun was shining and the purple summer thistles were interspersed with fabulous little red poppies that had survived from May and June just in the places where there were rivers and streams. There are ancient early Christian churches (like 6th. century or so) that I can see from my amazing view of my hotel and just down the street is the Museum of Stip where in the beautiful lawns of the front of the museum are Gandahara-like statues which clearly show that Macedonian was a very important part of the ancient world.

There is a famous Roman city very near by.  Bargala was the name of the famous Roman city that was an important part of the Roman empire and there is an amazing statue on the front lawn of the Museum of Stip that has the body of a male figure that reminds me of so many of the Roman statues of the Persian God Mithras with his body turned backwards and his flowing cloak. Unfortunately, the head of the statue is lost, but I hope to see what is inside the museum as well as this morning, before I went to the American Corners Library, I was allowed by the lady who was working there to see two fabulous Byzantine saints from the early Byzantine period. So many of the ancient buildings here have been Byzantine, then for hundreds of years a part of the Ottoman Empire, and now part of modern Macedonian.

This is a truly beautiful town. I took a walk this morning after watching two dogs playing near the river. I got downstairs an hour later and they were still having a great time playing with each other on the cool morning before the day gets too hot to do that sort of thing. There was great attendance this morning with the younger children. The Corner hasn’t even been open for five months and yet there are 16 students in the morning creative writing class. It was amazing. They also did great work and we had no problem selecting the “Best So Far” awards for the morning class. The afternoon class was a little more difficult as we had done a brain geography and they had had a lot of choices about the character whose brain they were describing. Then they could place the character in either a first-person narration or a third-person narration. They did a great job.

It is a pleasure to be in Stip. I will write more about Bargala as I am seeing more objects from this famous Roman town. Several times during the Roman period, groups of Roman retired soldiers banded together and settled in Macedonian when they were not given land in Italy or Spain. More anon about Bargala. There is a mosaic in Bargala, a central processional pathway, the old town of Bargala is the old city of Stip, where one of the three rivers is. There is also a waterfall. There is also a really nice Goatherd nearby who is reputed to make coffee and let the Peace Corps Volunteers play with the baby goats, not to be outdone by the Pigherd in Odysseus’s Ithaca.

Merrilee Cunningham, WITS Writer to the Balkans

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