A point of interest is the half-submerged church in the lake, which was flooded when a dam was built. From a distance, looks like the water is shallow enough so you could walk all the way to the church. Haven't tried that though.
WARNING: Parts of the Monastery burned down September 2009. The church was spared. Keep this in mind when you plan to visit the Monastery!
The Monastery of Sveti Jovan Bigorski (St John the Baptist) is located on Mount Bistra in the Mavrovo National Park in the west of Macedonia, close to the village Galicnik. Sveti Jovan Bigorski was first build in 1020, when an icon of St John the Baptist was found at the spot. It is still a working monastery, were you can stay the night for about 5 euros or some work.
The church is renowned because it has one of only three iconostases that were woodcarved by the famous brothers Petre and Marko Filipovski from Gari and Makarije Frckovski from Galicnik. The iconastasis has over 500 humans and 200 animals carved, depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Remarkably, many of the depicted people wear the traditional 19th century Macedonian costumes, despite the fact that the scenes are from the bible. Besides the many religious scenes, the woodcarving team itself can be found at the left side of the iconostasis. The other two iconostases can be found in Sveti Spas (Holy Saviour) in Skopje and in the Monastery of Sveti Gavril Lesnovski (St Gabriel) in Lesnovo.
Remarkable are the frescoes on the outside of the church.
There is a small shop that sells religious items as well as CDs with church music such as Orthodox singing.
You cannot enter the monastery in shorts etc, but at the entrance you can get trousers and skirts to put over your own clothes in case you are dressed inappropriately.
The view from the monastery over the Mavrovo National park is very good.
There is an artificial lake in Mavrovo National Park, Lake Mavrovo, accumulated in 1953 after a dam was build.
This caused a church to be flooded, parts of which still can be seen in the lake. The pictures were taken after a dry period in 2007, when the church fully emerged from the lake.
A new church was build close to the old church on a slightly higher point.
They say that the bridge is build by an Ottoman lord (also called a "bey") during the 14th century.
The bey and his army were hunting a deer, which was wounded but kept escaping. Despite its wounds, the deer was not caught. When it reached the river Garska, it jumped over the river, but died on the other side. The bey build the bridge to commemorate the deer's bravery. The graceful shape of the bridge reminds of the leap the deer made.
When you are driving southwards from Mavrovo Lake to Debar, turn left to the villages Gari, Lazaropole and Tresonce, before you reach Lake Debar. The 600-year-old bridge is less than 2km on this road, at an open space on your left. It is easy to miss if you drive too fast!
The road from Gostivar to Debar through the Mavrovo National Park follows the river Radika.
It is quite a spectacular river!
Because the Radika is not always very well visible from inside the car, since it flows a couple of meters below the road, it pays off to make a stop and have a good look.
When the artificial Lake Matka was constructed, this caused a church to be flooded.
A new church is being build close to the old church to make up for this!
Mavrovo was proclaimed National Park in 1949 and is the biggest National Park of Macedonia, located in the north-west and bordering Albania. It covers an area of more than 73,000 square hectares.
The structure of the park is diverse, covering a part of the alpine mountainous region from the Shara Mountain and Pind Mountainous system. This area includes the most southern slopes of Shara Mountain and the mountains Korab, Deshat, Krchin and the mountain Bistra. Characteristic for this rather small area are the large number of mountain tops and peaks higher than 2000m, 52 exactly, that are divided by deep gorges and canyons. The highest peak is Gorem Korab, with its 2764m also the highest peak of Macedonia.
The vegetation falls under the Mediterranean, Euro-Siberian and Alpine-Norwegian regions. Over 100 species of higher plants can be found here, out of which 38 tree species, 35 bushes and circa 60 endemic and rare species. The fauna includes 140 species of birds such as grey hawk, imperial eagle, golden eagle, forest owl and the big owl. There are also 11 species of amphibians, 12 species of reptiles and 38 species of mammals such as the brown bear, lynx, wild goat and wild cat.
Many shepherds walk with their sheep on the slopes of the mountains in the park.
There is an artificial lake in the park, Lake Mavrovo, accumulated in 1953 after a dam was build. This caused a church to be flooded, parts of which still can be seen in the lake.
The mountain surrounding the lake is called Mount Bistra. Mount Bistra is also the location of the second by size ski center in Macedonia. The Mavrovo National park is also a popular resort for the Macedonians, with many weekend houses.
Besides enjoying the natural beauty of Mavrovo National Park, there are some other sights in the park:
- The village Galicnik with its famous yearly traditional wedding
- The Monastery of St Jovan Bigorski (St John the Baptist)
- The cave Sharkova Dupka
In Debar in the west of Macedonia, close to the Mavrovo National Park, is the church and nunnery of Sveti Gjorgi Pobedonoset, or St George the Victorious. The nunnery, which was completed in 2001, can be found just before you exit Debar on the road to Skopje. If the main gate is closed, enter through the door a little further down the nunnery outer wall.
The nunnery has a very well kept garden.
The church itself is one of the best preserved in Macedonia, with many intact 19th-century frescoes. The church dates back to 1835, but is built on the foundations of a 16th-century church that in turn was built on the grounds of the 11th-century castle of St George.
St George the Victorious is the same patron saint of England who slayed the dragon from his white horse in order to save the princess.
The church contains the only replica of St George's original icon that stands in the Zograf Monastery at Mount Athos in Greece, where it miraculously appeared after the Zograf Monastery was built. The story goes that local bishop did not believe this spontaneous appearance and wanted to check the icon for fresh paint. When he touched the icon, his finger got stuck to the painting and eventually had to be chopped off. The finger remained stuck to the original icon and a bloody digit represents this on the replica icon at St George's church in Debar.
The nun that showed us the church spoke very well English and explained this and other stories about the frescoes.
If you are dressed indecently, you will be provided with skirt or habit before you can enter the church.
The cave Sharkova Dupka is located in the National Park Mavrovo at 280 degrees west from the Mavrovo Lake in Mavrovo.
The cave slit (entrance hole) is at the same height as the hotel Bistra roof on the hill just opposite it.
The cave as a well-like entrance with diameter of 2 m, goes down 2 m straight, then 6 m oblique under an angle of 20 degrees, continuing in a 6 m vertical up to the grand hall that is 10 m high, 22 m long and 12 m wide.
Big stalactites and stalagmites with draperies of corals can be found left in the hall. There is a big 5 m long stalactite on the right.
The hall continues in two canals - on both left and right side, also rich with decorative elements.
The second hall is down the channels. It is 15 m long, 13 m wide and 11 m high, rich with decorations, undamaged and untouched by the human hand. Periodically, underground water flows down.
Besides the numerous underground decorations, the cave has an abundance of fauna.
If the cave is closed, you can ask at the Stone Cafe in Mavrovo (070-860 360 or 071-555 155) where you also can rent a room.
Mavrovo has the best terrain in the region for mountain biking. I have tried it with a rented bike (you can rent a good bike there at the solid cheap prize of 5 Euros per hour) and am just waiting now for the snow to melt so I can go there and ride my own bike now!
The most famous village in Mavrovo National Park is Galicnik, with its yearly traditional Galichnik Wedding.
This statue commemorates 17 people from the village Belicica and 21 soldiers that were brutally murdered on September 19th 1944.