Sunday, June 30, 2013

Stone Churches of Lake Matka, Macedonia

Lake Matka was not on our radar when we visited Skopje. It was a German guest at our hotel who suggested we go there as we were asking about St. Panteleimon Church. 

Lake Matka was formed by damming the Treska River in narrow Matka Canyon in 1937. The water is a beautiful greenish blue. 
Lake Matka near Skopje, Macdeonia
The dam on the Treska River which created the lake.
There are ten caves in Matka Canyon with Vrelo Cave listed as one of the top 77 natural sites in the world by the New7Wonders of Nature initiative. It has stalactites and two inner lakes and is home to many bats. There are also a number of stone churches in the canyon and the mountains surrounding it. St. Andrew, just above the water, next to a restaurant and boating dock, is by far the easiest to get to. 
Judy with St. Andrew Church behind her.
The other churches are at various hiking distances. We had to limit our stay as we had a taxi waiting for us and also wanted to spend some time in Skopje later that day. So we did a short visit to St. Andrew Church and then chose to hike up to St. Nicholas Church, across the lake and a 20 to 30 minute walk up the side of a mountain. 

St. Andrew's Monastery was built in 1389 by Andreas, second son of King Volkasin and Queen Elena, who ruled from 1365 to 1371 over an area which included what is now Prizren, Kosovo, Skopje and Prilep, Macedonia. The church is dedicated to St. Andrew, the first apostle. It has fabulous medieval frescoes that are some of the best remaining from that era. It is apparently still a functioning monastery, part of the Diocese of Skopje in the Macedonian Orthodox Church. 
St. Andrew, view from near the boat dock.
St. Andrew from the other side, near the restaurant.
Corner view of St. Andrew's.
It looks like the construction, at least of the top part, is limestone blocks from the surrounding mountains with small bricks and mortar in between them.
Construction of the lower portion has less uniform rock and intermittent bricks. 
A fresco of Michael the Archangel
A fresco of St. Demetrius
A fresco of Peter and Matthew around a window.
St. Nicholas Monastery is across the canyon (which now means across the lake) on a saddle between two peaks. We hired a boat for the short trip across the lake 
St. Nicholas is located on the saddle between the mountains above. 
A lake level view as we cross on a small boat.
The boat leaves us and we really hope they will respond when we get back so that we can get back across without swimming.
We took a winding trip up the side of the canyon which was a warm walk, even on a very nice temperate day. On the way up we found a beautiful lizard called a Dalmatian algyroides or blue throated keeled lizard. 
Dalmatian algyroides
A rock wall at the saddle let us know we were close. St. Nicholas was behind across a little grass meadow. The church is in a bad state of disrepair and was locked, so we were not able to get inside. It apparently only opens on weekends, or if you hire a local guide with access to a key. It is not known when St. Nicholas was built, but some of the inner work (the iconostasis and some of the frescoes) was done in the early 1600s. It was deserted in the 1700s, found roofless in 1816 and revived, then abandoned again in 1897.
Rock wall at top of canyon with St. Nicholas behind. 
St. Nicholas partially shaded by a tree.
Judy at the back end of St. Nicholas.
View of St. Nicholas from the other side. Note the disrepair and particularly poor state of the roof.
Construction of the upper dome is similar to that of St. Andrew below, with limestone blocks separated by small bricks.
A closer look from a different angle.
A decorative arch.
Detail shows dragons and other fanciful creatures.
The mountain on the other side of the canyon (St. Andrew is at the bottom of it - out of view)
After hiking back down the mountain we alerted the boat by banging on a bong on the side of a tree with a metal bar  there for that purpose. The boat responded quite quickly and got us back across. This is a circumstance where if we had a do over, we would spend an entire day at Lake Matka, visit some caves and visit more of the rock churches. 
St. Andrew, the restaurant and the boat dock across the lake.
The bong and metal bar we used to alert the boat we needed a ride.
Judy rests while we wait for the boat.
Happiness - he comes!


  1. Remember that when we complained about not being able to get into the church after our long hike, he had a few choice words to say about the Serbs who are the caretakers over there, then launched into some long explanation (in almost unintelligible English) about how great Albanians are. That was fun. This was a beautiful, out-of-the-way place well worth the detour.

  2. If there were any perks in the life of a monk, surely living in these picturesque monasteries was at the top of the list!

  3. Great post, Thanks for sharing!

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