Dojran in Macedonia – A Treasury of Cultural, Historical and Art Values

Every time I visit Dojran I have a feeling that the entire town is wholeheartedly welcoming just me. It feels as if the natural beauties, the Mediterranean climate, the warm and healing water, the attractive fishing using cormorants, the kind hosts, the many tourist objects and camps, the town’s specialties, etc. are at my disposal only. Deep inside, I believe that the same feeling is shared and experienced by visitors and tourists that come here throughout the year.

When I’m here, I always enjoy the long and pleasant walks along the lake which is soothing to the soul, especially the view of the lake during sunrise and sunset. I always want to stroll down the alleys, climb high up the hills, visit the ruins, listen to stories from the locals, who are delighted to see their town become an in­demand tourist destination, but also a treasury of cultural, historical and art values that need to be seen and heard. And it will be, especially since Dojran has become the Town of Culture of 2016, which will contribute in the promotion of culture in this region, its development and affirmation.

Horseback riding and walking down the frozen lake

Like any other town, Dojran also has interesting legends to tell that help shed some light on its history and complete the mosaic that is the life of the people here. There is not a single person from Dojran that doesn’t know the story about the winter of 1371 that brought freezing cold weather and a lot of snow. The sound of the Turkish cavalry coming from Mount Belasica, had the locals wondering what was that black thing coming from across the lake. Baffled by what they were witnessing, they kept wondering if the horsemen had lost their minds, until they reached them and asked: “What kind of field is this that doesn’t have a single tree?” The locals responded: “This is not a field. It is our lake, frozen by the long­lasting cold weather. You just came across it.”

The commander Evrenos­Bey froze at the thought of what might had happened and felt relieved they had made it safe and sound, so he decided to treat his army and their hosts. The feast lasted three days. On the third day when the soldiers started shouting “Doy­ur­dom”, “Doy­ur­mak” or “Doyur­an”, which meant “We had enough eating and drinking”, the town got its name – Dojran, keeping it to this day.

A testament to the plausibility of this story is the fact that the lake was also frozen for a short period of time last year.

The great protector Saint Elijah

During the reign of the Constantinople sultan, Dojran became an important trading and cultural center, with even deeper traditions rooted ever since Phillip II Macedonian and Alexander the Great, which has been archaeologically confirmed and proven. The story goes on to tell that Evrenos­Bey did not rest until he gave the people of Dojran a tower, and not just an ordinary one, but a clock tower that will serve as a testament to the experience of the Turkish cavalry. According to folk stories, it was built in the XIV century, in 1371. It was around 10 meters tall and dominated its surroundings.

Soon afterwards, a male/female hammam was built in the town by the lake. The water was brought through pipes from the region of Dere­Bash, two kilometers west of Dojran and was heated on wood. The most interesting ritual was the bridal ritual. There was a special ceremony for them where they would have a special bridal bath.

As time went by, Dojran formed its urban part at the western side of the lake, enriched with both religious and profane objects. The church of “Saint Elijah” represents the highlight of that part. It rose high on the rocky hill at the entrance of the town. It was built in 1848, during the Turkish reign, at the request of and funded by the locals.

This architectural beauty is 30 meters long, 20 meters wide and 10 meters high, with two tiers and a total interior of 600 m2. One of its characteristics is the engraved cross in each of the domes. It is believed that it was built by masons from the Renzov and Zografski families, who were also working on the churches and monasteries in the southern parts of Macedonia. The main architect was Gjorgje Novakov from the village of Papradishte, near Veles.

Other features of the church include the three altars – “acoustic” pitchers placed inside the walls, symmetrically aligned in height and length, as well as the facades decorated with stone ornamentation, primarily on the eastern part of the outer side of the church. There was also a painted dome located above the main nave. Unfortunately, aside from the magnificent side walls, nothing has been preserved from the “Saint Elijah” church.

The twilight on the third day of Easter

Present­day Dojran consists of three settlements – Old Dojran, center of the municipality Dojran, built on the location of the old town; the town of New Dojran, located five kilometers north of the old town; and the village of Dojran, located in Aegean Macedonia on the southern coast of the lake – the former location of the Dojran train station, which is also part of the history of the town and the region.

The town used to be an important strategic spot of the former “Via Militaris”, which is why many armies have passed through it, going on many marches. However, the third day of Easter in 1916 has been the most catastrophic day in the town’s history when the cultural wealth of Old Dojran was permanently lost under the ruins.

During the Balkan Wars and WWI, Dojran had a population of around 18.000. Some of the people were fishermen, but the majority consisted of prominent citizens, traders and rich people. According to folk stories and historical records, the allied forces decided to rob and destroy the town by using deceit. They convinced the people that they were protecting them and told them to leave their homes under the promise they would return in 1­2 weeks. The people only took what they could carry. Dojran was burned to the ground.

It took years for the first person to return. According to one of the stories, the first people to return were the fishermen, nostalgic for their lake. However, a different landscape welcomed them The channel where Dojran Lake drained was clogged, so whatever was left from the former town was flooded, making it impossible for the locals to rebuild their homes there, so they moved to a drier location, creating New Dojran. According to some records, that place had also been inhabited at some point in the past, but was already deserted at that point because of plague or cholera (depending on the source). The settlement of Polin was founded during that period, later becoming Dojran, and now known as Old Dojran.

Speaking of Dojran and the lake, which is 9 km long and 7 km wide, its name is related to the beautiful girl called Dojrana. There is a monument of her gazing at the lake at the coast.

But Dojran is not just about myths and legends, boats and cottages or the church of “Saint Elijah”. There are many revivalists related to Dojran, such as Teodosie Sinaitski and Partenie Zografski. The monastery complex of Saint Partenij Zografski was built 15 years ago in their honour. The church is part of the monastery of Saint Mary Magdalene and is dedicated to the royal family Romanov. Zografski was teacher of the previous generation. Other prominent figures from Dojran include writers Anton Panov and Gjorgji Abadjiev, who wrote the script for the 1958 movie “Miss Stone”, as well as Hristifor Zefarovic, painter, graphic artist, wood carver, heraldic and creator of “Stematografia”, a heraldic book about the Coats of Arms of the Slavic countries, including the Macedonian Coat of Arms, which he had engraved in the XVII century.

SOURCE: MIA (2015)

German/Deutsche Übersetzung: Dojran - eine Schatzkammer kultureller, historischer und künstlerischer Werte