Stobi in Macedonia – The Troy of the Balkans

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In our archive we found an old (german) article written by Wolf Oschlies, writing about the archeological site Stobi in Macedonia.

Brief profile: Wolf Oschlies (born September 29, 1941 in Königsberg) is a German political scientist and journalist. He lived in Eastern Germany until he graduated from high school and fled to the Western German Republic in 1959.

Wolf Oschlies has published numerous publications on the history, politics and culture of Balkan countries. His textbook on the Macedonian language is one of the few German-language textbooks on this language. For years he has been involved in the Munzinger Archive’s “Country Profiles” project with articles on Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Moldova, which he is constantly updating.

The article was originally published in the Preussische Allgemeine Zeitung (date unfortunately unknown).

Stobi – The Troy of the Balkans

Macedonia is a treasure trove for archaeologists. There are over 4,500 archaeological sites in the small Balkan region, which extends over three states – Greece, Macedonia and Bulgaria. The fact that it is mentioned more often in the Bible than Greece shows its earlier importance. From here the apostle Paul went on a European mission tour around 50 AD. And here not only the Romans, but also earthquakes raged. One of these devastated the city of Stobi a good 1500 years ago.

The Romans left clear traces in Stobi, which was the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia secunda from the late fifth century AD. Because to its location, it was predestined to become a strategic and commercial center for salt trade.

Located east of today’s Macedonian capital Skopje at the confluence of two rivers, it was connected to the Danube and Aegean Sea and, thanks to the overland road Via Egnatia, was a city that the thrifty Emperor Vespasian could only wish for, who made it “ Municipium”, promoted Stobi to a free city.

Stobi’s story began in the third century BC and was mostly under one lucky star. In early Christian times, Stobi was the seat of Bishop Budios, who attended the Council of Nicaea in 325. The earthquake of 581 brought this admirable development to an end. The city was not rebuilt.

The first excavations in Stobi began about 100 years ago, carried out superficially by Austrian officers. Experts who dug from 1923 to 1940 under the direction of the early Austrian historian Balduin Saria worked more thoroughly. Djordje Mano-Zissi, who headed the “Yugoslav-American Stobi Project” from 1970 to 1980, was part of this party.

After Macedonian statehood in 1991, smaller excavations followed, until in December 2008 Stobi was declared a “National Institute” and placed under the responsibility of the young archaeologist Silvana Blashevska. This year, 28 archaeologists, curators and tourist guides are at your side, all of whom should work and live locally.

From the old train station in the neighboring town of Gradsko you have a splendid view of the previous finds in Stobi: three basilicas, a synagogue, several palaces and streets, a theater, two thermal baths, a casino, three cemeteries and much more, including famous mosaics of birds and amphibians, which are currently being meticulously restored. This is all just the beginning, because so far only 15 percent of the Stobi area has been developed.

It is an advantage that Stobi has been looked after by the “Balkansko Nasledstvo” (Balkan Heritage) foundation, which is based in Stara Zagora in eastern Bulgaria and which successfully endeavors to train young specialists from Europe and overseas in the “methodology of archaeological field research” for several years. To train on classic objects such as Stobi, which was particularly enthusiastically received by Americans and Canadians.

Each “summer school” works according to a demanding program (for example “workshop for the conservation and restoration of Roman mosaics”), which is not available for free. Each participant pays 1,300 euros, which contribute to Stobi’s “self-financing”.

Stobi hardly has any significant income elsewhere, but can count on generous support from the USA and others for special projects such as the restoration of the frescoes (4th and 5th centuries AD) in Budios’ large basilica.

Other sources are sparse: the annual “Festival of Ancient Drama” brings in little, the tickets hardly any more. Every year 12,000 visitors get lost in the huge area of 20 hectares and pay around one million denars (about 17,000 euros). The main financial burden is borne by the state, but Minister of Education “Betty” Kanceska-Milevska has to set priorities, like this autumn at Stobi’s ancient theater, whose visitor ranks are crumbling dangerously.

For Stobi, advertising drums have to be stirred, for which boss Blashevska has a “knack”. She has already given lectures all over Europe, recently even in Athens, where Macedonia is not commonly spoken of.

In Stobi she is planning a large museum and a national information network. In August it attracted media coverage when the young archaeologists from the “summer school” unearthed around 30 old coins from the time of Emperor Flavius Anastasius (5th century AD). They liked that, because one of the privileges of the “Municipium” Stobi was the issue of their own coins.

The “locality” is always a reason to be amazed. In 2008, a pagan temple (2nd century AD) was uncovered, which could only be assigned to the Egyptian goddess Isida (Isis) in June 2012. Their cult spread already under the old Macedonian king Alexander the great (4th century BC).

Isida’s (headless) statue adorned the ten denarius note in the 1990s, her temple was “in use” until the 4th century, when it was demoted by Christians to a secular residential building. Today, the restored splendor of the building is in the process of replacing the theater with the role of Stobi’s crown jewel.

SOURCE: Wolf Oschlies / Preussische Allgemeine Zeitung – Translated by Makedonien.mk

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