Life Returns to One of the Most Picturesque Villages in Macedonia

As if though we were forgotten by the people and God himself. Nobody was coming here in the mountain, we were left on our own. From 1,100 inhabitants, as we were six decades ago, we came down to 300, say the elderly residents of the village of Cera, one of the most picturesque places in eastern Macedonia for

The village comes to life uniquely in October, for the Shroud of Mary holiday, when around two to three thousand people gather at the yard of the church bearing the same name, as it was done centuries back, the villagers explain, who live 12 km away from Makedonska Kamenica and 1,000 meters above sea level. Tangible evidences are still being kept in the village, which prove that a settlement was there many centuries ago. However, in the last two years a spark of hope has appeared that all is not lost and that the village's rich and tumultuous history may again come back to life. With EUR 270,000 from the EU funds the construction of the road that leads to the monastery of Elenec was completed, and the monastery's kitchen and dining room were also refurbished, as well as the sleeping area in two of the total five old edifices which were used as sleeping chambers more than a century ago.

Besides the grand gathering on the occasion of the religious holiday, two years ago Cera started organizing the event "Babina Banica", which is attended by associations of retired people from all over Macedonia, and as of August this year, the local authorities from Makedonska Kamenica started organizing a meeting of migrants. Around 3,000 migrants assembled at the village, coming from the surrounding towns and villages.

Popular gathering started being organized as of this year. Photo: Telegrafmk/Lj.S.

"As of June until October, at the three people's meetings organized in Cera, more than 10,000 people from across Macedonia came. Few days ago, during the Shroud of Mary holiday, we sold 12,000 candles, and we prepared 1,800 liters of homemade stew for the visitors. And many of the people who come once, after seeing the beauties of the mountain and the remnants of history there, wish to return. Each weekend  more and more people are coming, and some of them also spend the night at the monastery. Some of those who have left Cera have started remodeling their houses and there are also people from Stip and Skopje who wish to build a weekend house here, and some are even interested in building a hotel and accommodation facilities," Stojmir Taskovski, president of the monastery board told

The Elenec Monastery dates back to Roman times, when the village name was Elen. It was built alongside a rock with two holes in it which is seeable today. In one of the holes an icon was placed and in the other, people came to light candles. The current monastery stands on the old foundations which were built in 1880.

Cela is a dispersed type of a village, with a number of neighborhoods. It is divided in two entities - Upper Cera, where the monastery is located, and Lower Cera. Now, ten children attend primary schools up to the fifth grade, in both the Upper and Lower Cera, which is a considerable decrease compared to the past, when around 200 pupils went to school. The turbulent and often difficult history of this mountainous village is marked by the crossing of many armies, and battles, which have reduced the local population ten times, and had often tortured it and left it without food. Nevertheless, the village stayed true to its roots.

One of the bloodiest battles that took place the night between July 4 and 5, 1913 near Cera, which is still being told by the locals, is the one from the Second Balkan War. On the site known as Govedar, the Bulgarian army was positioned on the one side, while the Serbian and the Montenegrin armies were deployed on the other side of the spot. The local residents often tell the story of a night attack when two Macedonian brothers wearing different uniforms died. When in the night, one of the brothers recognized the death roar of his sibling shot with his bullet, he immediately turned the gun on himself and shot himself to death.

The old houses in Cerа still stand today. Photo: Telegrafmk./Lj.S.

In 1937, when in Lower Cera the school was built, a special basement room was also built to serve as an ossuary for the several thousand people who died in that battle, whose remains are kept in three marble sarcophaguses. Although it is in a bad condition, the residents of Cera are still taking care of the ossuary. They say it is their civilization obligation, but they also do it in memory of the many innocent Macedonians who died here and as a testimony of everything that Macedonia has been through in its history.

"The memorial ossuary will be reconstructed next year. Together with the local community, we will renew and rebuild the sleeping areas in the three other buildings in the Elenec monastery, and alongside the main building, we plan to build sight-seeing spots and other auxiliary structures. What we've done until now has proved to be justified and we'll continue in future, because Cera has all the pre-conditions for tourism development, which can help prevent people from moving out from the village," the mayor of Makedonska Kamenica, Darko Mitevski told with clear optimism in his voice.

Emigration from Cera as well as the surrounding places is a problem that has appeared a long time ago. People started moving in bigger towns, and then started leaving for foreign countries, such as Germany, Switzerland, Slovenia, and in the past years, many people have left for Italy. Among the rare younger people that have remained true to their village of origin are the brothers of the Gocevski family. Only one of the four brothers now lives in Kocani, and the other have stayed in Cera.

"We have 150 sheep, 50 cows, and we also do farming. Potatoes, beans, corns and carrots grow excellently here. It is not easy to live in the mountain, but with hard work we manage. What has been done in the past few years in terms of tourism is good. We no longer feel cut off from the world, and we hope that some of those who moved out will slowly start to come back to their place of birth. Some of them come to work on their fields…," says 38-year-old Goran Gocevski, the youngest of the four brothers.

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