Crown of the House

 

One of the most beautiful parts of the traditional Macedonian house is the cardak. It is a special type of balcony that is an obligatory feature of old rural and urban houses of every ethnic and religious community in Macedonia.In the aesthetic values of the past cardak formed a harmonious unity with the rest of the house. Decorative elements of the wooden banister were repeated on the cardak ceiling, house windows, roof and indoors on door frames and ceilings. The richer houses had intricately carved geometric patterns and rosettes.

The cardak could be a place for rest, meditation, children’s play, or communication with the outer world.

Traditional houses usually had two floors, only a few families being able afford taller dwellings. (In some are as houses were built in the shape of towers for defensive purpose, but they are not the subject of this article.) The ground floor usually contained the economic activities, porch and kitchen. Very often even domestic animals resided there. By contrast, the upper floor was the proper living area with different rooms. In that context cardak was not just a simple balcony but a complex space with different functions. It determined the position of the entire house in relation to the surroundings. Cardak connected all the rooms on the upper floor. Depending on the religious affiliation or the perception of safety it could be more or less open. It could be on the sunny side or face the garden for aesthetic reasons. When cardak faces the street, dwellers can observe street life from the balcony. Landowners and monks could watch over the workers in their fields and holdings if he cardak looked that way. The cardak could be a place for rest, meditation, children’s play, or communication with the outer world. In good weather it was the central area for celebrations, receiving guests and other house activities. Because of that a big sofa was usually centrally positioned on the floor of the cardak. Sometimes the cardak was constructed with an elevated, throne-like space. It was built in order to afford a better view of the house, the street or the holdings. But it was also determined by the social position of the owner and his hierarchical position towards the people he was communicating with on a daily basis. In the narrow tissue of the urban cores cardak was positioned at the back of the house as a large garden like area, while only small verandas were left for communication with the street or the square.

 

It was built in order to afford a better view of the house, the street or the holdings. But it was also determined by the social position of the owner and his hierarchical position towards the people he was communicating with on a daily basis.

Having in mind all these functions we can easily conclude that the cardak area was the most conspicuous and the most communicative part of the house being central in both the vertical and the horizontal organization of social life.
Today cardaks can be seen in the old houses preserved as cultural heritage in Ohrid, Tetovo, Kratovo and some other places. As living structures they are most visible in the monasteries around the country. When monastic life was revived in the 1990s, the monks who were rebuilding the neglected and deserted monasteries insisted on traditional architectural forms including the cardak. Because of that we now can observe cardaks and their structural and social functions. National or ethno restaurants are often built as traditional cardak houses but with oversized cardak positioned to have a spectacular panorama over the surrounding area. This is especially characteristic of the villages and small towns in both western (Jance, Galicnik, Debar) and Eastern (Kratovo, Berovo) parts of Macedonia.