Ovce Pole Plateau

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Ovce Pole (pronounced ovche pole) is one of the least inhabited areas in Macedonia. It’s a stone’s throw away from the big conglomerates of Skopje, Veles, Stip and Kumanovo, yet almost empty. Sveti Nikole is the only small town in the area alongsidea few bigger and half a dozen smaller villages. A small insight in the living history can explain why the region is now almost deserted and why once it was a wealthy place. Ovce Pole means plain of sheep. It used to be big winter residence for the flocks of sheep from the surrounding mountain ranges. This extensive economy has left traces on both the ethnic and culinary map of Macedonia. Ovce Pole plain and the central mountains around Krusevo are the traditional habitat of the ethnic Vlachs, who were largely involved in sheep breeding. It is most probably from the Ovce Pole region that the famous “Macedonian pizza”, the pastrmajlija originates.It’s a traditional shepherd dish which in the original version contained sheep meet and fat. The traditional clothing characteristic of the region is again associated with the sheep breeding culture. Warm jackets, pullovers and capes made of a combination of sheep wool and processed sheep skin protect from the wind and cold, and are even suitable for sleeping outdoors.


Foto by Zoya Naskova

Ovce Pole is a plateau at 470 meters above sea level. It is not totally flat. Its valley curves up and down, with small hills breaking up the wide horizon. There is not much vegetation. The rainfall is small and strong northeastern winds always blow on the surface. The climate is hot and dry in the summers but with refreshing breeze and with temperately cold winters, which made the sheep breeding possible. There is only one small river called Sveti Nikole that intersects the valley and is a tributary to Bregalnica.


Foto by Zoya Naskova

Apart from the sheep breeding, Once Pole used to sustain many crops. During the Ottoman period, big landlords’ properties (cifliks) spread around the plain. After the Ottomans left, the Muslim and Turkish population decreased, but their presence was preserved in many toponyms, in the names of villages, hills, and areas. Today Ovce Pole is the second biggest crop producing area. It produces all the industrially grown crops, and in recent years it has seen the re-introductionof the plants which were forgotten in the industrialized times, but enjoy a newly found popularity in diet and cosmetics thanks to the new age philosophies – such as hemp, flax, and other seeds. The richness of the valley, despite sparse population, attracted many industries. Sunflower oil industry, meat industry, milk factories operate in the region.

Ovce Pole is the only area in Macedonia where ground investigations have revealed sources of oil and gas. Yet, their quantity and prospects of exploitation were never assessed as they demand deeper digging and more expensive technology, which the country does not possess.


Foto by Zoya Naskova

In military history Ovce Pole is known for the offensive operation of the Bulgarian Army against the Serbian forces in World War One. The aim was to cut the vital railway linking Skopje and Thessaloniki and bringing supplies and reinforcements for the Serbian Army from the Allied Forces. After three days of intensive fighting Bulgarians were successful and the Ovce Pole battle was decisive for the defeat of Serbian troops in 1915.
Older legends preoccupy the imagination of researches and Indiana Jones like adventurists. Thus thisseemingly uninspiring and almost deserted place attracted the attention of the modern popular culture.

The first group of legends is associated with the ancient Paeonian Kingdom thatexisted in the central and eastern parts of present day Macedonia. Paeonian culture was closer to Celtic and Asian cultures than to the Ancient Greek culture. The Paeonians were defeated by the glorious ancient Macedonian kings and their territory was integrated in the Kingdom of Filip II of Macedonia.


Foto by Zoya Naskova

Some archaeologists claim that the Paeonian site Vilazora is in the Ovce Pole plain. Trenches and small hills were interpreted by these adventurist researchers as belonging to an ancient megalithic culture, and that their position was associated with the symbols of that culture, their gods and beliefs, and that they served for astronomical and astrological observations which were in the basis of their culture. Some other researchers are interpreting the same archaeological artifacts as a geoglyph symbolizing the supreme god of Ancient Macedonians. Moreover, the existence of the geoglyph in Ovce Pole is associated with the well-known megalithic observatory in Kokino, with the mysterious ancient Alsar Mine at mount Kozuf and the ancient town of Stybera, which is regarded as another Paeonian town.


Foto by Zoya Naskova

With the growing interest for paleoarchaeology, but also for parascience, old legends and myths are being revived and Ovce Pole seems to be the right region for that. There is a hill called Govedarev Kamen (stone of the cowboy), and its small stream is believed to aid couples’ fertility. Many couples come to the stone and perform different rituals to assist eventual conception. Local residentshave rediscovered the remnants of old churches, deserted sacred objects, ancient ruins, which relate to the legends and myths of the place. They establish the sacral connection of ancient and medieval history with Neolithic cultures. They believe that Ovce Pole can regain it supernatural powers and help the modern people with ancient techniques.
Credible or not, all these stories are increasing the appealof this rather deserted windy plain to many people. Recently the government started construction of a modern motorway to improve the accessibility of border regions from central plains, and Ovce Pole with its vast open spaces seems ideal to serve as a crossroads. This will restore the importance the plateau had for the pre-modern societies.


Foto by Zoya Naskova