IV. The Races of Macedonia
12. Notes. Physical Conformation and Climate. Means of Communication
Note A — Note B — Note C — Note D
NOTE A. (See p. 87:)In relation to the wealth and density of its population Macedonia is well supplied with railways. They were constructed mainly with Austrian and German capital, not at all to benefit the natives, but as a safe and paying investment. Their legitimate revenue from traffic is inconsiderable, but the interest on the capital sunk in them is provided by a guarantee calculated upon every kilometre constructed. The result is that they twist and gyrate to increase their length, even when they cross a plain. The tithes wrung from the peasantry bear the burden, and the international control over Turkish finance secures punctual payment. There is one line from Salonica to Monastir which it was intended to continue to the Adriatic either by the Coritza-Avlona, or by the Ochrida-Durazzo route. Another line connects Salonica with Uskub, and runs thence to the Servian frontier, connecting at Nisch with the main Orient line. A third runs from Salonica to Dedeagatch and Adrianople, providing an overland route to the capital. There is also a short junction line between this eastern system and the Uskub line, while a branch line on which trains run thrice a week connects Uskub with Albania, its terminus being Mitrovitza. Setting bachshecsh aside, the consideration which induced the Turks to consent to the construction of these railways was no doubt their strategic value. The same order of motives makes them obstinately refuse their assent to projects for linking up the Macedonian railways with the Bulgarian system (viâ Uskub-Kumanovo-Kustendil) and with the Greek system (viâ Salonica-Veria-Larissa). Apart from military trains, the traffic on all these lines is confined to one mixed goods and passenger train in each direction daily, and even in these trains the passengers are largely soldiers and the goods military stores. Of the water-ways little or no use is made. The greater lakes carry some local traffic, but the largest of them are situated in the least populous and most disturbed regions of Macedonia. The Vardar is a capricious river which runs broad and shallow in summer through the plains of Kossovo and Uskub, while it narrows about Kuprili (i.e., the Bridge) and Demirkapou (i.e., the Iron Gate), a rushing torrent which sweeps at a tempestuous pace through a narrow and romantic gorge. Nothing, needless to say, has ever been attempted to make it navigable. It reaches the sea through several months in a vast plain of wastes and marshes, which is of all sights the most desolate and depressing. Here in the old days, with Pella as its capital, was the seat of the Macedonian Empire. To-day, for the want of a few trenches and canals, it is abandoned to the storks and the bitterns. For the rest, the main traffic of Macedonia is still performed by carriers, mainly Vlach by race, who convey their merchandise on pack-horses over mountain tracks with comparative disregard of the roads. There are a few roads which were designed as macadamised chaussées. They preserve their character for a few miles outside the town from which they start, and resume it again within sight of their destination. In the interval they are broad tracks of unsophisticated earth, varied by broken bridges, which usually serve to indicate the whereabouts of a ford. The better of these roads are sometimes used by wheeled traffic — lumbering waggons of primitive structure, drawn by black buffaloes. The drivers of these, for some odd reason, are usually Moslems, and their chief art consists of keeping the spines of their buffaloes cool by irrigating them at frequent intervals with long
ladles, which they dip into every passing pool. In winter wheeled traffic
is seldom possible, and the trade of the Moslem buffalo-drivers passes
into the hands of the Christian Vlachs — and their art appears to lie chiefly
in so placing their wooden pack-saddles as to make a fresh raw sore at
each journey. If the beasts of Macedonia could be polled they would certainly
not vote for the expulsion of the Turks.
NOTE B. (See p. 90.)The physical conformation of Western Macedonia suggests a vast series of saucer-like basins, sometimes lakes, sometimes broad plains surrounded by mountains which are more or less continuous spurs and offshoots from the Pindus range. Eastern Macedonia, on the other hand, can be considered rather as two great valleys watered by the Vardar and the Struma. Three of the Western lakes are of considerable size and depth — Ochrida, Presba, and Ostrovo. Ochrida is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful — so far as my experience goes, quite the most beautiful — of the lakes of Europe. The mountains which surround it are lofty, rugged, and unbroken. Their outlines are not swathed in trees, and for the greater part of the year they are snow-clad. There is little verdure, but the climate provides the most various effects of purple, blue, and sandy-red. Castoria is a smaller lake, but it would be difficult to exaggerate its romantic beauty, set, as it is, among hills and mountains, which lend themselves to endless illusions and surprises. There are also two smaller lakes near Sorovitch. The great plain of Pelagonia, on the edge of which at the mouth of passes the towns of Monastir and Florina are situated, seems as though it might once have been a lake. But, indeed, it may rather have been the plains which became lakes. Ostrovo, for example, is of comparatively recent origin, and a submerged village can still be seen under its dark waters. Kossovo is the largest plain of all, and Uskub stands, as it were, on a rocky islet in the centre of another great depression. The climate of Macedonia is very various. Salonica is a typical Mediterranean town. Ochrida, high though it is, enjoys a balmy air and a genial winter, while Resna, not much higher and only six hours' ride to the east, is bitterly cold at Christmas. The plains, if they are exposed to the winds from the north-east, are often colder than the mountains. The atmosphere lacks the dazzling clearness of Greece, and mists are common round Monastir and Uskub. Malarial fever is a terrible scourge in the marshy districts at the Vardar mouths, and also in the low-lying and undrained plains around Drama and Kavalla. The upper Struma valley, on the other hand, has a rigorous highland climate. The products and the soil are as diverse as the climate. Spring begins in some regions in early February, in others towards April. The summer is everywhere torrid, but unhealthy only in the marshy plains.
NOTE C. (See p. 100.)After writing the above passage I met with this interesting confirmation in an essay by the Bulgarian poet, Pencho Slaveikoff, prefixed to "The Shade of the Balkans" (David Nutt, 1903): —
"Our folk-songs do not go back beyond the frontier of the fourteenth
century, that is, they do not record historic events of an earlier date.
The fact is very remarkable and significant. Hero-songs or epic-songs (as
they are also called) can only be fashioned by a people which has national
and that is just what our ancestors in the days of the free Bulgarian monarchy
did not possess. We have, in fact, to wait till the nineteenth century
before that radiant sun breaks through; before the beams go whirling through
our veins we have five hundred years of slavery. What the world had not
shown us we found in a prison. The sole occupation of all those great kings
of ours was to enliven their people, and instead of fostering the national
energies, frantically squandered them in many a vain heroic progress, now
to Byzantium, now to Dyrrachium. But for their people they made no progress,
so these have taken a ruthless vengeance, and have not dammed the waves
of oblivion. They have preserved for us in their song the names of several
prehistoric beasts, but not of one solitary king."
NOTE D. (See p. 104.)It is a dangerous thing to generalise about physical types from impressions which one forms iu travelling. But the impression of physical grace which one gains in Belgrade is irresistible. The women are not striking, but the men — for example, the too numerous officers — are notably tall, well-built in a lithe way, and frequently handsome in feature. In Sofia, on the other hand, physical beauty is depressingly rare. The officers are shorter, stouter, and altogether less pretentious than in Servia. Even the children seem, on the whole, rather ugly. But strong, sturdy, and enduring the Bulgarians certainly are.
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