May 10, 2016

Macedonian masterpieces in foreign museums

Scattered heritage


CAPTION: There are so many old valuable Macedonian objects in the National Museum in Belgrade that they alone could fill a whole museum. All valuable discoveries from the period during the two World Wars were taken to Serbia; the archaeological objects from Trebeništa, near Ohrid, are some of the most valuable ones. (In the photo: Golden objects from Trebeništa that are in Belgrade's National Museum.)

In addition to most Macedonian medieval manuscript collections that can be found in Serbian libraries and museums, our Northern neighbour's museums also store many valuable Macedonian objects dating from the earliest times up to recent years. Those objects were taken out of Macedonia mainly until World War II. That is, anything valuable discovered before World War II in Macedonia was taken to Serbian museums, mostly to the National Museum in Belgrade.

In this museum, there are rare and extremely valuable cultural artefacts that originate from Heraclea, Stobi, Trebeništa and from other archaeological sites; there are hundreds of icons taken from Macedonian churches and monasteries, as well as hundreds of golden jewellery pieces.

So many old Macedonian objects are in the Serbian National Museum that with them alone a whole museum of Macedonia's cultural heritage could be founded.

One of the museum's departments richest in Macedonian artefacts is the ancient department. The Trebeništa site near Ohrid, which was discovered by chance in 1918 by Bulgarian soldiers building the Kičevo-Ohrid railway, has entered the world's archaeological treasure-house after golden objects were discovered in this ancient necropolis. Almost all of the most valuable discoveries, however, are now outside of Macedonia. At first, two golden masks and exquisitely ornamented rugs were discovered, and then they were taken to the Archaeological Museum in Sofia. Later the digging was carried on by Serbian archaeologists, who discovered two more golden masks and many other precious relics that are in Serbian museums today. In 1927, the Bulgarian archaeologist Bogdan Filov published the first scientific analyses of the findings from the first seven rich Trebeništa tombs. Then the Serbian classic philologist and epigraphist Dr. Nikola Vulić researched this site, from 1930 to 1933, and found many important objects, which ended up in the archives of the National Museum in Belgrade.

The objects from this site—the golden masks, the golden sandals, the bronze craters, the helmets, and other golden, silver, bronze, amber and glass objects, are exceptionally significant for archaeology in general. But anything discovered until World War II has been almost unavailable to Macedonian archaeologists, i.e. is being kept in Serbian and Bulgarian museums. The most significant archaeological objects were unearthed before World War II, but important discoveries were also made at the beginning of the 21st century (another golden mask was discovered). So far, around 850 objects have been unearthed from this necropolis and catalogued. The most valuable, i.e. 258 of them are in the Archaeological Museum in Sofia, whereas 187 are in the National Museum in Belgrade. The most famous archaeological objects from this site are several posthumous golden masks, two of which are in Sofia and two are in Belgrade.

The National Museum in Belgrade guards jealously the archaeological Trebeništa findings, first catalogued and publicly displayed after the war, in 1956. Then, the young archaeologist Dr. Ljubiša Popović prepared a catalogue of Trebeništa relics in the Museum, according to which the collection consists of 23 golden, 54 silver, and 55 bronze and amber objects. Later it was found out that their number is far higher (187).

However, this Belgrade museum also stores objects from a necropolis discovered in Radolišta near Struga, which was researched in 1937 by the Serbian archaeologist Dr. Miodrag Grbić. The findings date from the 5th century BC; they are similar to the Trebeništa relics and are distinguished by their specific handmade design. 

To be continued...

Nove Cvetanoski

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