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Beginner’s guide to Macedonia: Babino, near Demir Hisar

The picturesque hilly mountain village of Babino is located 18.5 km northwest of Demir Hisar in southwest Macedonia, in the central area of the former municipality of Sopotnica (now part of the municipality of Demir Hisar), 45 km away from Bitola and 35 km from Kichevo. The Bitola-Kichevo road is just 800 meters west and the village is connected via an asphalt road.
During my first visit of Babino, I was amazed by the neglected, but beautiful and dignified old twotiered houses built of stone; by the murmur of the waters; by the greenery of the area and the caress of the gentle wind that cheered me up during that hot August day and made me feel like a child listening to magic stories about Scheherazade, Ali Baba, Aladdin, etc. collected in the Persian book “1001 night” that has its first edition exhibited in the biggest private library in the Balkans, which happens to be in this amazing Macedonian village.

Saint Paul, “Tri Sinori” and “Kurati”
That synchroneity of the songs of the waters and leafs was like a symphony that glorified harmony between human and nature to me. I felt very alive and strengthened and images from my childhood started to come to mind. That is why I sincerely recommend you to come to Babino. The moderate climate and the magnificent landscape will do well to everybody.

Climb Paul’s hill (911 meters), “Tri Sinori” (1.111) and “Kurati” (1.017) – the hills that surround the village and be happy for the day that is a gift from God, be happy for life. You may see the footprints of Paul the Apostle, who is said to have started from Macedonia when he was spreading Christianity at Paul’s hill. And it is right here, on this hill, where he baptized many Macedonians that he left many marks and hidden “visions” to point the way to the worthy believers.
At Paul’s hill, as well as the other hills, there are raspberries, plums, blueberries and some curative plants to be found.
At “Tri Sinori” you will witness God’s force – water. There are many springs in Babino’s area. There are springs every 100 meters along the flow of Badzernicka River. The spring water complements the river and it is also being used by the fishpond built in 1983 that covers a territory of 15.000 m2, 2500 of which is water surface and has a capacity of 50 tons of trout a year. Near the fishpond, there is a spring with a capacity of 100 liters per second and more important for the visitors – a restaurant with 400-guest capacity.
You will make sure of the beauty of “Kurati” yourselves, as the Latin saying goes “Nomen est omen”. Some say that the men from Babino have always been well endowed because of this hill. Whoever stayed here got lucky. It is worth the try as it doesn’t cost much.
I don’t know if that is the reason for tourist “preacher” Naser Hot to initiate the building of the Park of the nations of the world, with the intention of developing alternative tourism, right at these three hills – stylish wooden houses that represent the national houses of the world nations.
I think that one of the explanations for Babino’s name is in the “Kurati” name. The men were so endowed that girls, women, even old women came to the village to enjoy some time with them. And because old women were the most frequent, the village was called Babino. The local legends and myths, however, say something else.

The curse of the old woman that was chased away
One legend says that when Romans conquered Macedonia and defeated the Macedonians after several decades of war, they started to kill men in order to colonize it more easily. They started with those who lived under the “Kurati” hill, probably as the biggest threat. The women and children from Babino escaped to the mountains, keeping the memory of their village. When they returned to restore it, they were old women. And that is how they called the village of old women Babino.
Another legend, which the locals consider more credible, says that some old woman was chased away by her daughters-in-law and was forced to live alone in the forests of Ilinska Mountain for years. Angry at her daughters-in-law and her destiny, she cursed the entire female population from that region to live a lonely life during the elderly years, just like her, which came true and the village got the name.
Actually, the curse seems to be repeating in cycles. As has been the case the last few years, the constant inhabitants of Babino are several old women, aged 70-90, who buried their husbands long ago and sent their children all over Macedonia and abroad. They believe in the legend about the curse but there is nothing they can do, they don’t know how to break it.
They still remember the good times when many different meals from the national Macedonian cuisine were prepared in the village: roasted meet on fire on the ground, dried peppers in different ways, roasted egg in bread, etc.
The way that the young girls that prepared to get married weaved carpets on wooden looms, their embroidery and knitting, the way that the crafty hands of the locals made wooden bowls and spoons, handles for many tools, etc. can be seen in the family house of bibliophile Stevo Stepanoski that is a library now.
Journalist Ljupcho Popovski and cameraman Toni Nikolovski, who originate from this region, told me a lot about the village. My first impression was different than what I had expected. We have discussed about the “genetic modifications” of the people in the wider region of Demir Hisar, Bitola and this area as a result of the mixing of people that lived here and the armies that came from all around the world. We have tried to figure out whether it influenced in many creators from this region – writers, artists – as well as many with a more pragmatic spirit – politicians, businessmen, etc. on one side and those with evident development deficiencies.
And so, I expected to enter some kind of a “Tarantino world”, where children that can’t walk are dragging on the ground with cigarettes in their mouths and the grown-ups are flying with some invisible wings. I expected to find myself in the middle between creation and pragmatism, between degeneration and naivety, and I met sincere, hospitable and curious people with smiles on their faces.

The story about the Dragon hole
In Ottoman records from 1611-1612, the village was called Babine and had 47 households. In 1961 there were 451 inhabitants, in 1994 – 70, and in 2002 – 34. But the village comes to life during the summer, which is the happiest period for the old women who can’t wait for the Pentecost to open the doors of their houses and welcome the guests. The “Babino meetings”, organized on the initiative of professor Mile Mateski Siljanovski, have become a tradition since 2001.

The only private library
They come here to enjoy Babino’s beauties, but also to see the only private library, owned by Stevo Stepanoski, that has over 20.000 books, written valuable documents, texts, manuscripts and rare editions written in Persian, Ancient Turkish, Ancient Slavic, Arabic, etc. that were brought from Tehran, Damascus, Ankara, Baghdad and Istanbul. Some are more than seven centuries old, with the oldest one being an Arabic dictionary from 1307. There is also a century-old liturgy from John Chrysostom, the first edition of Beethoven’s Ninth symphony, Music dictionary by Karl Junek, printed in Prague in 1909, which, according to Stepanovski, had only 30 samples in the world left.
There are also 338 photos of WWI that were found in an abandoned sanitation on Kajmakchalan Mt.
The first books in the old house of his great grandfather were brought in 1882. He was a Turkish soldier, who was paid in books because of a lack of money in the treasury. He started collecting books from his fellow soldiers and gathered the fund to found the library. Stevo’s father continued with the work and now Stevo has been sustaining the family tradition for the past four decades.

The library is the result of a three-century collection work and with the help of the Ministry of Culture, The Department of municipality development coordination and World Bank, the house was restored and the interior was settled so that more than 1000 books can be placed inside.
The house is two-tiered. There are several glass showcases on the first floor. The first printed book in Macedonia, “The Macedonian orthography”, from 1945, and another orthography with year of printing unknown, can be found there, as well as the green passport of the greatest Macedonian traveler Ljube Cvetanovski, which gave him entry to the “Village of books” in Malaysia.
The reception is on the right – an ethno room with a fireplace where we sat and talked. Even though it was summer, it was pleasant to stay there because of the thick stone walls and the host even started the fireplace.
The two big rooms of the second floor include the first Macedonian editions after the 1945 liberation, books with different themes that were printed in world culture centers. We also noticed the book “Macedonia – The Switzerland in the Balkan” by Vancho Mihajlov, printed in Bulgarian language in 1926 in USA.
“Who came here? Writers, academicians, my friends, Winston Churchill’s biographer, participants at the Struga Poetry Evenings and the Seminar of Macedonian language and culture, students from the University of Syria, as well as professors, foreigners and there are also special student excursions organized” – said Stevo Stepanovski.
Because of a bad experience, he doesn’t borrow the books, but they can be used in the library, which is open every day in July and August for free. In order to preserve the literary fund, a unique seal was made in Beijing in 1973 from a semi-precious stone, and according to Stepanovski, it was ordered by prominent Macedonian writer Petre M. Andreevski and Nobel Prize winner Ivo Andric.

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