There are a lot of amazing spots in Macedonia which few tourists know anything about. And there are some spots which few Macedonians know about. Near Kratovo is an ancient village carved out of rock. Completely unmarked and almost totally overlooked, Golemo Gradište was one of the most exciting discoveries we made during our 91 days in the country.
We’d first read about the stone village in Thammy Evan’s Guide to Macedonia, but when we asked locals about its location, nobody knew what we were talking about. Most thought we meant the well-known megalithic observatory of Kokino, and a few guessed we were talking about another ancient observatory named Cocev Kamen. But almost no one had heard of Golemo Gradište.
Without accurate instructions as to the site’s location, we drove 30 minutes from Kratovo to the minuscule town of Konjuh. Really, this place doesn’t qualify even as a “town.” It’s just a smattering of houses, with a couple dirty children who have apparently been given the task of staring ominously at strangers. But Konjuh is the end of the road, so we got out of the car and looked around. The only huge rock in the vicinity… is… there. To the north. We had no idea if this was correct, but it was worth a shot.
We tromped through the brush towards the rock. There was no trail nor signage — just us, all alone in the middle of a Macedonian field. Once there, we began to climb. It wasn’t until nearly reaching the very top that we saw the first carvings.
Entire rooms were carved out of the rock, with niches like shelves, circular patterns in the floor, seats and even baths. Golemo Gradište was a huge stone village which must once have supported more people than modern Konjuh. We walked along the top and continued exploring. The village kept going on and on; around every corner was some mysterious new carving. And the view was insane. The rock straddles the Kriva River, and we could see for miles in every direction.
We later learned that Golemo Gradište was carved out by the Dardanians, an ancient tribe who occupied the Balkans before the Romans. Very little is known about the site, and not much excavation work has yet been done. We were standing on the acropolis, but farther down the hill are the ruins of an early Byzantine basilica, which were unfortunately fenced off.
If you have a car, it is entirely worth the effort to hunt down Golemo Gradište. On the road from Kratovo, you have to take a right a few hundred meters before reaching Konjuh. Then almost immediately, you’ll take another right and park at a tiny church in the middle of a field. In front of you to the northwest, will be the rock.