Macedonia is a place with a complicated history. Like many countries in that region of Europe, it has been settled, invaded, conquered, and fought over for thousands of years. It has been a subject of Greece, the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire and a sovereign state known as the Republic of Macedonia. It has been part of the Kingdom of Serbia (also the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes), then it became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. And then the Nazis happened, and then the Communists, and then independence. There’s hardly been a time when the region wasn’t undergoing change, politically.
Its tumultuous history notwithstanding, Macedonia is a gem bordered by Kosovo, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Albania. Today it boasts picturesque and sleepy little mountain towns, world class Slavic architecture, and living museums, like the city of Kratovo which finds itself situated inside the crater of an extinct volcano.
Very near Kratovo in the north east of Macedonia, there’s a small town called Kuklica, and that town has a story to tell.
Kuklica is a small town, housing no more than about 100 inhabitants. At least, 100 living inhabitants. For you see, according to some, Kuklica is the unchanging resting place of either a man who tried to marry two women on the same day, or many fallen soldiers; all of whom turned to stone.
Most famously, locals tell of a man who fell in love with two different women and was faced with the difficult choice of deciding which to marry. According to the legend, he was unable to make the choice and instead decided to marry both women…on the same day. He planned the wedding ceremonies in a beautiful meadow, one to occur in the morning, the other in the afternoon. Unfortunately for all involved, during the first wedding, his second bride-to-be happened upon the first ceremony and, as would be expected, she objected to that particular union most adamantly. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, however, and in her rage she cursed everyone in attendance, casting them all into stone.
The other legend, somewhat less grandiose, suggests that the war-ravaged area, turned to wasteland, was prone to extreme cold, whereupon any and all soldiers travelling across the wastes were frozen and became of stone.
All of these formations or pillars – which number somewhere around 120 distinct examples, some of which bear an uncanny resemblance to the human form – are on average the size of an adult human, some are pillar shaped (hence the notion that they’re people turned to stone) but many are simple near-pyramid shaped mounds.
You may choose to believe whichever one of those explanations as you want, and there are apparently other local legends to consider as well, but there are explanations that don’t invoke people turning to stone.
The stone dolls of Kuklica, as they’re often called, are known in geological circles as earth pyramids, or earth pillars (you’ll note the conspicuous absence of any reference to human origins). It is largely believed by experts that they are the product of natural erosion – and the more conspiratorial among us roll our eyes on cue.
As mentioned above, Kratovo, the nearest city of any size, is built on top of a long-dead volcano. In fact, the entire region was at one time part of a large volcanic system. Most of the rock in the area is tuff (solidified ash) and volcanic rock, both of which are relatively soft. But there are deposits of harder, older rock, such as andesite, and therein lays the explanation for the stone dolls.
According to Dr. Ivica Milevski, Associate Professor at the Institute of Geology, Faculty of Natural Science and Mathematics at the University "St. Cyril and Methodius" in Skopje, Macedonia, the earth pyramids are the result of a combination of wind and water erosion over thousands of years. He claims that the soft volcanic tuff is washed away at a much faster rate than the harder andesite underneath it, resulting in periodic mounds and pillars of harder rock remaining while the sediment is washed away.
It’s thought that this same process is responsible for the Manpupuner Rock formation in the Russian Urals (also known as the Seven Strong Men of Russia), though on a larger scale.
Of course, the scientific explanation, as always, is much more mundane than the colourful legends of old, but there’s no harm in imagining that the groom’s wedding guests are wishing they’d declined the invitation.