Veles, 18 September 2020 (MIA) – Authentic old Veles architecture from the mid-19th century is one of the most beautiful ones in the country. After the war, around 50 or so houses in the traditional architectural style remained in Veles. As years passed, the houses were abandoned and unprotected, so their number dropped to 29, but during a revision in late 2000 by the Veles National Museum, it was recorded that only nine such houses remain.
Veles is a former cultural center of the country, that hasn’t achieved conservation center status even after all these years, and it will initiate project to reconstruct and protect these houses.
Due to negligence by state institutions, abandoned, left to the mercy of time, weather conditions and various natural disasters, these pearls of the traditional architecture continue to deteriorate and disappear from the picture of the city.
After a rainstorm on August 8, two more of these houses were torn down in the old heart of the city. The red alarm line to salvage these houses has been crossed a long time ago, but due to negligence, they crack, fall through, and completely fall apart. The slowness of the procedure, as well as the lack of experts in the institutions is one the biggest problems for quality and timely protection of this cultural heritage. The local government, the Cultural Heritage Protection Management, the National Center for Conservation and the Ministry of Culture have passed the ball onto each other for years for jurisdiction over this issue instead of sitting down together and drawing up an urgent plan to renovate in order to salvage what remains. As a consequence of their negligence as a final act of their powerlessness, they give out urgent demolition notices for the safety of passersby and neighbors.
Unfortunately, it causes Veles to lose its traditional architecture that makes it recognizable in the world.
Time and various natural disasters have destroyed the few houses that were preserved or restored. In 2001/2002, after an initiative led by the local government and the Directorate for Protection of Cultural Heritage, three out of the five protected houses were renovated in the Varnalii locality: the Houses of Prnarevi, Trenchovi and Paunovi. A fire that broke out last summer, two houses burnt down: Paunovi’s, in which the owner burned to death as well, and the Manevi House next door.
A year after the fire, their situation hasn’t changed, and authorities justify this by saying there are long restoration procedures, and they lack staff, which is made even further difficult by the current COVID-19 situation because a part of their chronically ill employees have been relieved of work duties.
Eight years ago, the House of Gaberovi caught fire in Dvorovi. Fourteen years ago, the new owners tore down the House of Bunovi that was located across the Gemidzii Bridge, and they built a new one in its stead.
After the latest downpours in August, parts of the Houses of Tapanarovi and Nastovi collapsed. They were located in the old heart of the city, Kliment Ohridski Street, beneath the Ss. Cyril and Methodius school. The local government has recommended to the owners to tear these houses down for the safety of neighbors and passersby, and if they fail to comply, they will do it for them, and charge them for it.
Nowadays, the Nastovi family heirs have begun tearing down the family house themselves. The Tapanarovi heirs should do the same over the next few days, urgently.
It’s tragic because this beautiful traditional house, the House of Tapanarovi, which has a specific build, just as many other of these authentic traditional houses, was a cultural heritage many years ago. The authorities, however, didn’t bother to declare them cultural monuments, thereby sealing their fate to be left in ruins.
The City of Veles received a letter from the Directorate for Protection of Cultural Heritage days after the storm tore the houses down:
“We hereby inform you that after a detailed insight into available documentation following the latest rainstorms in Veles, the subject of your urgency, the house situated on KP 88062 KO Veles, owned by Jelisaveta Elenska, Jordanka Tapanareva, and Zorica Tapanareva, does not represent a protected good. This is so because of the Act for Establishing Protection of Listed Facility/Protection Solution exists only in a list of registered facilities on the territory of the City of Veles under number 16 prepared by the National Center for Conservation in Skopje. This represents only a list of facilities that have the characteristics to evolve into protected goods, but for various reasons, the Protection Act for the facility has never been enacted.”
Instead of being a tourist attraction, authentic Veles houses have been reduced to ruin and danger for neighbors and passersby
Elica Nikolova, senior curator at the Veles People’s Museum, tells MIA that the issue hasn’t been moved from its status quo in years, even after their appeals to authorities. They went through long procedures, only to get stuck in the mazes of ineffective bureaucracy.
Nikolova says that she’s been suggesting to the authorities to renovate the street where these two traditional houses are situated, because there are other beautiful traditional houses that are on the brink of falling apart on it as well. Her idea was to renovate the cobblestone path and put up old streetlights, to make this street a tourist attraction.
Going up the street, one reaches the memorial houses of Vasil Glavinov and Jordan Hadzi Konstantinov – Dzinot, and a bit further up head is the famous House of Kasapovi, better known as The Floating House, located on a rock under the Church of St. Panteleimon.
Nikolova says that unique house was the last to be fully restored around fifteen years ago, but not a single house has been renovated or restored since, despite there being many that urgently need renovation, such as the protected houses under the City Saar, the old houses near Vardar by the Diocese, as well as some more locations in the old part of the city.
She also points out that the National Museum has no jurisdiction over the architectural cultural heritage. The National Center for Conservation is in charge of that.
“As a museum, we suggested to the local and state government to form a Center for Conservation, but it fell on deaf ears and it remained as nothing more but an initiative that didn’t get supported and accepted. Through the Association of Cities with Architectural Heritage, seated in Veles, we’ve talked to the local government to get the city to make a detailed urbanistic plan of these city cores that contain traditional houses of significant architectural heritage. However, there still hasn’t been a detailed plan made for the areas I’ve pointed out, and so these houses cannot be worked on. Right there where House of Tapanarovi is, multiple such houses exist on that street. At least they could’ve made the facades appear in this authentic style. However, a plan wasn’t drawn up even after all our insights into the city’s terrain and appeals to the government. The houses remain in ruins,” Nikolova says.
She says that they demanded the National Museum make a protection project for the House of Alikara where the Apasievi family lives today. She says that this is a very interesting house, and that this may be the final moment for it to be saved from total ruination. It was built in the mid-19th century and stands out of the constant markings of the traditional architecture of Veles.
Two rooms in this house have a wooden carved ceiling. The street fountain, built into a corner wall on the house, gives a special charm to the house, which is why it’s valuable, unique, and must be protected, Nikolova says.
The local government accuses that the state government does not care for the houses enough, asking for more funding out of the budget.
At a news conference of Veles Mayor Ace Kocevski recently, MIA’s reporter said that if the remaining ruined houses located in the several old city cores aren’t urgently repaired, Veles will likely lose centuries worth of precious architectural heritage.
Responding to the comment, Kocevski expressed his displeasure at the way the local and state government have dealt with the protection of cultural heritage, which is a huge damage dealt to future generations who will not have access to their ancestors’ heritage.
“I think that we need to seriously examine regulation, to know who has jurisdiction over what in this area. Secondly, much bigger funds should be secured from the state budget in order to preserve what we have. When a natural disaster happens, like the case with the houses in the last rainstorm, or last year’s fire that burnt down the two houses in Varnalii, the response time should be quick and the adequate project documentation should be drafted, and the complex should be built. These things go slow. They complain because they lack human resources, because a lot of their employees are self-isolating due to COVID-19 because they’re chronically ill. They justify it by saying they don’t have investment funds, nor available vehicles,” Kocevski said.
He said he believed that there should be serious pressure by the public in order to secure the funds necessary to preserve what’s still there. However, that which has been torn down cannot be put back.
State institutions, on the other hand, need bigger cooperation and inclusion of the local government through initiative and suggestions.
The Directorate for Protection of Cultural Heritage head Aco Kostov told MIA that after the Varnalii fire last December, they did some field research and sent a team to the National Center for Conservation. They’re in charge of making idea projects for both burnt houses, as well as the other two Varnalii houses on the left side of Veles, for which they believe holds significance as a complex.
“A project should be made first, but due to the crisis we’re going a bit slow. We’re tracking the situation and expect to have a project with which the lost houses in Varnalii can be restored to their former glory,” Kostov clarified.
He points out that conservation doesn’t fall only on the national centers for conservation, it must include the local government. He advises for municipalities in this country to be resilient and knock on institutions’ doors.
“They should demand for some of these houses that haven’t been protected and renovated for years to be part of the programs for undertaking activities, firstly for creating projects, and then for conservation,” Kostov suggests.
He explains that state conservation institutions act slowly because new staff hasn’t been employed for about 20 years.
He says that as a consequence of this, in a way, state institutions are handicapped when it comes to facility protection. The small number of employees don’t come into work due to chronic illnesses, so they can’t work properly as an institution.
Kostov suggests to the local government to talk to them for advice and activities on how to treat protected facilities as a whole. As an example he points out that detail urbanist plans should undertake activities regarding protected facilities fully, which will be treated in such a way.
The house owners can’t renovate themselves and require financial aid
Kostov says that these house owners legally cannot do things themselves, because they need projects for this, or funds that the local or state government should provide.
“For our institutional approach, we expect to find a way through the European funds to apply for projects and funds for beginning the process of protection for cultural heritage,” Kostov says.
The house owners are seeking urgent renovation action in order to save the remaining houses from being torn down, as legacy for the future generation.
Snezhana Petrova is one of the owners of a law-protected traditional Veles house. She said her house has been deteriorating for years because there’s no restoration project for it. She says her income is minimal, and she does not have the funds required to fully restore the house to its former glory, how it was when her great grandfather built it.
“If the institutions in charge don’t do something urgently to help us, our house will be the next one down during the next big storm. I’m still hopeful, though, that someone will hear our pleas for help and help us restore our house, as well as the other ruined traditional Veles houses, and help us restore their former beauty, luxury and shine,” Petrova says.
Our ancestors built and left us these traditional, authentic houses. For years, Veles has been recognizable for these houses. We are obligated to protect and preserve this architectural pearl, and hand it off to the future generations for safekeeping.
Translated by Dragana Knezhevikj