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Debar and its famed masons.

Debar is a town in the western part of Macedonia. It is the administrative center of the Municipality of Debar, which also includes 17 villages. It is 131 km from Skopje and closest cities to it are Struga (52 km) and Gostivar (71 km). Debar is in the southeast part of the Debar valley at the foot of Mount Desat (Krcin), at an altitude of 625 meters above sea level. To the east is Mount Stogovo and to the south is Mount Jablanica, separating the region of Debar from the neighboring regions of Kicevo and Drimkol. Debar is near the reservoir Lake Debar created with the construction of the Spilje Dam in 1969, at the Radika's outfall in the Crn Drim.

The climate in the town is a combination of the continental and mountain climates with pronounced characteristics of the Mediterranean climate being a result of the forceful influences from the Adriatic Sea to the west spreading eastward along the river Crn Drim.

The word Debar is of Macedonian origin. More specifically, it derives from the old Slavonic language and means valley, which is no coincidence given Debar's location. Also, Jordan Hadzi-Konstantinov-Dzinot, an educator from the period of Macedonia's national revival, frequently uses the word debrina, debrini in his records, travel books and published essays of the 1850s to denote a valley.

The first written record in which Debar is mentioned is the map of Claudius Ptolemy made around the middle of the second century in which Debar is designated as Deborus. The Byzantine Emperor Basil II knew about its existence, while Feliks Petancic, a Croatian scholar and diplomat, mentions the town as Dibri in 1502. During the Ottoman Empire, Debar was part of the Bitola Vilayet. According to a French travel writer, in the early 19th century when Debar rose against the Ottoman sultan, the settlement had 4,200 inhabitants and 64 shops. By the turn of the century, its population grew to 15,500 and considerably declined following World War I.

From the 17th to the 19th centuries, Debar had a well developed woodcarving school. Its masters made numerous iconostases in Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia and even Russia. In the late 18th century, Grigor Prlicev, one of the greatest representatives of Macedonia's national revival who beautifully described the place in his autobiography, was held and tortured in the local prison by the Ottoman authorities.

Due to its economic rise, the wealth of its inhabitants and the fame of the local masons, there was a saying during the Ottoman Empire: "Constantinople is on fire, Debar is rebuilding it".

In the immediate proximity of Debar is the village of Rajcica, where the female monastery of Sveti Gjorgji Pobedonosec (Saint George the Victorious), a metoh (dependency) to Macedonia's richest monastery of Sveti Jovan Bigorski, is located. Certain long-lost craftsmen such as tailors and carpenters, who have survived in the old quarters of Prilep and Bitola, can be found in Debar, too. The local masons and drum and zurla makers are just as famous.

When Macedonia declared independence and Albania opened its borders, trade and small business began to flourish in Debar as a growing number of people from the Albanian towns and villages near the border began buying products and services at the market in Debar.

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Publication:Macedonian Diplomatic Bulletin
Geographic Code:4EXMA
Date:Jul 1, 2015
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