Τετάρτη 13 Ιουλίου 2022

Το Σιδηρόκαστρο στο βιβλίο "Ένας Αγγλος στη Μακεδονία του 1900 (Τζωρτζ Φρέντερικ Αμποτ)" Αγγλικά

Η πλύστρα του Βασιλια Φιλιππου πατέρα του Μ. Αλεξάνδρου στο Σιδηρόκαστρο, Ο Δόντσος και άλλες πληροφορίες για το Σιδηρόκαστρο το 1903.



Mr. G. fortunately was able to accompany me part of 

the way on business of his own, and so we ordered a 

chariot to come round for us on the following day. It 

arrived full two hours before the time, the charioteer 

protesting loudly, with much rolling of eyes and twirl- 

ing of moustache, and with many parenthetic appeals 

to Allah and his Prophet, that it was not a bit too 

early. When he realised the impossibility of convin- 

cing us, he promptly squatted on the door-step, left off 

rolling his eyes, but instead rolled a cigarette between 

his finger and thumb, and waited. Time is no object 

in the East. 

At the last moment we were joined by the versatile 

schoolmaster of fiddle fame. During the past few days 

I had seen a good deal of this wonderful individual, for 

he was a great favourite with the G.s, and the more I saw 

of him the more deeply interested I grew in his person- 

ality. He was a most instructive study of a character 

not uncommon in these parts. He was, as I said before, 

a teacher in a village school, but teaching, I soon found, 

was only a relaxation with him : politics were the- 

serious occupation of his life. In that village, as in 

many others in Central Macedonia, the feud between 

Bulgarians and Greeks raged fiercely, and our school- 

master had thrown himself into the conflict with a zest 

to be found only in Greeks and Irishmen. The result 


was that he came to be regarded by both parties in the 

light of au unmitigated nuisance, and he was deposed. 

At the time when I made his acquaintance he was 

bringing all the resources of his fertile genius to bear 

upon one object — his restoration. He said that he was 

travelling on business, meaning thereby political busi- 

ness, as it afterwards transpired, and that he would be 

glad of a lift ; so we gave him a place in our chariot, 

and merrily rode out of town. 

We found the railway station crowded with invalid 

soldiers on their way to Salonica, and pitiful they were 

to look at. Their shrunk, livid cheeks, and deep-set, 

lustreless eyes betokened intense suffering. Many of 

them were barefooted, others shod with peasant sandals. 

Their tattered uniforms — two - thirds of a coat and 

trousers to match — bore eloquent testimony to a long 

and weary service. And yet there was not the slightest 

indication of discontent. Were they called upon to 

march to battle on the morrow, they would obey the 

summons without a murmur, ay, and fight for their 

God and His representative on earth better than many 

a well-fed and well-clad soldier of the West. This is 

the greatness of Islam. Resignation, which in time of 

peace turns man into a block of wood, makes a hero of 

him at the sound of the trumpet-call to battle. 

The train was due at 8.30 — Turkish time — and, by 

the grace of Allah and the engine-driver, it arrived at 

9.20. We booked to Demir-Hissar, which was to be 

our starting-point north, and took our seats. Our 

travelling companions were a party of young Turkish 

officers in print shirt-sleeves and boisterous spirits. 

They continually smoked, jested, and roared at each 

other's stories of gallantry, some of which would have 

made a green tomato turn red with shame — so said 


the witty schoolmaster, and he evidently was an 

authority on tomatoes, as on most other subjects. 

One of these merry blades was in command of a 

company theoretically engaged in the extermination 

of brigandage, which, nevertheless, appeared to be 

flourishing in the district. The name of one chief 

was especially mentioned with fear, not unmixed with 

admiration and envy. Dontsos was said to be at the 

head of a Bulgarian band, which had defied the autho- 

rities and terrorised the countryside north of Serres 

for no less than twenty-five years. This success, how- 

ever, in justice to the authorities be it said, was not 

entirely due to his own prowess, any more than were 

the profits of his career exclusively confined to his 

own pockets. The authorities had a full share of both 

the glory and the gain. The only real sufi"erers had 

hitherto been the hapless peasants, some two hundred 

of whom were said to have perished at different times, 

partly for refusing to supply Dontsos with provisions, 

and partly for complying with his demands. The 

peasant in this part of Macedonia stands between 

Dontsos and the Turkish devil : 

Both are mighty ; 

Each can torture if derided ; 

Each claims worship undivided. 

The young spark already mentioned was alone believed 

to have, during his short career, squeezed over ^T.300 

from various natives under the pretext that they had 

been aiding and abetting the brigands. 

At 10.20 we reached Demir-Hissar station, and 

after a lively argument we chartered one of the three 

quaint things on wheels, which stood outside. It was 

a hearse-like fabric drawn by three quadrupeds abreast, 


small creatures, probably related to the equine genus, 

and not burdened with more than the minimum of 

flesh or harness. The other two vehicles, filled with 

the Turkish officers, followed behind. We moved off 

at a mournful pace, stumbling against stones, jerked 

over deep ruts, and splashing through pools of stagnant 

water, to the knell of the rusty brass bells which 

dangled from the horses' necks. 

Our way lay mostly through an uncultivated waste, 

broken by four dry water- courses, across the gravelly 

beds of which we drove gingerly. At rare intervals 

we passed a hedge of dusty pomegranates enclosing a 

maize-field. A high ridge of mountains behind, a 

range of bare hills close on the left, and another far 

away on the right, embraced a valley which, but for a 

few Bulgarian and Turkish hamlets scattered here and 

there, would have presented as perfect a picture of the 

Valley of the Shadow of Death as can be found in a 

country not utterly devoid of a human population. 

As we drew near the town a few tobacco planta- 

tions in blossom greeted our eyes, but failed to 

obliterate the general impression of desolation. For, 

not far from them there stood a vast Mohammedan 

cemetery, its headstones lying about in fragments, its 

straggling tombs overgrown with weeds, and offering 

an easy prey to numerous flocks of carrion crows. 

One of these at the sound of our wheels rose from 

amidst the habitations of the dead like a huge black 

pall — an ugly and revolting sight to us, but one to 

which the inhabitants are only too well accustomed. 

Two sheer rocks — one of them capped by the 

crumbling ruins of an obsolete fortress — with a broad, 

rapid brook foaming down the middle, form a ravine 

between the narrow flanks of which is wedged the 


town of Demir-Hissar, the " Iron Castle," so called 

by the Turks on account of the difficulty which they 

experienced in reducing it to submission five centuries 

ago. As we entered, a tribe of mountain goats, under 

the leadership of a long-bearded, long-horned, solemn 

old patriarch, crossed our path and saluted our nostrils 

with the rank, pungent odour to which the word 

hircine owes its particularly untranslatable meaning. 

Having engaged two bedrooms in the best inn 

of the town, we strolled into a chemist's shop next 

door which was kept by a friend of the versatile 

schoolmaster. The chemist was a tall and fragile 

individual with a long face, the cadaverous pallor of 

which seemed to indicate a regular diet on the con- 

tents of his own shop, and was accentuated by an 

enormous pair of despondently drooping black mous- 

taches. He received us with funereal cordiality 

and did the honours of his establishment in the way 

characteristic of the East, namely by offering us cigar- 

ettes and ordering coffee. In that shop I met another 

severed limb of the scholastic body : a second Greek 

master on the look-out for a post, which, however, 

being an unambitious and unversatile youth, with no 

taste or talent for a parliamentary career, he easily 

found a few days later. In the company of these two 

devotees of the Muses, who politely offered to act as 

my guides, I climbed the steep cliff on which stand 

the ruins mentioned before. These consist of a gate- 

way and one or two stone walls. The ascent wound 

through the narrow and filthy lanes of the Gipsy 

quarter, but the view from the plateau, when once 

gained, was superb. 

Immediately below and a little to the left lay the 

Turkish mahallah, spreading over one side of the 


ravine, and forming by far the larger portion of 

the town. On the opposite slope stood the Greek 

quarter, numbering some two hundred houses — a 

colony from Melenik, to the ecclesiastical jurisdiction 

of which it belongs — with a sprinkling of Bulgarians, 

"just enough to make life worth living," as one of 

my guides pleasantly remarked. Between the two 

quarters rushes the brook, aptly symbolising the gulf 

which separates the Cross from the Crescent, two 

forces existing side by side, and yet never meeting. 

From this height the stream could be seen meander- 

ing over the valley until it joined the Struma, which 

glittered like a long silver thread at the foot of the 

distant blue mountains in the south. The sun had 

just sunk behind the western wall of the valley, 

transforming the sky above into a sheet of gold, 

edged with pale green enamel, the glow whereof was 

faintly reflected upon the bosom of Lake Butkovo at 

the base of the ridge. 

An interesting reminiscence of King Philip of 

Macedon still lingers on these rocks. On the slope of 

one of them there are two smooth slabs to which the in- 

habitants apply the quaint name of the ** The Princesses' 

Washing-boards," narrating how in olden times the 

daughters of King Philip used to bleach their clothes 

on those slabs, just as the maids of Macedonia do at 

the present day. A big stone jar, discovered among 

the ruins of the fortress, goes by the name of " King 

Philip's Treasury," and to that king are also attributed 

by popular tradition the ruins of the fortress. When 

one considers the waves of barbarism which have swept 

over the country during the last twenty centuries, these 

memorials of the great king's fame, slight and fabulous 

as they are, have an interest none the less real because 


it is not antiquarian. They show that national con- 

sciousness is not dead. The glorious past still shines, 

though with a dim and fitful light, through the misery 

of the present. 

Darkness grew apace, and soon the lights of the 

town began to twinkle in the depths of the ravine. 

A strong breeze from the valley wafted to us the notes of 

numberless frogs and crickets, softened and sweetened 

by distance. My two companions had all this time 

been sitting on the corpse of a gun which lay dead 

and deserted on the very edge of the plateau. They 

were absorbed in a political discussion in which the 

words patriarch and exarch, Greek and Bulgarian, 

orthodoxy and schism were frequently and emphati- 

cally pronounced. I interrupted the debate with the 

suggestion that it was perhaps time we should descend 

to lower levels. They offered no opposition as they 

could continue the argument on the way down, which 

in fact they did, ay, and long after we reached the inn, 

until they separated for the night. Even then it was 

easy to see that the subject was not dropped, but only 

postponed to the next meeting. No other evidence of 

their Hellenic origin was needed. 

Our dinner that night consisted of some cutlets, 

which we owed to Mrs, G.'s forethought, reinforced by 

what the inn could offer — a flat loaf of brown bread, 

eggs, cheese, grapes, and vinegar, which in this district 

is called wine. This banquet was eaten from plates of 

tin and with forks of lead, both of which luxuries had 

to be specially ordered, and ordered more than once. 

For the officers who had travelled with us and stopped 

at the same inn, being Turks, naturally engrossed all 

mine host's attentions. I say naturally, for whether 

he neglected us or no he was certain to get his money, 


and nothing but money from us ; whereas, had he not 

devoted himself heart and soul, kitchen and cellar, to 

his Turkish guests, he might have lost his money or 

got it substituted by something that he had not bar- 

gained for. 

Dinner over, we went down to the stables to hire a 

horse for myself. Mr. G. had his own horse waiting 

for him here, and as for the versatile schoolmaster, he 

could not make up his mind whether he was going 

with us or staying behind. The ways of genius are 

many and uncertain. 

The usual practice is to engage horses for the 

journey only. The Keradji, or muleteer, accompanies 

you, and at the end of the journey you pay him off. 

My Keradji turned out to be a very reasonable man. 

For a sum corresponding to little over four shillings he 

agreed to let me have a horse as far as Melenik. I was 

to form one of a caravan bound for that town, and 

*' personally conducted " by himself and another mule- 


This business satisfactorily arranged, we retired for 

the night. I secured my bedroom door, placed my 

revolver and note-book under my pillow, put the light 

out and myself into bed, fully resolved to go to sleep. 

But, alas for the futility of human resolves ! Le 

voyageur propose, mais le KJiandji dispose. The 

pallet on which I lay was as hard as the " Princesses' 

Washing-boards," only not quite so smooth. It consisted 

of two planks resting on three packing-cases, and sup- 

porting a straw mattress covered with a coarse sheet, 

which among its virtues did not count immaculate 

purity. But the hardness of my couch would scarcely 

have prevented me, weary as I was, from carrying out 

my resolve, were it not for the legions of *' nocturnal 


enemies " of all arms by which I felt my body invaded. 

I then realised for the first time the meaning of a 

certain Hindoo form of self-mortification. Oh that I 

were a Brahman, to send my soul forth on a heavenly 

tour, leaving my senseless carcass behind, a prey to the 

enemy ! But it was not to be. Resignation was my 

only resource. Allah's will be done in bed as it is on 

the battlefield ! 

In addition to those insidious but inaudible 

enemies, there were noisy rats holding a race-meet- 

ing inside the hollow wall close to my ear, while 

from the stables under the window came an incessant 

concert of jingling harness, neighings and brayings, 

punctuated now and again by a thundering kick 

against the wooden partition. The whole animal 

kingdom had evidently conspired to drive me to 


However, notwithstanding the strenuous efi'orts 

of mine enemies, fatigue, my great ally, finally pre- 

vailed, and I sank into a deep, dreamless sleep from 

which I was roused at dawn by the shrill crowings 

of many cocks. I opened my eyes and lo ! rosy- 

fingered morn was smiling at me from over the 

shoulder of yon blue mountain. 

It was 11.40 — Turkish time. I got up and per- 

formed my matutinal ablutions in a tin basin which, 

after a long and laborious exploration, I discovered 

in the hinterland of the premises. 

" Dans la guerre comme dans la guerre^^ was Mr. 

G.'s cheery comment, when, on emerging from his 

own room, he witnessed my primitive attempt at a 


Our breakfast was not a very elaborate afi'air 

either. A glass of hot milk — real milk, not the spuri- 


ous concoction with which the civilised world would 

fain deceive itself — formed the main part of the meal, 

followed by a small cup of black coffee and the in- 

evitable cigarette. 

Having paid our bill, which altogether amounted to 

some five shillings, and given mine host a gratuitous 

lecture on the treatment of guests, we descended the 

stairs, or rather ladder, leading to the street. Mine host 

accompanied us to the door with many apologies : — 

" They are Turks, sir ; they are Turks," he 

whispered, jerking his head in the direction of the 

room in which the officers still lay asleep, and there 

was a world of meaning in those simple ethnological 


We mounted our horses, which waited ready 

saddled in the street, and retraced our steps to the 

station. In three-quarters of an hour we managed 

to cover the distance which had taken us well over 

an hour the evening before, and found the rest of 

the caravan prepared to start. 

Here I parted from Mr. G. and the versatile school- 

master, who were both going to Petritz, with a promise 

to meet them there in the course of a few days, and 

I joined the party bound for Melenik. 

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