Adventures in Prilep: Hiking to Marko’s Towers and Treskavec Monastery

Last Updated on: 14th July 2022, 12:38 pm

The imposing granite hill on which Marko’s Towers were built can be seen from all over the city of Prilep, North Macedonia’s fourth-largest. But while the towers date back to the Middle Ages, the hill and its surroundings have been occupied since as early as the Bronze Age.

Before walking to Marko’s Towers, visitors can explore the small village of Varosh which predates Prilep’s foundation. Later, after hiking to the top of the hill, one can make the two-hour walk to Treskavec Monastery along one of North Macedonia’s most beautiful hiking trails.

While Marko’s Towers on its own can be visited as a day trip from somewhere like Bitola, it’s worth basing yourself in Prilep if you plan on hiking to the monastery. Prilep itself makes for a great base for day trips around the region, and you can learn more about transport and accommodation at the end of the article.

Visiting Varosh

Following the Ottoman takeover of Marko’s Towers in the late 14th century, the town of Varosh was established at the base of the hill. And as the city’s Christian population was allowed to keep practicing their faith, it soon became home to dozens of medieval Orthodox churches, several of which remain today.

Marko's Towers Varosh
On the walk over from Prilep

Before walking up to the top of Marko’s Towers, it’s worth quickly exploring Varosh, about thirty minutes on foot from central Prilep. And by approaching the base of the hill from Varosh, you’ll get to see a prehistoric necropolis that many visitors miss.

The Church of St. Nicholas
Marko's Towers Varosh
The Church of St. Dimitrij
Marko's Towers Varosh
The Church of St. Anastasius

Unfortunately, many of the smaller churches around town are often closed. I had no luck making it into the Church of St. Nicholas, built in 1298. And while I did step inside the Church of St. Dimitrij, also from the 13th century, the lights were completely off.

Another interesting highlight is the ruined church of St. Anastasius, which was likely destroyed by the Ottomans.

As we’ll go over shortly, Varosh’s most famous Christian structure, the grand Holy Archangels Monastery, can indeed be entered, and you can find it on the western side of the hill.

Varosh Amfiteatar

Also in the center of town is an interesting space called the ‘Varosh Amfiteatar.’ No information about it seems to exist on-site or online, but given the region’s history, there might’ve been a theater here back in Roman times.

Marko's Towers Varosh

Around the Base of Marko'S Towers

Leaving the village, head toward the western base of Marko’s Towers, known locally as Markovi Kuli. The medieval ruins at the top take their name from Prince Marko Mrnjavčević, a Serbian royal who ruled this part of Macedonia from 1371 to 1395. 

Ultimately, he would become an Ottoman vassal, but he’s nonetheless long been revered as a heroic figure in South Slavic folklore. Not only did he become a symbol of resistance against Turkish rule, but also as a protector of the weak and powerless.

The hill’s close association with Prince Marko, however, overshadows its much more ancient and mysterious past.

Marko's Towers Varosh

Walking toward the hill from Varosh, I was immediately approached by a friendly local man who was picking berries. He pointed out some of the interesting shapes formed by the granite rocks which locals have likened to various animals.

He then told me to follow him. And the next thing I knew, I was being given a private tour of the nearby archaeological ruins.

Marko's Towers Varosh

The western base of Marko’s Towers is home to dozens of sarcophagi dug right into the granite rock. As was the case with many cultures, the size of the tombs depended on the importance of the deceased. 

And one tomb in particular, dug as its own arched chamber, surely must’ve been designated for a noble or for a king.

Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery
My guide doing an impromptu handstand
Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery

My new guide told me that they were thousands of years old. And based on my experiences visiting ancient necropolises around the world, I didn’t doubt it. 

While details are scarce, there were settlements here since at least the Bronze Age, and the area continued to be occupied throughout Roman times.

Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery
Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery

What’s especially impressive about this necropolis is that granite is one of the hardest stones on the planet. Carving out all these graves would’ve been incredibly strenuous and time-consuming with whatever primitive tools the inhabitants of the time had to work with.

Next, we went over to the largest of the area’s churches, the Holy Archangels Monastery. It’s believed to have been constructed some time between the 10th and 12th centuries, meaning it predates the lifetime of Prince Marko.

Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery

While I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside, I can confirm that it’s filled with beautiful frescoes, many of which depict the Archangel Michael. Another remarkable feature is its large dormitory, constructed in the 19th century.

Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery

Back below the monastery, my guide showed me even more ancient graves. But most interesting of all was a large rock with various indentations that he said was long used as an astronomical observatory.

Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery

We then said goodbye, and I thanked him for showing me so many of the area’s secrets. My next mission was to walk to the other side of the hill and then hike up to the very top of Marko’s Towers.

Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery

Hiking up to Marko's Towers

Getting from the village to the correct trail up the hill was somewhat tricky. But as often is the case, the Maps.me app came to the rescue. 

Making your way to the eastern portion of the hill, you’ll find yourself on a trail that gradually takes you around and upwards.

About halfway up, you should see a point where the trail splits into two. The righthand trail leads all the way to Treskavec Monastery, but more on that later.

Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery

Making it to the top is fairly strenuous – especially on a hot summer day. Thankfully, you’ll encounter a few shaded gazebos at which to escape the sun and rest your legs if need be.

Reaching the top, you’ll encounter the remains of the royal palace of Serbian King Vukašin and his son Marko. While some areas contain nothing but foundations, certain walls and even entire towers remain well-preserved.

Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery

But the real reason to visit Marko’s Towers is for the views. The highest point of the hill – some 180 m above the ground – is marked by a large (albeit aesthetically unremarkable) iron cross – much like the one in Vodno, Skopje.

Even if you’re feeling tired, the walk up the rocky staircase is worth it, as you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of Prilep down below.

Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery
Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery

Following Marko’s death, the fortress was taken over by the Ottomans who restored and repaired much of it. But picturing how the fortress looked in the Middle Ages requires a bit of imagination.

With various areas to explore and amazing views in all directions, Marko’s Towers is a fun place to hang out for awhile, and easily the best thing to do in the region.

Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery

Looking north, you can catch a glimpse of the trail to Treskavec Monastery. And if this type of scenery is your thing, the two-hour (one-way) hike to the monastery should not be missed. 

Despite not being part of a national park, it’s easily one of the most beautiful hikes in the country.

Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery

Hiking to Treskavec Monastery

For those hiking to Treskavec Monastery, you simply have to walk down from Marko’s Towers and find the section where the dirt path forks into two. There should be a sign pointing you to the monastery, and you simply need to walk north in the opposite direction from Marko’s Towers.

The Maps.me app comes in handy to get a sense of the time and distance. But once you’re on the path, it’s very hard to get lost.

Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery

All in all, this is a pretty easy hike. It will take you around four hours round-trip, minus the time spent at the monastery. 

Luckily, there are two natural springs along the way at which you can fill up your water bottle. And you’ll even pass a picnic area in case you’ve brought food.

Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery
Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery

The views throughout the entire hike are stunning, with interesting granite formations everywhere you look. 

Having just hiked through the nearby Pelister National Park a few days prior, this area felt a world apart. And as beautiful as Pelister is, the scenery here feels especially unique and mysterious.

For some strange reason, however, I didn’t encounter a single other hiker – either on the way there or on the return trip.

Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery

While the trail is mostly flat, you will occasionally have to walk up and down large granite boulders. At one particularly steep part, you’ll even find a rope to cling on to as you gradually make your way up the huge rock.

While I did the hike on a dry afternoon, this section might be especially tricky after a downpour.

Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery
Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery
Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery

All in all, the trail is well marked. And with few divergent paths, you basically just need to keep heading in a single direction.

The main challenge is battling the heat on a sweltering summer afternoon. Encountering each of the two springs (both of which are accurately marked on Maps.me) will surely come as a major relief.

Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery
Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery

The second spring makes for an especially comfy place to relax for a while to escape the sun. You’ll find a small shrine with religious iconography, while there’s also a place to sit beneath the shade.

If you’ve explored Varosh and Marko’s Towers first, you’ll be hiking to the monastery during the hottest part of the day. While I was able to get through it, you might want to consider saving that area for the way back if you really can’t handle the heat.

Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery
Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery

Past the spring, you’ll encounter yet more beautiful scenery and unique rock formations. And before long, you’ll reach the final destination, Treskavec Monastery.

Visiting Treskavec Monastery

Treskavec Monastery is surrounded by the same type of scenery encountered thus far on the hike, and it’s clear why 12th-century monks would want to build something here.

Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery
Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery

Sadly, the monastery was largely destroyed in a fire recently, and most of it has been recently replaced with newer structures. Fortunately, the church has largely survived intact, but it was nevertheless undergoing extensive renovations at the time of my visit.

Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery

The exterior was covered in scaffolding and the lights were completely out inside. I could, at least, make out some of the frescoes, which date from the 14th-16th centuries, and then again the 19th century.

Despite the monastery’s large size and seemingly brand new dormitories, there’s said to be only a single monk living here. I didn’t see him around, however – just two sleeping cats.

Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery
Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery
Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery
Marko's Towers Treskavec Monastery

As nice as Treskavec Monastery is, it shouldn’t necessarily be thought of as a landmark that’s worthy of a four-hour trek. Rather, it simply serves as a convenient place to stop before turning around.

While I normally find the return trips on A-B hikes to be rather tedious, I was more than happy to see the same views all over again on my way back to Prilep.

Additional Info

Prilep is easily accessible from many cities in North Macedonia, either by bus or by train.

Trains connect the city with Bitola, Veles and Skopje. Buses, meanwhile, connect Prilep with the same cities in addition to various smaller surrounding towns.

Unfortunately, there’s no reliable online source of information for timetables in North Macedonia. Therefore, it’s generally best to head over to the bus station the day before a journey to confirm the schedules.

Prilep makes for a great base from which to visit the archaeological ruins of Stobi in addition to the scenic town of Krushevo. And the staff working at the local bus station are quite helpful in regards to info on bus times.

Interestingly, Prilep’s bus terminal is the only one in Macedonia with a digital timetable displayed in the departure hall (albeit only in Cyrillic). Even the capital’s bus terminal lacks a timetable of any sort!

Despite being one of North Macedonia’s larger cities, few tourists base themselves in Prilep, and there aren’t a whole lot of accommodation options – especially for budget travelers.

If you’re looking for a budget-friendly private room, the most popular place in town is called Guest House Antika.

This is where I ended up staying. And while I had a good experience overall, I’m a bit baffled by the 9.8 score on Booking at the time of writing.

I paid 10 euro a night and the manager was incredibly helpful and communicative. But having just stayed at Domestika Hostel in Bitola for the same price, Antika felt like a big downgrade. In Bitola, I had a private bathroom and aircon, but in Prilep I had neither.

Annoyingly, the shared bathroom near my room was often in use and it also got rather dirty by evening.

And for whatever reason, around a dozen children would gather each night at the house next door, running down the streets and shouting in the courtyard. This would go on until around 23:00. Without air conditioning, you’ll want to open a window, but that only makes everything louder.

There was also a very strange and rude local guy who seemed to be living or working at the place, and he was often sitting in the outdoor area chain smoking. I don’t want to go into details, but he’s best to be avoided and his attitude brings down the overall vibe of the guest house.

Strangely, none of these issues have been mentioned on Booking, but other guests I spoke to in person were definitely bothered by the same things. It just goes to show how you often have to be skeptical of online ratings.

Again, while I had an OK stay overall, I wouldn’t stay at Antika again. Considering the number of times I visited the bus terminal, I would look for some place closer to there instead.



Booking.com

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