The remote village of Galičnik is only home to one full-time resident. But on one weekend each summer, former residents all return to their ancestral homes with hundreds of sightseers to attend a unique wedding.
The prettiest bride gets to marry in Galičnik
The mountainous village of Galičnik in northwestern Macedonia lies in a rugged, dramatic setting. In winter, it is cut off from the outside world by snow and ice. But that's not too much of a burden for the citizens of Galičnik -- because it is only home to one full-time resident, a woman in her seventies.
Yet on one summer weekend, former residents and hundreds of sightseers come to Galičnik for the country's cultural event of the year: the Galičnik Wedding Festival or Galička Svadba.
Galičnik hosts the mass wedding festival every summer
The two-day festivities begin on the Saturday closest to St. Peter's Day, which falls in mid-July. An expectant crowd masses in the narrow winding road that snakes through town. Those who get here early enough stake their claim to a stone slab in the village's old amphitheatre. By 7 pm, the waiting is over. The Galičnik Wedding is about to commence.
But don't expect to see the bride and groom exchanging vows just yet. The festivities take place over the entire weekend and are a celebration of centuries-old customs, music and dance.
"It's an honor to be married here."
Three rifle shots ring out from a stone house. According to the official program, it's the home of the bridegroom. He and his party have assembled there and raised the Macedonian flag, decorated with flowers, from the upper balcony.
Yet the groom and the bride have no connection to Galičnik at all. What's more, the reason they're getting married here is because they won a national competition.
The wedding tradition has existed for over 70 years
"It's an honor to be married here," says groom Marjan Blazevski.
To understand the festival's origins, it's necessary to go back to the early twentieth century. At that time, around 5,000 people lived in Galičnik raising sheep. A lot of famous Macedonians were born here and the village was known for its traditions and way of life.
But Galičnik also became a byword for economic migration. Many of the young men from here were forced to search for work abroad -- even as far away as America. They'd always come home to meet up with family and friends, though. So it made sense for them to visit Galičnik at a set time -- and to get married while they were here.
The Galičnik Wedding Festival was therefore born. Back in 1936, a total of 40 couples were married on the same day. The prettiest bride wins
Architect Kosto Graorkoski has helped organize the wedding for 44 years.
Thousands of spectactors come to see the wedding festival
"I'm very sad that the village is not alive with people for the entire year," Graorkoski says. "But we're working hard on various projects to find a way that will allow Galičnik to live once again."
According to Graorkoski, the town hopes that UNESCO will recognize the Galičnik Wedding in 2008.
So where does the competition come into all this? Eight years ago, the organizers decided to give couples from around Macedonia the chance to be married here at the festivities. Any pair can apply. The only pre-condition is that they've already been married in a civil service.
This year, six couples entered the competition -- and there's nothing too traditional about the method of choosing the lucky couple. It simply boils down to which bride is the prettiest. Music and dance are key elements
There are few concessions to modernity when it comes to the festivities, though. Throughout Saturday night and then on Sunday, a series of rituals take place, as they have done for hundreds of years.
The bridegroom, for example, is shaved in front of the fountain, symbolizing his separation from his parents; a horse bridle is placed on the bride as a test of her obedience.
Music is a key element of the wedding festivities
The bridal pair is also accompanied throughout by a band of musicians. They play just two instruments, a traditional drum called a tŭpan or tăpan, and an oboe-like woodwind instrument, the zurla. Tour guide Dimitar Gjorgjievski says there are two explanations for the instruments' origin, which is known to be India.
"Some guess that it was from the period of Alexander the Great and when he conquered India, he brought back these types of instruments to Macedonia," Gjorgjievski explains. "The other theory is that with the arrival of the Turks in this region, a lot of gypsies from India traveled with them. It was their national instrument and so it also became an instrument played in this part of Macedonia."
Around 200 people are taking part in the wedding. Along with the bridal party and the musicians, there are also dancers. A popular element is the Teškoto dance, performed by a group of men. It originates from Galičnik and was performed when locals left the village to work abroad.
The Teškoto is considered one of the most difficult of folk dances and has become a symbol of Macedonia's pride and of overcoming difficulties in life.
"I especially enjoyed the rituals."
By early afternoon on Sunday, the wedding is drawing to its logical conclusion. Inside the church, the bride and groom are taking their vows.
But it's not exactly a private moment. They're surrounded by camera crews, the bodyguards of a visiting VIP and complete strangers from near and far. And there aren't too many newlyweds who follow up their vows with a press conference. But Marjan and his bride Vesna Dimitrovska say even though their wedding was a very public affair, they enjoyed it immensely.
Galičnik is home to just one full-time resident
"It's a bit tiring, but it's a wonderful feeling," Marjan says.
"I especially enjoyed the rituals involving the ring and when we were on horseback," Vesna adds.
After some post-nuptial partying, the tourists head home and the citizens of Galičnik have their village back to themselves -- until they, too, head back to Skopje and other places around Macedonia where they now work.
Finally, as the summer draws to an end, there will be just one person left in the village: that little old lady, Galičnik's sole resident.