Skip to main content

Monastir and the Balkan Region

Panoramic view of Monastir

Panoramic photograph looking over the city of Monastir. Inscription on the back in Mary Matthews' hand reads: "About half of the city of Monastir, Macedonia -- Slavic name is Bitolj. Most southern city of Yugoslavia since Balkan War One, 1912 when the Serbs took it from the Turks -- with that part of Macedonia -- At the right in the background, Mt. Pelister, alt. 8,000 ft. The peak is hidden in the clouds. Two assistant teachers in the American School for Girls," undated

The American School for Girls was situated in Macedonia -- a term which at the time did not refer to today's Republic of Macedonia but rather a region. (Mary compared it to the concept of New England.)

At the time Mary arrived in this region in 1888, Macedonia was considered part of European Turkey by American missionaries, up until such events as the Young Turk Revolution in 1908 and the First and Second Balkan Wars rendered countries such as Bulgaria, Serbia, and Greece to be independent entities. 

The city of Monastir itself lay in the Pindus Mountains of Macedonia, on a wide plain surrounded by peaks -- including the highest, Mount Pelister. Pelister was once green and forested, until all the trees were taken as fuel. In terms of population, Monastir was fairly varied. In Matthews' early years, she estimated that the city's population was about half Turks, three thousand Jews, and the rest a mix of Bulgarians, Greeks, Albanians, Romanians, and "Gypsies". Over the course of Matthews' time there, the city would change governmental hands at least three times. Monastir is now known as Bitola/Bitolje in the present-day Republic of Macedonia.