The megalithic observatory and sacred site at Kokino in Macedonia is one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the twenty-first century — a complex sacred site that served as a link between humans and the divine for thousands of years.
Towering atop a mountain peak near the town of Kumanovo (near the Serbian border), the Bronze Age site features an ancient observatory that tracks and captures the movements of the sun and moon through the year, the solstices and equinoxes, lunar and solar eclipses, and even captures certain stellar alignments — an incredibly complex living calendar from over 3,900 years ago that was used to follow and celebrate the celestial movements of the heavens and their influence on earthly life.
Discovery:The observatory and sacred site in the Kokino complex were first discovered in 2001 by the archaeologist Jovica Stankovski. Shortly thereafter, the physicist Gorje Cenev joined the exploration of the site (2002). It was due to their publicized findings that the astounding megalithic observatory at Kokino became widely known about.
Since its discovery, Kokino has been ranked as the world’s fourth most important ancient observatory by NASA, listed alongside sites such as Stonehenge, Angkor Wat, and Abu Simbel due to its incredibly precise and complex calendar alignments and features.
According to Cenev, the key to unlocking the meaning of the site and the function it served is the field of archaeoastronomy:
“Archeoastronomy is a scientific field of recent interest. Studying myths and religious views of ancient cultures related to the sky, as well as recognizing their real knowledge related to the movements of the celestial objects, positioning their places of rising and setting along the horizon, making and usage of calendars…”
Indeed an understanding of the ancient culture, its myths, legends, practices, and relationship with nature and the movements of the sky seems to be key to unraveling the mysteries atop this ancient holy mountain.
Both archaeological findings at the site and the site’s alignments point to the site being constructed sometime between the 19th and 17th century BC (or close to four thousand years ago). More recently, in 2009, an Iron Age settlement was also found in the area, pointing to the site being frequented even further back in antiquity.Many ancient fragments of pottery, tools, and jewelry have been found at Kokino, indicating use of the site as a place of offerings and worship. Gorje Cenev speculated that the site was likely considered a sacred site, or a holy mountain, even prior to the construction of the observatory itself. Though undoubtedly, the presence of the observatory must have elevated the site to an important gathering place for sacred rites.
Though the dating of the site is largely considered established at this stage, it is difficult to say who the builders of the site were — what culture was behind this megalithic structure? The difficulty in identifying it more precisely stems from the understanding that many of the cultures who inhabited the region of Macedonia at the time, while all having their own distinct cultures, customs, rulers, languages, deities, etc., all had comparable overall beliefs about the nature of the world, the universe, life, and so on.
Archaeoastronomy tells us that the peoples of the past appear to have all lived in much closer harmony with nature, and shared a common understanding of celestial movements and their influence upon life on Earth, and celebrated as such accordingly. The culture that built this observatory appears to have certainly shared this understanding, which enabled them to build this site as both a way to track these celestial movements and celebrate them as well on special days of the year.
Kokino Culture and Spiritual Beliefs
Before delving into the site itself, to appreciate its long held majestic place amidst the sacred sites of the world, it’s helpful to have an overall picture of what the culture and spiritual life was like in the days of the construction of the site.
Cenev shares the following insights on the subject:
In the early Bronze Age people lived in entire unity with the nature. On the Balkan Peninsula, same as in the wider region of the East Mediterranean and Near East people acknowledged the surrounding world as magnificent creations of Gods, which is functioning according to their will and their rules. The first creation of Gods, usually called Cosmos, by itself, is perfect and is represent of the order and the goodness, opposite the Chaos, where anarchy and evil forces rule. In the act of creation of the Cosmos, Gods created man with a task to serve Gods and help them in maintaining the order and well functioning of this divine creation, which is attracted by the evil forces aiming to turn it into Chaos… That is why, in all cosmogonies, the three worlds are mentioned. The land, plants and animals are the world surrounding the man. Above him is the sky, so called Upper World or world where Gods, creators of the Cosmos live and from where they watch over its well functioning. Under the surface of the land is the Underworld or the world where the evil forces and the darkness rule.
Cenev also explains that:
In order to fulfill their task in front of the Gods, but at the same time, to survive in the real, i.e., the profane world, people need to understand the rhythm of nature, where symbolically, the Gods rule and the well functioning of the Cosmos was condensed. People found this above mentioned rhythm in the periodicity, in the change of the day and the night, in the moon phases, in the biological rhythm of the plants and animals. Thus, the periodicity has become basic characteristics and measure of the well functioning of the Cosmos. Knowledge and maintenance of the periodicity grow to be primary aim and need in order to conserve human life and well functioning not only of the human community but also of the cosmos too.
This is where a structure such as the complex calendar at Kokino would have come into place, to help those knowledgeable in celestial events to organize, guide, and inspire the inhabitants of the land.
Being in unity with nature of course meant constructing structures in alignment with nature’s patterns, highlighting and celebrating the spiritual principles and cosmic truths that have been woven into the tapestry of life itself.
The Kokino observatory contains three observation posts, which Cenev speculates were each symbolic for one of these three worlds (the kingdom of the Gods in the sky, the earthly human kingdom, and the Underworld region of the demons and dead). These three worlds are acknowledged in many religions and cultures, such as for instance the Gods, humans, and Asuras in the Vedic tradition.
Mountains in Regional Beliefs
Building an observatory atop a mountain peak provides a good vantage point for observing celestial movements. Yet mountains in general hold a special meaning in the culture and mythology of the area, so a sacred site atop a mountain peak seems a natural choice. Cenev notes that:
Myths and spirituality surrounding mountain peaks can be found in many ancient cultures, such as the Greek Mount Olympus (the dwelling of the Gods and the center of the universe), in Inca culture you find the ancient complex at Macchu Pichu to attest to the same — a holy place atop a mountain where one could connect with divinity, in Hindu tradition you find the same in mount Meru, and so on.
…there was believe that actually the mountain peaks are the centers of the world and places where all these three worlds of the Cosmos met [celestial kingdom of the Gods, Earth as the human kingdom, and the Underworld kingdom of demons and dead]… On those places, people felt closest to the Gods and tried to communicate with them through prayers, provisions of different kind of sacrifices and performance of various rituals. That is why, the oldest sanctuaries are found on very high places and in the open space…
In her essay Kokino : Archaeological Site and Megalithic Observatory, Biljana Volcevska explains the embedded significance of mountains into the regional culture:
In many Macedonian stories climbing a mountain is very much ritualised and it is believed that by climbing the sacred mountain the people find their way to their origins and get reunited with their gods. In many places in Macedonia there is belief that the fate of each person is predicted on the third night after his/her birth by the Three Fates. The predicted fate however can be only changed with the help of the Sun. One can approach the Sun, when after putting iron sandals, will take an iron stick and will walk for a long time and very far away to get to the peak of a mythical mountain where the Sun lives with its mother… With the help of the Sun’s mother the people can approach the Sun that after hearing them will solve all their problems. All this stories give a lot of meaning to Kokino as a mythical mountain where the admiration of the Sun has a central place.
The observatory mountain itself was known as a “holy mountain,” and there had been finds of vessels carrying offerings deposited into the crevices in the rocks — people had frequented the area for thousands of years to seek that connection and communication with the divine on the mountain.
The Kokino Complex and Natural Features
Although at first glance the site appears to be a somewhat incoherent series of rocks sticking out of the ground and scattered about a mountain peak, a closer look reveals quite a different story. The builders of this ancient marvel were not only savvy of how to take advantage of the natural building elements of the mountain and surrounding area, but also extremely knowledgeable about tracking celestial movements with precision, and used that knowledge for various purposes including the celebration of the solstices and equinoxes.
The Kokino wider archaeological complex covers an area of about ninety by fifty meters (about thirty hectares). The observatory and sacred site form a portion of that area at the peak of a mountain (about five thousand square meters in total), consisting of two platforms.The natural stone found in the area lends itself well to the construction method used to carve out the observatory. The (igneous) andesite rocks crack vertically and horizontally when cooled, forming natural cube blocks that can then be shaped and carved into desired shapes, as well as fissures, all of which were used to carve out the niches for the calendar and the stone thrones found in the observatory. This construction method of transforming these rocks into an observatory is unique only to this site in Macedonia. Other stones on site suggest a transportation of additional raw stone materials brought to the site for further construction.
Site Features:The site consists of two hanging platforms / observation areas and markers for the movements of the sun, moon, and certain stellar alignments throughout the year. There is a clear central position used for observing these celestial movements. From this position, one would be looking at a rocky peak range with specially carved crevices in the places where the sun or moon rise or set on special days of the year, such as solstices and equinoxes. Four thrones grace a central observational area, facing the rising sun over the observatory.
Studies concluded that the measurements for these markers were made with extreme precision. Even though today the celestial movements are slightly off due to the polar shifts over the millennia, at the time of the observatory’s construction the markers were precisely aligned.
These markings enabled the observatory to function as a living calendar, announcing important cosmic events and seasons. Cenev explains that:
“Most probably, the announcement for the days when the most important events start was made by lighting fire on the mountain top located behind the thrones. This spot opens a view in a radius of more than 30km, and hence the fire could be seen by the inhabitants of all surrounding places.”
One could imagine how magical it would be to approach the mountain, seeing the fire lit up high on a day when the solstices or equinoxes were being celebrated.
The Thrones:At the center of the lower observation platform are four carved stone thrones. The stones are oriented precisely to the sunrise on summer solstice day. The person seated on one of these thrones will be greeted by the first ray of the solstice sun at dawn. According to researchers that position would have been symbolic and reserved for the person who has the closest bond to nature, the one who will be “enlightened” by the sun at the solstice. Most likely this position would have been occupied by the ruler.
Similar stone thrones have been found throughout the Near East, and written sources tell us that they were used by kings of the region and mimicked the seats of the Gods, thus symbolically connecting the king’s physical rule with the divine rule of the Gods. It is speculated that the stone thrones at Kokino were likewise used by the ruler and possibly by the priest presiding over the ceremonies as well.
One of the stone thrones has a special marker cutting at the top, marking it for ritual function connected with the summer solstice. On summer solstice day, at sunrise a ray of the sun penetrates through that cut opening illuminating the person seated on that throne. Cenev explains that “The illumination of the face of the ruler signified ritual union with the Sun God and returning/renewing of his ruling power.” He further elaborates:
“According to the archaeo-astronomical analysis, the main role of the thrones was the performing of the bonding ritual of the Sun God with his “representative” on Earth – the ruler, who sat on one of the thrones (the second one) during the ritual. A testimony for that is the distinct stone block with a separate marker cutting on its top, placed right under the highest elevation of the site. The ritual was performed in mid-summer (today in the last day of July) when the Sun rises exactly in the opening of the stone marker. The marker cutting was made with great precision, in such a way that the distance of its external vertical sides fully corresponds with the diameter of the Sun, when observed from the second throne. In order to enable the sun ray to fall on one of the thrones, the people had made a separate trench (incision) in the vertical rock that separates the upper from the lower platform of the site. In the day of the ritual the sun ray passes exactly by the right edge of the trench and falls only on the second throne, i.e. on the place where the most powerful member of the community sat. The day when the rite was performed corresponded with the time of the ending of the harvest – the end of the annual cycle of the plants, and in the same time end of the energy of the ruler. By reuniting with the Sun God, through the light that fell on its face during the ritual ceremony, the energy and the power of the ruler were renewed.”
A stone throne, being seated upon one, ruling from atop one, etc., can also be seen as an esoterically signifcant symbol. Stone, rock, the philosopher’s stone make a frequent appearance in the mythology and folklore of old and are symbolic for a transmformative alchemical work, involving the transformation and purification of one’s energies. To be illuminated by the sun while seated upon a stone throne is therefore also symbolically significant.
The Observatory AlignmentsDespite the observatory being four millennia old, it still relatively accurately predicts the main positions of the sun and moon in the yearly cycle. Researchers believe that having a calendar of this sort helped to organize the community, both in day-to-day matters of life (such as the agricultural cycles) and also in spiritual celebrations and the performance of rituals.
SOLAR ALIGNMENTS: The main calendar observation area at the observatory is the thrones, which were the optimal location to view the celestial movements on the eastern horizon stone wall. The observatory wall had nine main marker grooves, three of which marked the sun rise on summer and winter solstices and autumn and spring equinoxes.
LUNAR ALIGNMENTS: The additional six markers were for tracing the full moon rise at it’s smallest and biggest declination point in summer and winter. Two additional markers measured the length of the lunar months within a periodic 19 year cycle, taking into account the major lunar standstill every 18.5 years. This type of tracking is completely unique to the Kokino observatory.
ECLIPSES: The observatory also monitors sun and moon eclipses. Cenev explains that “Since ancient times, unexpected events such as Sun and Moon eclipses were considered a bad sign. Shadow that is covering the bright image of the Sun or the image of the full Moon is considered as a manifestation of the forces of the evil and darkness, which are in constant fight for dominance with the forces of light and goodness. Therefore monitoring and knowledge related to the eclipses schedule gave the priests-sky observers from Kokino possibility to predict such events…”
In his article, The Ominous Influence of the Four Blood Moons, spiritual author Belsebuub explains that: “An eclipse of the moon represents an eclipse of the forces of illumination” and “…enhances the negative vibrations in the cosmos, upon the earth, and upon the human organism.”
Cenev explains that in anticipation of a lunar or solar eclipse rituals and magical ceremonies would have been held to offset the negative influence that such events could bring about. These events would have been led by the priests / sky observers who studied the patterns of the sky via the observatory.ALIGNMENTS TO THE PLEIADES: One of the markers in the observatory was used to track the movement of the Pleiades star cluster. This creates an interesting link between this site and a similar interest in the Pleaides constellation in various other cultures throughout the world, such as the ancient Egyptians, the Greeks, the Maya, the pre-Columbian peoples of North America, certain African Tribes, Mesopotamia, the Celts, and so on. Much folklore and legends in these various cultures links the Pleiades to the origin of the human race and speak of visitors from the Pleiades visiting our planet in bygone days. Some cultures believe them to be our ancestors.
Interestingly the Nebra Sky Disc, an important Bronze Age artifact, is believed to have been constructed around the same time as the Kokino observatory, also depicting the Pleiades star cluster.
Celebration of the Mother Goddess
There is a commonly held regional belief that mountain peak sanctuaries are associated with the mother goddess. Kokino is the central sanctuary in the region, with twelve other satellite peak santuaries in the vicinity (all of which have a clear visual link with one another — think Lord of the Rings beacons of Gondor for a visual here, only more likely used for a ritual / spiritual purpose). Kokino was regarded as a holy mountain where sacred rites and rituals were performed. One of the main religions to have used the vicinity was the cult of the Great Goddess Mother (or Magna Mater, mother of all the gods). A second widespread Mediterranean cult called the cult of the holy matrimony between Mother Earth and the Sun also inhabited the mountain.The mountain was viewed as a personification of the body of the Great Goddess Mother / Mother Earth. On special days of the year (solstices and equinoxes) when the first ray of the sun fell upon the mountain peak it was seen as a symbolic sacred bond, a holy matrimony between the sun and the earth. Celebrations and sacred ceremonies would have been held around those times to honor and observe these special moments in the yearly cycle.
Another Mother Goddess-related cult to have performed their ceremonies and rituals at Kokino was the Fertility Cult. Fragments of pottery found deposited in cracks and crevices in the rock, the holes in the rock represented the womb of the Great Mother Goddess. Cenev explains that:
“The meaning of the cult is to see the mountain peak as the body of the Great Mother Goddess and the cracks in the rocks, the holes as her womb. …During the ritual, the obligations were put in the holes, thus representing the filling as the womb of the Great Mother Goddess. According to the ethnologist the pots were most probably filled with seeds, thus invoking the auspiciousness for better harvest in the following year. The role of the earth as a worshiped deity is confirmed already in many cultures in the Balkan regions of the time of the Bronze Age.
The earth was usually perceived as opposite to the sky, where the earth represented the female while the sky the mail aspect.”
On summer solstice, when the first rays of the sun lit up the throne and the one seated upon it, Cenev explains that:
“This ritual must have been of great importance for the community living on this site since indicates symbolic unification between the sun or the divine reality with the Great Mother Goddess. It was taking place at the time when harvest was ending thus announcing and celebrating the new cycle of nature’s renewal. “According to the beliefs of the people of that time, at the moment the ruler was lit, he was united with the Sun – God and that was a guarantee for the success of the following year’s harvest, for a good and peaceful life.””
More on the role of the Great Mother Goddess, and how she came to be excluded from religion today can be found in this article: Reestablishing the Feminine in the Godhead: The Role of the Mother Goddess in Spirituality.
The Kokino observatory in Macedonia has functioned as both a spiritual center and a complex observatory for millennia, showcasing how science and religion played a united role in daily life, with the sun viewed as a source of divinity. It in fact functions as a spiritual gathering center to this day, a place where tourists, artists, and spiritual practitioners come to connect with the energy of the mountain and the sun and to celebrate solstices, equinoxes, and explore the mystery of the path of the spiritual sun on this majestic mountain top. As one author remarked, “In kokino you are a king among the stars.”
Megalithic observatory Kokino, Cenev, G. Journal: Publications of the Astronomical Observatory of Belgrade, Vol. 80, p. 313-317.
Ancient Secrets of Kokino Observatory, Gjore Ceneve, Kindle Edition, 2012.
Kokino : Archaeological Site and Megalithic Observatory by Biljana Volcevska
Megalithic observatory Kokino, Cenev, G., Publications of the Astronomical Observatory of Belgrade, Vol. 80, p. 313-317
Three Worlds of the Megalithic Observatory Kokino, Cenev, G., The Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena VI. Proceedings of a conference held October 18-23, 2009 in Venezia, Italy. Edited by Enrico Maria Corsini. ASP Conference Series, Vol. 441. San Francisco: Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 2011, p.495
Kokino on Wikipedia.
Archaeo-astronomical Site Kokino (UNESCO).
Kokino on Megalithic
Nebra Sky Disk on Wikipedia
The Pleiades in mythology
Traditions of the Sun by Nasa