If the name Ohrid sounds new to you, then you are probably missing one of the many hidden gems of Europe!
Ohrid is the name of a beautiful lake, one of the oldest and deepest lakes in Europe. And Ohrid is the name of the city that lies on the shore of this lake.
We are in the Former Yugoslavian Republic Of Macedonia (FYROM).
The debate over the official name of the country is harsh and still unsolved. But it’s not matter of this post.
Ohrid is a very old city. Today it is a town of about 40.000. In the middle age it was the middlepoint of great cultural transformations.
The Ohrid Literary School was established here in 886 by Clement of Ohrid. It became one of the two major cultural centers of the First Bulgarian Empire. Here was forged the Cyrillic alphabet that’s still today predominant in the countries speaking Slavic languages.
Clement of Ohrid was a monk, and he settled there to find peace and calm for his meditations and studies. Soon he realized that the town, placed on a steep hill just above the lake, was perfect for his purposes. Many scholars followed him. They settled in Ohrid and began to meditate, pray and building churches.
At one point there were in Ohrid 365 churches, one for every day of the year and the town was the seat of the Bulgarian Patriarchate. When the Byzantines conquered it, downgraded it to an Archbishopric. It was only a nominal downgrade. At its peak it subordinated the Sofia, Vidin, Vlach and Moldavian eparchies, part of the former medieval Serbian Patriarchate of Peć, (including Patriarchal Monastery of Peć itself), and even the Orthodox districts of Italy (Apulia, Calabria and Sicily), Venice and Dalmatia.
Many other have ruled over Ohrid in the years: Normans, Serbians, Albanians, Ottomans; it became Yugoslavian at the end of WWII. All these dominations created a beautiful melting pot of population and culture and a peaceful way of living together for different religions.
Today in Ohrid you can find catholic and orthodox churches and mosques; all of them blend gorgeously in the urban tissue and mix graciously with the hundreds of byzantine churches.
Ohrid today is a pleasant town with a beautiful atmosphere. You can spend some days between urban explorations, beach relaxing and water sports. The new town has a beautiful lake quay, from the center to the outskirts, where the biggest hotels are. There are bars, benches, small harbors, birds and peace.
Don’t forget that the city and the lake are both listed in the World Heritage Sites List by UNESCO. Ohrid is one of only 28 sites that are part of UNESCO Cultural as well as Natural sites.
If you like photography as I do, these are the seven unmissable hotpoints of the town.
But even if you don’t like photography, don’t miss these beautiful places if you are in Ohrid!
Ohrid is a scenic city and the old town is the gem on the crown. It has been built on a hill directly on the lake. From the slopes of the hill, among forests and cliffs, where all the byzantine churches are, you can get magnificent views of the lake.
You can visit traditional mansions, covered streets (for defensive purposes) and narrow cobbled streets leaning inward with a canal in the middle to convey the rain. These are the oldest ones in town.
If you follow these old streets from the lake shore, you’ll get to the peak of the hill. Here there is an old and partially destroyed fortress. During the walk you’ll see byzantine churches, old buildings, an Hellenistic theatre built in 200 BC and bright sketches of daily life all around.
Tsar Samuel’s fortress is one of the largest medieval fortification in Macedonia. With its ramparts and fortified towers, the fortress occupies the entire top of Ohrid hill which rises to 100 meters above the level of the lake. Throughout history the fortress has been destroyed many times, rebuilt and upgraded. It bears marks from almost all the historical eras when Ohrid was ruled by the Romans, Byzantines, Slavs and Ottomans.
From the ramparts you get fantastic views over the old town, the modern town and the lake.
One of the most beautiful byzantine churches of the area, located in the lower part of the old town, not far from the lake shore. Built upon the foundations of an old Christian construction at the times of Tsar Samuel (976-1014), it was the seat of the Patriarchate of Ohrid that ruled on a huge territory, from the Danube to the North to the shores of Albania to the West and the Thermaic Gulf to the East.
During the Ottoman rule it was converted into a mosque and the frescoes covered with lime. During the Balkan Wars (1912) was used as a storehouse for weapons. Only after WWII the lime was removed and the frescoes cleaned and refurbished.
Saint Sophia is still an active church and, due to its magnificent acoustic, is a key location for cultural events.
Visit it in the evening to appreciate the light vanishing out behind its silhouette.
Kaneo was a fishermen village built in the tiny space between the hill and the lake. Today it hosts some nice beach bars, a couple of piers and a small church exactly at the edge of the lake.
To get there from the town center you walk along a footbridge over the lake.
Visit it in the evening if you fancy a bit of lounge atmosphere with bar terraces directly on the lake, nice light and good music.
Visit it in in the morning to get the real atmosphere of the old fishermen village and to visit the byzantine churches.
You’ll get for sure also the chance of having a boat ride. That’s plenty of boatmen ready to hire their services at very reasonable prices.
5) Church of St. John the Theologian at Kaneo
Just over the village, the Church of St. John the Theologian at Kaneo is built on a cliff directly on the lake in a beautiful blend of Byzantine and Armenian architectural styles.
The atmosphere is sublime here, and you can understand why this was a mystical place for spiritual contemplation.
You can walk a bit further and get a great view of the church with the lake and the mountains in background. Breathtaking sunsets here.
Just below Samuel fortress, you’ll find an archaeological site called Plaoshnik. The biggest building here is the church, built in 893 AD by St. Clement of Ohrid and dedicated to St.Panteleimon.
This is the heart of the ancient and powerful Ohrid, the gateway of trades and cultures that dominated the area in the Middle Age, the headquarters of the Ohrid Literary School. Here Clement started to work on the new Cyrillic alphabet. Here thousands of scholars were taught, becoming later ambassadors of the Slavonic culture.
St. Clement is buried in this monastery, in a tomb which he built by his own hands.
There are other buildings in the area and excavations still go on. You can visit are some columns and mosaics. Not far from the church (that served as mosque under the Ottoman rule) you can also find a beautiful Turkish shrine, Sinan Celebi Turbesi. It was part of Sultan Mehmed II’s complex, made in 1491. It included a mosque, madrasa, kitchen, Islamic school, caravanserai, hamam and hospital.
Being on the side of the hill, from Plaoshnik you also get a great view over the old town and good part of the lake. There is also a small and sweet coffee bar. You can sit under the sun and look at the landscape while sipping a soft drink,
7) The old bazaar and minarets
The charshiya is the old bazaar area, a remnant of the Ottoman domination, but still a very lively and busy area.
Goce Delcev street, the main pedestrian street of the bazaar is basically a long street at the base of the old town hill. It starts at the farmers market, in a square closed by a mosque and goes straight to the lake, flanked by shops of every kind: from tourist souvenirs sellers to butchers, Balkan sweets and the famous Ohrid pearls, fine silver filigree, painted icons, and roasted chickpeas.
Some of the buildings along the street are original ottoman buildings, and there is also a beautiful mosque. A bit fa away, uphill, you can also spot a catholic church.
Another attraction is the Ohrid Chinar, probably the oldest tree in Macedonia. You find it in the middle of Krushevska Republika Square. This sycamore is said to be 900 years old, even if more realistic estimations set its age in 600 years: a nice age anyway! Being so old, the tree isn’t in its best shape even because restricted in a small area, surrounded by concrete. But the trunk’s diameter is impressive and people say that it hosted in the past a barber’s shop and also a very small cafe!
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