Ohrid July 2019

I have always been curious about Ohrid, the city nicknamed the “Jerusalem of the Balkans” and so since I am only about 2.5 hours away in Tirana, Albania, I decided to do a day trip to Ohrid in North Macedonia.  The Republic of North Macedonia is one of the successors of the former Yugoslavia from whom it declared independence in 1991.  Like its Balkan neighbors, it has been ruled by several different empires and their respective religious beliefs.  During the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Ohrid was at first an independent district and then became part of other provinces before coming under Bulgarian rule during WWII.  Since the declaration of independence, Ohrid is part of the Republic of North Macedonia.

First stop after crossing the border into North Macedonia is to the Monastery of St Naum or Sveti Naum established in 905 by St Naum himself.  St Naum of Ohrid was a medieval scholar who spread Christianity among the Slavic people of the area.  St Naum was known as a living saint and performed many miracles.  He was said to have healed the death and the mute and the handicapped.  It was said that even the Muslims from the nearby Albanian town of Pogradec would cross the border to seek help from St Naum.  The original monastery was destroyed by the Ottomans and rebuilt in the 16th century into a multi-domed Byzantine-style structure that we see today.  There is a beautiful iconostasis from 1711 and frescoes from the 19th century.  St Naum died in 910 and was buried here inside the monastery.  Legend has it that you can still hear St Naum’s heartbeat if you bring your ear to his stone coffin.  Surrounding the church complex is a garden with fountains and peacocks.  People come here to spend the day taking boat rides, eating at the restaurants, and sunbathing on the shores of Lake Ohrid.

DSCF8840Monastery of St Naum

DSCF8843Wooden statue of St Naum


DSCF8836Photography is supposedly not allowed inside the church but since other people were taking photos, I could not resist sneaking in a few myself.


DSCF8819Beautiful peacocks roam freely on the church grounds




Ohrid town on Lake Ohrid is one of only 28 sites that is both an UNESCO World Heritage Site for culture as well as for nature.  Ohrid is one of the oldest human settlements in Europe with some buildings dating back to 200 BC and was nicknamed “Jerusalem of the Balkans” because in the past it was said to have 365 churches and monasteries, one church for each day of the year.  Ohrid is also known for its well preserved ancient amphitheatre where gladiators used to fight.  And Lake Ohrid is one of Europe’s oldest and deepest lakes at 3 million years old divided between Albania and North Macedonia.  Ohrid was not only a religious center, it was also a center for Slavic studies where the Monastery at Plaosnik was one of the oldest universities in the western world dating before the 10th century.

DSCF8846The old town of Ohrid is just a stone’s throw away from the marina.

DSCF8845Catcher of the Cross monument at the marina is a nod to how Ohrid owes its existence to its religious past.


DSCF8849National Ohrid Museum is located inside the Robevi House which was once owned by the Robev family of merchants and is an excellent example of Ohrid and Macedonian architecture.  The building was built in 1863 and was turned into a museum after WWII exhibiting items and furniture used by the family, beautiful wood carved ceiling, local art, old photographs, and a hodgepodge of archaeological finds including a 5th century golden mask from Ohrid.

DSCF8853Church of St Sophia

DSCF8854Church of St Sophia


DSCF0025Typical Macedonian architecture

DSCF8855Church of St Sophia

DSCF8858Church of St Sophia was once the seat of the archbishop of Ohrid

DSCF8861The Roman Amphitheatre here dating back to the 3rd century BC is the only Hellenistic-type theatre in North Macedonia.  This was the place of the gladiator fights as well as public executions of Christians by the Romans and as a result was a place disliked by the locals.  After the demise of the Roman Empire, the amphitheatre was abandoned and buried with houses built over it hence preserving it very well.  Only the lower section remain and was accidentally uncovered in the 1980s.



DSCF8864Quite a steep hike up to the Church of Sveta Borgorodica Perivleptos


DSCF8868Church of Sveta Borgorodica Perivleptos (St Clement’s Church of the Holy Mother of God Most Glorious)


DSCF8870Church of Sveta Borgorodica Perivleptos (St Clement’s Church of the Holy Mother of God Most Glorious) dating from the 13th century has some amazing restored frescoes inside.  The biblical frescoes of this Byzantine church were painted by masters Michael and Eutychius from Greece who are said to have later influenced the Byzantine ecclesiastical school of painting.  There is also an icon gallery here with some beautiful and precious Macedonian religious pieces.  Unfortunately, photography is not allowed in both the church and the icon gallery.

DSCF8872Church of Sveta Borgorodica Perivleptos (St Clement’s Church of the Holy Mother of God Most Glorious)


DSCF8875Tsar Samoil’s Fortress named after the first tsar of the Macedonian Slavs who conquered Byzantium and brought most of Macedonia under his rule.

DSCF8877Ohrid and this massive fortified castle was the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire in the 10th century.  You get a sense of the power of the capital during its heyday but nowadays there is little to see here.


DSCF8880Plaosnik, right below Tsar Samuil’s Fortress, is an important archaeological and religious site in Ohrid.  The multidomed Church of Sveti Kliment i Pantelejmon built by St Clement in 893 stands here on the foundation of an earlier 5th century Christian basilica dedicated to St Penteleimon.


DSCF0033The multidomed Church of Sveti Kliment i Pantelejmon built by St Clement in 893 stands here on the foundation of an earlier 5th century Christian basilica dedicated to St Penteleimon.  It is believed that St Clement intended for this church to be a literary school for his disciples making it the first university in Europe.


DSCF8883 (1)

The highlight of Ohrid is the most visited and photographed church here, the Church of St Jovan at Kaneo, built at the end of the 13th century.  Kaneo is a small fishing village that can be reached by walking along the Ohrid boardwalk dotted with restaurants and bars that snakes along its shore from the old town or by descending through the woods from the fortress.  The 13th century church perched on a cliff overlooking the lake is dedicated to John of Patmos who is considered to be the same as John the Apostle.  The church is built in a mix of Armenian and Byzantine styles and has a cruciform plan.  There are fresoces in its dome and on the walls and a wooden iconostasis constructed within the church.  On the dome is a fresco of Christ Pantocrator and on the wall is a fresco of St Clement and St Eramus of Ohrid.  It is a quaint little church set in a sublime location and a must see when visiting Ohrid.

DSCF8888The Church of St Jovan can be reached by walking down thru the forest from the fortress.


DSCF8895Church of St Jovan at Kaneo


DSCF8909After visiting the Church of St Jovan, you can either back track up to the fortress or walk along the boardwalk or take a boat taxi back to the marina.  I suggest taking the boat taxi which is a pleasant 20 minute ride and you get to see Ohrid from the water.


DSCF0058Boardwalk linking the marina to the fishing village Kaneo


DSCF0061View of Ohrid Old Town from Lake Ohrid


Ohrid is a very atmospheric old town built on a hill.  I can only imagine what it was like during its heyday with its 365 churches cascading down towards the lake and the medieval fortified castle keeping watch.

My Balkans trip continues to Slovenia and the next post will cover its capital Ljubljana.  Stay tuned!

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2 Responses

  1. Hi Beatrice:

    I have been reading your travelogue by highjacking Frances’s email and enjoying everyone of them, but this one day trip to Ohrid is among one of the most interesting ones! Thank you for sharing your experiences with your “followers”


    Sent from my iPad Air2


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