(continuer en français) – Published: December 3, 2022
Like most foreign visitors, I did not know Ohrid before preparing my trip to North Macedonia. But very quickly, this unknown town became evident, it is the destination to privilege outside the capital Skopje.
Its location on the shore of a large lake shared with Albania gives it a seaside feel, which is very nice for a landlocked country. This city of 50,000 inhabitants is therefore frequented by holidaymakers from neighbouring countries who have known it for a long time.
A long time, as its origins go back to Antiquity, its fortress and walls allowing it to survive through the ages, each one leaving its part of history for posterity. This was acknowledged in 1979, when Ohrid and its lake were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ohrid was already inhabited before the beginning of our era. The region was soon incorporated into the Greek and then the Roman world. The Catholic religion spread here, leaving the remains of churches that were later covered by houses. The Roman theatre is a living witness of these ancient times, as well as the mosaics of a 5th century chapel discovered nearby.
Samuel’s fortress, named after the Bulgarian tsar who made Ohrid the capital of his short-lived kingdom in the 10th century. More recently, the walls have been raised in order to strengthen Ohrid’s vocation as a tourist attraction by highlighting its heritage. The interior has yet to be excavated and landscaped, where only the foundations of the former structures remain.
The narrow alleys dating from the Middle Ages wind their way up the slope, leaving little space to move between the houses. Dating from the 17th century for the oldest, the houses of the old town present the common characteristics of the Balkan houses. From a stone base, the upper walls are structured by wooden beams, with a pronounced corbelling on each floor.
Over the centuries and especially during the period of Ottoman rule, Ohrid has played an important role in preserving the Macedonian cultural and religious identity. In recent years, several ancient churches have been beautifully restored.
The Church of St. John of Kaneo is particularly noteworthy for its location. Perched on the top of a cliff overlooking the Ohrid lake.
The Church of St. Mary Perybleptos is a Byzantine church dating back to 1295 with a painted interior. The original church is now surrounded by a newer structure which contributes to its strength.
The St. Pantaleimon Monastery was recently rebuilt in 2002 according to the 13th century model destroyed by the Ottomans to build a mosque. Around it, the foundations of several ancient basilicas have also been uncovered.
Like the rest of the Balkans, Ohrid came under Turkish control at the turn of the 15th century and remained so for several centuries. Even today, a minority of the population continues to follow the Muslim religion and several minarets stand in the town centre. Within their precincts small Muslim cemeteries also remain.
Lake Ohrid is a large lake of about 30×15 kilometres, shared between North Macedonia and Albania. It is moderately suitable for water sports activities but gives a very attractive landscape. It contributes greatly to reinforce the tourist vocation of Ohrid.
If Ohrid is not well known abroad, there is a notable exception with the Dutch, strangely enough. This is due to literature. In the 1930s, Den Doolaard, a Dutch writer, published several best-selling novels set in Ohrid. This attracted the curiosity of his readers. Curiosity that is now shared by many other visitors, Ohrid being the country’s top tourist destination.
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