Welcome to Ohrid and enjoy your stay!
Ohrid is the largest city on Lake Ohrid. Nestled between high mountains up to 2,800 m and Lake Ohrid, it is not only a place of historic significance but also of outstanding natural beauty. Ohrid is the jewel in Macedonia's crown. Ohrid is notable for once having had 365 churches, one for each day of the year, and has been referred to as a "Jerusalem (of the Balkans)". The city is rich in picturesque houses and monuments, and tourism is predominant. It is located southwest of Skopje, west of Resen and Bitola. In 1979 and in 1980 respectively, Ohrid and Lake Ohrid were accepted as Cultural and Natural World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. Ohrid is one of only 28 sites that are part of UNESCO's World Heritage that are Cultural as well as Natural sites.
In antiquity the city was known under the ancient Greek: Λύχνιδος (Lychnidos) and Latin: Lychnidus , probably meaning "city of light", from Greek λυχνίς (lychnis, gen. lychnidos), "a precious stone that emits light", from λύχνος (lychnos), "lamp, portable light". By 879 AD, the town was no longer called Lychnidos but was referred to by the assimilated native people as Ohrid, possibly from the Slavic words vo hrid, meaning "on the hill", as the ancient town of Lychnidos was at the top of the hill. In Macedonian and the other South Slavic languages, the name of the city is Ohrid (Охрид). In Albanian, the city is known as Ohër or Ohri and in modern Greek Ochrida (Οχρίδα, Ωχρίδα) and Achrida (Αχρίδα).
Aside from the lake, Ohrid is most famous for its ancient churches, basilicas, and monasteries where Saints Kliment and Naum with the help of the Bulgarian king Boris I (students of Cyril and Methodus) wrote their teachings and formulated the Cyrillic alphabet used in the Republic of Macedonia, as well as neighboring countries Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro and as far as Russia, and many of the countries of the former Soviet Union. Most of these churches charge an entry which for tourists is normally double that what locals pay, but is still worth it. It is a good idea to cover up when entering a church, but most locals will understand the inconveniences involved during a hot Macedonian Summer. There is also a wonderful ancient walled fortress at the top of the city. Churches to visit include:
St.Sophia church 11th c. - Cathedral of Ohrid archbishops. Fourth basilica built on this same spot (the oldest one being a Roman basilica (courthouse)). Present church was built in 1035 by archbishop Lav, front facade with the towers and the open galleries was built in 1317 by archbishop Gregory. The side porch was added when the church was turned into a mosque by the Turks. Inside is the biggest composition of 11th century frescoes preserved in the world. The main altar has scenes from the old testament and an emotional procession of angels bowing to Virgin Mary. The side altars have a fresco of the 40 martyrs (Roman soldiers left to freeze because they didn't want to give up Christianity) which is very rarely depicted (in the left altar) and (in the right altar) portraits of Patriarchs from Constantinople, Jerusalem and Antioch, archbishops from Ohrid and Roman Popes (Ohrid archbishopcy always flirted with Roman Catholicism, so it would keep its important position with the Orthodox church). The small square in front of it was the main forum in ancient times.
St. John the Theologian - Kaneo church 13th c. – most known for its scenic location, standing on a cliff over Lake Ohrid. Notable about the cute architecture is Armenian influence in the zig-zag line of the roof of the dome.
St.Pantelejmon – Plaoshnik - It has been very important religious center since early Christian times, if not before. It is the site of the first university in Europe, opened in the 10th c. and it is the place where the cyrillic alphabet was created. The church you see is a reconstruction of the church St.Klement built when he came here and opened the university. The 5 nave early Christian basilica in the middle of which the church stands is from the 5th century (interesting mosaics in the baptistery and in the side chapel covered with red plastic roof). The atrium was built on the side since there was no space in the front. It probably was the cathedral in early Christian times. When St.Klement came here in the 10th c. just the small round chapel that today serves as altar existed. Because of the large influx of worshipers that followed him, he enlarged the church by building the central part of the church and turning the existent church into an altar chapel, and he dedicated the church to St Panteleimon (protector of health). The closed porch and the belltower were added later in the 13th century. Before St.Klement died he dig his own grave inside the church. When the Turks came they torn the church down after a rebellion. It still attracted large number of worshipers and pilgrims so they built a mosque above it. Until recently both the mosque and the church were standing in ruins. The reconstruction is a big guess since they didn't know anything but the shape of the church. The height, the shape of the domes and the decorations are a wild guess
Other things to see:
Old Bazaar - Since Ohrid was a big religious and cultural center, it never was an important trade center, which is evident by the size of its bazaar. It is a simple bazaar consisting of just one street. It starts with the food market (it used to be the animal market in the past). After the market the bazaar begins with a small square. On the square there is a 1000 year old tree and a nice fountain. Above the square the clock tower of Ohrid stands. As you walk down the bazaar on your left there are couple of stone stores, which is the only section of original stores in the bazaar. In the past, the bazaar was covered with grape vines, protecting shoppers from the sun and the rain. Very few crafts are preserved. The bazaar ends with the main square that used to be the food market in the past.
Mesokastro Settlement - Mesokastro is the quarter right above the old bazaar, between the bazaar and the city walls. The name originates from the Latin term “meco castrum”, which means the city outside the city walls, where the poor used to live. It is interesting that the term has survived since ancient times. The houses of Mesokastro have incorporated parts of the city walls and in some parts they are not visible. If you have time walk around, since there are couple of old houses still standing and some of the streets offer great views over the lake.
Kaneo Settlement - Start the walk to Kaneo from St. Sophia church. You can reach it from Plaoshnik but you would miss out on the great views and the quiet streets of Ohrid. Kaneo settlement was the quarter of the poor fishermen. This the most scenic spot of Ohrid, standing below the rock on which St. Jovan Kaneo church is situated. There is a small beach overcrowded in the summer, and a couple of restaurants.
Ohrid Fortifications - The whole old town is circled with walls, which are crowned with King Samoil fortress. The first fortifications were built in the 5th century BC, but the oldest remains preserved are from 3th century BC. The fortifications were reinforced many times throughout history and what we see today is from the 10th century. There used to be four gates inside the city: Lower Gate - you’ll reach it soon after you walk from the main square inside the old part of the town on “Car Samoil” street. It used to be the gate through which regular visitors entered the city in the ancient and medieval times, just one tower of it still stands; Upper Gate - in ancient times it used to be connected with the ancient theatre by portico. It is well preserved due to the reinforcements made in the 16th century; Front Gate - near St. Bogorodica Celnica Church. It is the main entrance gate. Today it is just in traces; Water Gate - the entrance in the city from the lake, the place where it used to stand is not known.
King Samoil Fortress – From Plaoshnik take a small path through the woods to reach it. In the second courtyard there are ancient graves, remains of a round tower and a cistern. It offers great views over the lake and Ohrid.
Antique Theater - The theatre is the only visible monument from ancient times. It is also the only Hellenistic theater in Macedonia, the other three are from Roman times. Only the lower section of the theater is preserved, it is not known how many people it seated since the upper section is missing (the arches in the behind are just decorative it is not something they unearthed).
Ohrid Traditional Architecture - When the Turks came they settled on the flat land along the lake and that became the Muslim part of town and the part on the hills inside the walls was always the Christian part, with the bazaar as a meeting place. As the city grew and the Christians were not allowed to build outside the walls, Ohrid developed very specific architecture with tight narrow streets and tunnels (houses built over the streets). The houses had tiny yards usually enclosed in the ground floor, and the houses grew over the streets on the upper floors since the locations were small. The steep terrain enabled everybody to have a good view of the lake and because of the strong sun the houses were painted white, so they would reflect the sun. Because of the winds from the lake the houses in Ohrid don’t have the open spaces that traditional houses in other towns in Macedonia have. Interesting houses can be seen all over the old town but the best examples are along “Car Samoil” and “Ilindenska” streets. Robevci & Uranija houses are the two best examples of traditional architecture. They are houses of very rich families (normally the houses were not this big). Especially rich in terms of architecture is Uranija house, with entrances on different levels and inside galleries. They have been turned into museums today. If you don’t have time, visit just Uranija this one is free, even though the top level of Robevci has great views, nice wood carvings, and some furniture . The house next to St. Nikola Gerakomija church is one of the few traditional houses that has been nicely and carefully preserved. It has been turned into a hotel now; Kanevce House On the right from the main facade of St. Sophia church, is the small house that belonged to Kanevce family. It has beautiful proportions and it is a good example of how they built on small locations.
Icon Gallery - In the courtyard of St. Bogorodica Perivlepta church is the Ohrid icon collection with some of the best examples of the iconographic art in Macedonia. It is considered to be the second most important and valuable collection of icons in the world after the Moscow collection, so check it out if you have interest and time.
Zeynel Pasha Teke - dating from 1590, this teke is situated close to the old oak tree. This teke belonged to the Halvet dervish order. A mausoleum of Mohamed Hayati, who was the founder of this dervish order, can be found in the yard of the complex.
Hand-made paper workshop - on Tsar Samoil, near the National Museum. Free entry, watch paper being made from wood pulp using traditional methods, also copy of the original Guttenberg press. Line drawings and colour prints can be purchased, printed on their own paper.
Apart from sightseeing, there are a few different natural beaches, usually the further from the city center the more scenic they become, and each offers a unique beach experience. Gradište beach is known for many young people and music for instance, while others have families or tranquil atmosphere. Beaches are most crowded in July and August, and quiet the rest of the year, which is a whole different experience.
Some of the beaches to go are: Labino It's a small, stony beach that is not crowded. The water is clear and refreshing. Best time to go is in the morning.
Probably the best beach on Ohrid Lake is Ljubaništa On the South-East side of the lake near the border with Albania. The beach is long, sandy with usually clean water. There are a lot of people but you can't feel that since the beach is really big. Best time to go is after 6 PM. A sunset you won't forget.
Ohrid Summer Festival - The Ohrid Summer Festival is one of the largest and most important music and drama festivals in Macedonia. The first concert took place in 1961 in the church of St. Sophia, with its exceptional acoustics. The festival in Ohrid has a particular international flavour because of the participation of a large number of leading musicians and ensembles from the best known European and world music centers. There have been participants from 44 countries. This Festival has a solid reputation as it has gradually become part of the large family of the most famous European music festival. The Ohrid Summer Festival has its own sound conceptions, and it is able to draw up a musical program that includes artists of world renown. The Ohrid Summer Festival is held each year from July 12 to August 20.
Ohrid Swimming Marathon - Each year, in the second half of July, the swimming elite throughout the world gathers in Ohrid and, starting from the monastery St. Naum, they swim along the Lakeshore to the town harbour, approximately a 30-km route. Since 1998 the Ohrid Swimming Marathon has entered in the World Swimming Club of the 12 worldwide held marathons under the patronage of FINA-The World Swimming Association.
The Balkan Folklore Festival - Member of the UNESCO Association of The International Council of Organizations of Folklore Festivals and Folklore Art, and The International Organization for Folklore Art. This festival has so far presented numerous original songs and dances from folk culture for more than 30 years. About 1,200 ensembles with 42,000 members have taken part in the festival.