Ohrid, Macedonia: Exploring the once known Jerusalem of the Balkans
Ohrid is situated in the southwestern part of Macedonia, on the shores of the largest lake in Macedonia – Lake Ohrid. The city has become a very popular summer destination for European travelers within the last few years due to its position on the lake, medieval castle situated on top of the city, rich history, and magnificent views.
Of course, anyone visiting Ohrid will first notice the beautiful lake it is positioned on. Lake Ohrid is on the UNESCO list both as a cultural and natural heritage site since the 1980s. It is known that the lake has continuously existed for two to three million years.
The lake is found in two countries, Macedonia and Albania, while the city Ohrid is the largest city positioned on the lake. An estimate of 40 natural water sources (rivers and streams) flow into Lake Ohrid (17 from Macedonia, and 23 from Albania). The largest water sources come from the National Park Galichica and Lake Prespa. The lake, also, has over 100 beaches.
The large quantity of body of water serves as a natural climate adjuster. During the summertime, the lake cools the air, and in the winter, it gives off heat; therefore, the lake never freezes.
Lake Ohrid is not the only historic landmark of importance. The city Ohrid is one of the longest human settlements in Europe. The city was progressively built between the 7th and 19th century.
It was also known as the “Jeruselum” of the Balkans at one point for having 365 churches, one church for each day of the year (many were destroyed during the Ottoman Empire).
The city is also known for its pearls – Ohrid’s Pears or Ohridski Biseri. Each jeweler has its own traditional technique for making the pearls, but they are mostly made from the prevalent fish species known as Plasica.
Below I’ve listed things to see and do while exploring Ohrid and its hidden treasures. The list might look long, but many of these historical landmarks are located within the old city walls by the lake and can be visited within a day or two range time.
Things to see in Ohrid
Czar Samuel’s Fortress
The Samuel’s Fortress is one of the most iconic things about Ohrid. It’s believed to be built in the 4th century, but it’s wildly known for the usage by Czar Samuel during the 11th century, serving as his capital.
In any picture you see of the city, this medieval fortress is a trademark for the city. With its position on the top of the hill, it overlooks the city and Lake Ohrid. It has an amazing panoramic view of the beautiful nature and landscape!
Around the city, two main gates are still remaining. The upper gate, fully preserved, found on top of the hill of the city. The second gate, known as the lower gate, partially preserved, is found by the lake’s port.
Travel Tip: There is a parking lot, free of charge, located at the upper gate.
Entrance fee: 40 MKD, student discount available with ID.
With a short walk from Czar Samuel’s Fortress toward Kaneo, Plaoshnik is located in between these historical landmarks.
Plaoshnik (SS. Clement and Panteleimon – Early Basilica)
Plaoshnik, the archaeological locality, means “place to clear your soul.” It’s related to the Slavic Saint Clement. He raised the church and dedicated it to Saint Panteleimon, the protector of Ohrid. Saint Clement is considered to have opened the first Slavic university in the 10th century in Europe.
The church is still in use today and very important to the eastern orthodox community.
The archeological site is still being excavated to this day.
Entrance fee: 100 MKD, student discount available with ID.
St. John Theologian at Kaneo
The famous church St. John, on the rocks by the Kaneo fishermen settlement, is only a short walk down from the SS. Clement and Panteleimon church.
The Latin meaning of Kaneo is “bleach or sparkle.”
There is a wonderful path along the hill that takes people down to the lake. The path also goes past the church to a small fishing port, where another smaller church is found below St. John Theologian.
Travel Tip: within the rocks between the two churches, a cave church is located. It can only be seen from the lake, so take a boat ride out and enjoy the journey. You will also get to see the Kaneo fishermen settlement.
Entrance fee: 100 MKD, student discount available with ID.
Church Mother of God Perivieptos and the Icon Gallery
As mentioned earlier, the upper gate of the Czar Samuel’s fortress is located on top of the hill of Ohrid. By the upper gate, you will find the famous historical landmarks, Church Mother of God Perivieptos and the Icon Gallery.
With a stroll down the main narrow cobblestone street, you will reach the known ancient theater.
The Ancient Theater
Still standing today and in use for summer performances, the ancient theater dates back to 200 BC. The theater is an open-air amphitheater, standard ancient Greek architecture with columns and stone seating.
There is a wonderful view of the city and the lake from the amphitheater.
Church St. Sophia
The early basilica St. Sophia is located a street below the ancient theater.
St. Sophia houses arts, architecture, and icons from the Middle Ages. It has beautiful frescoes through the church. During the time of Czar Samuel, it also served as a cathedral temple – known as the “Great Church.”
Travel Tip: By St. Sophia the restaurant Via Sacra has great pizza (with decent prices).
Close to St. Sophia the Memorial House of Grigor Prlicev can be visited.
Memorial House of Grigor Prlichev
The house of Grigor Prlichev was built in the 19th century and destroyed by the beginning of the 20th century. The house was restored and opened as a museum in 2000.
Grigor Prlichev, a Bulgarian national, was a famous Macedonian poet during the Ottoman Empire.
National Museum – The House of Robevci
The House of Robevci is located further down toward the lower gate of the walls of the Czar Samuel’s Fortress. It was the first house built for the family Robevi by Todor Petkov.
The house is made of traditional Turkish ottoman empire architecture.
Other Historical Landmarks
Around the old city walls and narrow cobblestone streets you will run into many smaller churches and basilicas such as St. Constantine and Helena, St. Virgin Mary Chelnica, St. Cosmas and Damien, St. Virgin Mary Bolnichka, St. Nicholas Bolnichki, and St. Nicholas Gerakonias.
Lake Ohrid’s Port
At the lake’s port statues of St. Clement, St. Naum, and SS. Cyril and Methodius are present by the Park Square.
From the square, the famous “charshija” center starts, running into the main part of the town.
Explore “Kliment Ohridski” street – The Charshija Quarter
“Charshija” means market or bazaar from the Turkish language. You can find multiple “Charshija” quarters throughout the main cities in Macedonia due to the Turkish Ottoman Empire influence. In the “charshija” you will mainly find shops, antique stores, jewelers, or other specific trade shops.
While exploring the charshija quarter, you can visit the historical churches and mosques Church Mother of God at Kamensko, Zejnel Abedin Mosque, and Ali Pasha’s Mosque. Also, the famous Chinar the Old Plane Tree is located a further down into the charshija quarter.
Fun Things to do in Ohrid
- Take a boat ride and see Ohrid and the Fisherman Settlement Kaneo from the lake.
- Attend one of the musical events during the summer at Dolni Saraj, which is located on a hill by the lake.
- Take a seat at one of the cafes on the lake, drink a coffee, and enjoy the wonderful view in front of you.
- Take a stroll along the cobblestone streets, explore the “charshija” quartal, and purchase some Ohrid pearls.
- Take up paragliding and see the city and the lake from the sky.
Things to see outside of Ohrid
If you have the time and chance, then plan a day trip to visit the Museum on Water “Bay of Bones” in Peshtani and the St. Naum Complex and Monastery in the National Park Galichica are a must!
The museum on water “Bay of Bones” features a reconstruction of a dwellers settlement from prehistoric times. There is also an archaeological diving center, museum, and a magnificent view and picnic area at “Gradishte”, a Roman military fortification site, from the southern cost of the Gradishte peninsula.
Further along the southern coast of Lake Ohrid, one kilometer from the Macedonian/Albanian border, Saint Naum Monastery is located. It’s a very beautiful complex encompassing the monastery, several smaller churches, restaurants, the beach, and one of the largest water sources entering Lake Ohrid.