If your travels ever take you to Macedonia, don’t miss the town of Ohrid, this country’s prime destination. Lonely Planet calls it and its attractions sublime. This adjective is correct. Ohrid is one of those places somewhat untouched by time, until recently. Sitting elegantly on the northeast shore of Lake Ohrid, it has a large medieval section that extends up a steep hill topped by a castle/fortress. Ohrid, which now has a population of about 42,000, is one of Europe’s oldest towns and has always been a crossroads-capital kind of place. I wrote about Lake Ohrid on May 30, 2015, if you want details about this 3 million year old pristine, incredibly deep body of water.
Ohrid began existence as the Greek town of Lychnidos, which means city of light. At times it has also been called the Jerusalem of The Balkans. During the Roman Empire it was on the Via Egnatia, the ancient superhighway that connected Constantinople and the capital even after Constantinople became THE capital. When it was a Roman Province, Macedonia was visited by St. Paul probably 3 times and ended up repeatedly in the New Testament. This was the first European region to accept Christianity, and a local told me that going to church was popular again. In the 14th century Ohrid became part of the Ottoman Empire. More than 5,000 years old, Ohrid was the site of Europe’s 1st hospital. The 1st Slavic university was started here in the 9th century.
The castle atop the hill was Tsar Samuil’s. In the 10th century, this powerful man who was either Bulgarian or Macedonian ruled here with his brothers. The castle was somewhat restored in 2003, and visitors can climb up to its ramparts and walk around for spectacular views of the town below and Lake Ohrid in the distance. Samuil participated in the Battle of Kleidion in 1014 after which up to 14,000 prisoners were blinded. One man in each group of 99 was allowed to keep one eye to lead the others home, which is probably why ceramic glass eyes have been found in Ohrid’s excavations.
Below the castle are several important churches from various cultures and eras like St Clement’s, built in 893 AD, and the 11th century St. Sofia Cathedral. Clement was buried in his church in a tomb he himself built. In this very ancient part of Ohrid Ruth and I saw important, well preserved mosaic floors, lots of frescoes, and ongoing archaeological work. In 2007 more than 2,000 Venetian coins were found during an excavation, proving that Ohrid was commercially linked to Venice. This is such a significant historical find that a luxury hotel is under construction adjacent to all these sites that represent literally thousand of years of cross-cultural development.
See Ohrid before the crowds get even worse.