North Macedonia

One Day in North Macedonia

Ohrid, North Macedonia

June 15th - 16th, 2023

Since the border to North Macedonia is only a short drive from Tirana, I obviously could not resist the temptation to add another country to my collection. So, I booked a car and driver through and planned an overnight trip to the jewel of North Macedonia - Lake Ohrid. My driver picked me up from the hotel in the morning for the easy 2.5 hour drive along good roads from Tirana to Ohrid. I stayed in a small but nice hotel overlooking the lake, and started exploring the town right after I arrived. The old town of Ohrid is situated on a hilly peninsula overlooking beautiful Lake Ohrid.

The town's history dates back to antiquity. It was founded during the ancient kingdom of Paeonia before it became part of the Macedonian Empire. Ohrid flourished during the Byzantine era, when it become a significant cultural and spiritual center. Although a small town of just over 40,000 people, Ohrid is known for having 365 churches, one for every day of the year. Many of the churches are from the Byzantine era, one example of which is the Church of Saint Sofia, which was built in the mid 11th century.

Although the building was turned into a mosque during the rule of the Ottomans, the stunning 11th century murals were well preserved.

Lake Ohrid is one of Europe's deepest and oldest lakes, and with its crystal-clear waters and surrounding mountains it is also one of the most picturesque. The lake is home to a unique and diverse ecosystem, with many endemic species. The 'Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Ohrid Region" received the UNESCO world heritage label in 1979.

The most famous and picturesque of all the churches here is the 14th century Church of St. John at Kaneo.

Perched on a cliff overlooking the lake, this masterpiece of medieval architecture is the symbol of Ohrid and the most famous postcard image of the country.

The nearby Church of Saints Clement and Pantaleon is another beautiful Byzantine style church overlooking the lake. It is believed to have been first constructed in the 10th century, but it was converted to a mosque and rebuilt several times under the Ottomans. The last major reconstructed happened in 2000. The church is also one of the most sacred places in North Macedonia and receives thousand of pilgrims during religious holidays.

The old town center of Ohrid is a labyrinth of cobbled streets and full of picturesque small houses like this one.

The Ancient Theatre is a Hellenistic theatre built in 200BC, and only rediscovered by accident in the 1980s. Today the theatre is used for open air performances again.

Another must see of the many churches in Ohrid is Saint Mary Perivleptosh. Built and painted in 1295 it is covered in stunning frescoes, which are considered important early models for the Renaissance style of painting. Unfortunately it was strictly forbidden to take photos inside.

The top of the peninsula is dominated by the walls the ancient Ohrid Fortress, also known as Samuel's Fortress.

The fortress was built in the 10th century when Ohrid was the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire.

There is not much to see inside the fortress except for a few foundations, but the castle walls are quite impressive, and offer great views over the lake and the town below.

It was a beautiful sunny day the next morning, and I had a few hours to explore more of the city, before I was picked up for the drive back to Tirana.

View of St. John at Kaneo from across the bay.

Lake Ohrid is a beautiful place, and definitely worth visiting even if it's only for a one day.

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