Letters from Heaven: in the Churches of Ohrid, Macedonia

The following article, published earlier this summer in the British Catholic magazine The Tablet, visits the Orthodox churches and monasteries dotting the forested shores of Lake Ohrid, tucked beneath the stark Mt Galicica National Park in Macedonia’s southwestern corner.

Known in Byzantine times as the city of 365 churches, Ohrid played an important role in the ecclesiastical life of the Byzantine and medieval Bulgarian empires. While it is most known today as the country’s prime tourist destination, Ohrid also has considerable importance for its role in literary production, as one of the places where they Cyrillic script was developed under the followers of Ss Cyril & Methodius.

The Tablet Ohrid

 

In today’s Ohrid, there are only a handful of churches remaining to attest to the town’s thousand-year-old glory (along with an ancient theatre and impressive castle crowning all), but those that remain are impressive.

As the article notes, there are many unique attractions here. See the vivid iconography of Sveta Bogorodica Perivlepta, and its adjacent icon museum up by the Gorna Porta (Upper Gate) of the old city, and enjoy the view from Sveti Jovan at Kaneo (pictured in the article.

Sveti Naum- Peacock ChrisDeliso

One of Sveti Naum Monastery’s itinerant guardians, a peacock perches gracefully on the walled edge of the monastery, overlooking the 300-meter-deep Lake Ohrid and Mt Galicica framing it to the east.

 

Some 45 minutes down the winding, hilly road to the lake’s southern extremities, Sveti Naum Monastery – with its irrepressible peacocks and rose gardens – oversees the lake from a cliff, just beyond a sandy beach where cool river water pours in, maintaining its cohesion underwater before flowing out again at the lake’s northern point, at Struga.

If you aren’t driving, regular buses and even boat excursions make the trip from Ohrid town to the monastery, which also has a nearby hotel and restaurant.

Further north on the road towards Ohrid, the small village of Trpejca is an idyllic spot down a steep entrance way, with clear deep waters and a bright pebble beach- one of Ohrid’s last traditional fishing villages. From here, a local fisherman can take you by caique to visit the otherwise inaccessible Church of Sveti Zaum, situated on a wooded lake cove, near the deepest part of the lake. The placement of the church on this distant shore illustrates Ohrid’s original spiritual purpose, of providing solitude to the monks who contemplated the divine in this tranquil corner of the Balkans.

The Tablet Ohrid1The best time to visit Ohrid is during summer, when the town’s annual Summer Festival brings local and world-renowned musicians, singers, theater and more to venues across the town. But it is also increasingly popular in the off-months; September and October can be good times to come, with warm waters and an Indian summer usual; and the annual cross-throwing event in January brings hundreds of locals (and a few curious foreigners) down to test their luck catching the cross, or simply looking on from drier quarters.

-You can learn much more about Lake Ohrid, and its junior sibling, Prespa, in the author’s 2007 travelogue, Hidden Macedonia, which tells the story of a trip around the lakes from Greece to Albania and into Macedonia, a splendid circular route never before documented in such a work.