Old places

The Veil of Centuries
Ohrid, the old town full of Serbian history, still preserves Samuil’s Fortress, the heritage of Slavic University and Slavic literacy, the traces of Emperor Dušan and Marko Kraljević, all its epochs and periods. We remember that Saint Nikolaj (Velimirović) was the Bishop of it and wore the name of Ohrid, we know that the famous Stevan Hristić dedicated a ballet to Ohrid (”The Legend of Ohrid”, 1947), and we still feel the scent of the linen Biljana was bleaching on Ohrid. Today, when it is the main tourist attraction in the neighbouring state, in the summer, it is most visited by the Serbian people

By: Mišo Vujović

From ten degrees below zero in Belgrade, we arrive to ten above zero in the sunny Ohrid. Its residents call it the ”Jerusalem of the Balkans”, the soul and the cultural capital of their state. Almost on every step, while we walk on narrow stone-paved streets, we feel the coating of centuries; we see the traces of many epochs and influences. Some old building takes us out from the time machine for a moment, and those buildings, so dilapidated show the weakness of the present day to reserve the inherited gifts of the past.
This ”great town on an imperial road” used to lure adventurers and scholars, but also builders, mystics and educators. Every each of them left a piece of his spirit in the wonderful valley with no fog, with the rose of winds on the coasts of the beautiful water reservation. It is assumed that Ohrid Lake was formed ten million years ago, with tectonic forces at the end of the Quartar period.
This magnificent act of the Creator can be compared to Caspian Sea, Baikal Lake, Tanganyika and some other lakes in China and in the Philippines. On 390 square metres, its water is very clear. Sandy coasts, with beautifully arranged beaches, make Ohrid Lake a real attraction for tourists.
Different sounds come from bars, restaurants and cafés, from old-town songs and new folk music, to rock, heavy metal and hip-hop music. The tambouritza players are singing from many taverns, and from a purple bar above them, we can hear the voice of the tragically passed away singer Toše Proeski who was a national icon. There are a lot of Byzantine details here, as well as in the music.
Economic, cultural and tourist expansion of Ohrid, which was a backward agronomic settlement once, begins in the 1970’s. Modern tourist objects rise on the coast of the rich lake, instead of former small fishing boats now cruise big modern boats. The old troubadours of Ohrid are gone, self-taught players who have been handing down their skills from generation to generation. But the original spirit of this ancient place is left preserved in the old part of the town, beneath Samuil’s fortress, which is keeping great archaeological treasures in its ramparts.
About ten years ago, beneath the Upper Porte of the Old Town, the archaeologists have discovered an antique theatre. On its stone seats were engraved the names of regular visitors. On the archaeological locality around the Church of St. Clement Pantheleimon, a monumental early-Christian basilica was discovered with an atrium on the northern side, a narthex with a mosaic floor on the western side and a baptistery with mosaic ornaments. It is assumed that the basilica was dedicated to Apostle Paul, for whom it is believed that he delivered sermons here in the 1st century.
On the same locality, more than two thousand graves were discovered from the period since the 9th to the 15th century. On the central town square are a fountain and an ancient plane tree Činar, of imposing width, for which people say it grew more than eight centuries ago. Near the centre is the White Mosque, the endowment of the grand vizier of Belgrade, Ali-Pasha, built in the 16th century.


All parties in town begin and end with the anthem of Ohrid ”Biljana platno beleše”. This song woke up the nostalgia of ”the good old times” with some of the Serbian tourist workers on the Fair of Tourism ”Ohrid 09”.
The Fair of Tourism in Ohrid is a chance to better represent the tourist resources of Macedonia and this part of the Balkans, but, despite the fact that this year the Fair was organized with the help of the Government of Macedonia, it did not succeed in attracting a great number of exhibitors from neighbouring countries. The main initiator of this gathering of hotel managers, is a group of hotel managers, along with the President of the Association of Hotel Managers of Macedonia, Dončo Taneski, the owner of ”Dončo” Hotel. With authentic music and gastronomic specialties, hostesses dressed in peasant clothing, kind hosts intended to represent their tourist and ethno potentials through positive vibrations.
The President of the Association of Hotel Managers of Bulgaria, Blagoja Ragin, said that culture is the best thing that the Balkans has, and that there is a strategy which can make an attractive tourist destination out of Balkan countries.
”This is where met and mixed worlds and centuries, a gate through which passes, raised and fell many empires”, says Branko Krivokapić, the President of HORES and the Balkan Alliance of Hotel Associations.
Since 1979, Ohrid is under the protection of UNESCO, with its rich heritage of harmonious differences, witnessing the heritage of these areas as an invaluable treasure. Lying on the coasts of the Ohrid Lake, this town stands on the basis of ancient Lychnidus, an important centre on the famous road Via Egnatia, the biggest Roman line of communication on the Balkans, which connected Rome to the East Empire, the Adriatic with the Aegean Sea. Archaeological artefacts confirm the continuity of life since the ancient times. The old Lychnidus, the capital of the Illyrian tribe Dassareti, is mentioned back in 217 B.C., during the Roman campaigns in the area, In 208 B.C. it was conquered by Erop, and in 196 B.C. the Romans gave it to the Illyrian King Pleurat. At that time, people minted coins, with a shield with six semicircles and a star in the middle on one side and a boat with a decorated bow and the Greek name ”Lychnidos” on the other.
After the reign of the Illyrians, which lasted for several centuries, who based their work on antique Greek art and culture, way back in the 6th century B.C., Lychnidos was conquered by Philip II of Macedonia in the middle of the 4th century B.C., establishing Hellenic culture. After constructing Via Egnatia, the Romans will connect Rome and Thessaloniki, Drach and Constantinople.


In the 3rd century, when Christianity was spread, on the basis of antique temples monumental early-Christian buildings are built. Strong town ramparts succeed in resisting many Barbarian sieges, but not all of them. In the chronicle of Joan Malala, from 476, it is mentioned that the King Theodoric did not succeed in conquering the town.
The first mention of the Slavic name of Ohrid is from 879, in the Protocol of the Council of Constantinople. Thanks to Clement and Naum, the famous disciples of Cyril and Methodius, Ohrid became the centre of Slavic literacy and culture. In the monastery of Saint Pantheleimon, built in 893, Clement establishes the first Slavic University which raised up more than 3500 missionaries of Slavic literacy and culture. Today, it is witnessed by the Museum of Slavic Literacy, which is one of the most visited cultural institutions in Ohrid, besides the Gallery of Icons. The most important preserved writing of the School of Ohrid is The Bologna Psalter, written between 1230 and 1240.
The first Slavic empire in this area, Samuil’s Empire, was established after the uprising against Byzantium. Samuil’s capital was Ohrid, surrounded by strong ramparts on a hill above the lake, after his arrival from Prespa. Empire Samuil renovated and completed the old fortress, and on its top, Gornji Saraj, he built a beautiful palace, which was burned down by the Byzantine Emperor Vasilius II after conquering the town. In 1014, Vasilius II conquered the Slavic army on Belasica Mountain, imprisoning 14 thousand soldiers whom he blinded, and four years later, in 1018, he re-conquered Ohrid and making it a part of Byzantium again. The Patriarchate of Ohrid, established during Samuil’s reign, became an Archbishopy. It remained so for several centuries, and under the Turkish reign it was repealed in 1767 and made part of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
After that, the town was conquered by the Bulgarian people, then the Normans, during their breakthrough on the Balkans.
Since 1334, it became a part of Dušan’s Empire. During the period of Serbian reign in Ohrid, most of the churches and monasteries were built, which still witness the nature and the power of Serbian medieval state. Ohrid remained under Serbian power until the death of Marko Kraljević in 1394, when the Turks have taken over the government, in peace, with no destruction or violence. During the Serbian reign which lasted for 60 years, Ohrid was governed by sevestokrator Branko Mladenović, Despot Jovan Oliver, Caesar Grgur, Andrija Gropa.
After the First Balkan War, Ohrid and whole Serbia again became a part of the Kingdom of Serbia, which marks the end of Turkish reign. In 1915, after the withdrawal of Serbian army across Albania, Bulgarian military government was established, which happened once more during World War II.


During the newest digs, the archaeologists in the area of Ohrid have discovered layers from the Bronze and the Iron Age. They found ceramics, marble plastics, bronze figures of Dedalus and Dionysus and probably Zeus, of the Macedonian-Hellenic and Roman period. Until now, they have found artefacts of late Antiquity, early-Byzantine period and the medieval period...


About 20 medieval churches were preserved in Ohrid and its vicinities, starting with the Church of St. Sofia from the 11th century, which was the centre of the Ohrid Archbishopy for centuries, later turned into a mosque; then the Church of St. John Theologian – Kaneo, built and painted in the 13th century, above the former settlement of Kaneo, where now one of the most beautiful beaches of Ohrid is located. In the centre of the town are the Church of St. Nicholas Bolnički and the Church of Holy Mother of God Bolnička from the 14th century. The Church of St. Clement, built in the 13th century, called ”Bogorodica Paravlepta”, is completely preserved. On its left side is a bell-tower with a large bell, a gift from the Serbian scientist Mihajlo Pupin from 1925... Thirty kilometres away from Ohrid is the Monastery of St. Naum Ohridski, Clement’s brother and collaborator, who died and was buried there in 910. After Turkish destructions, the Monastery was renovated in the beginning of the 17th century, when the present church was built.
There is also the small church Mali Sveti Vrači (first half of the 14th century), a small one-nave Chruch of Saint Dimitrije (14th century), Church Mali Sveti Kliment (14th century), the Church of Saint Constantine and Helena (is Serbian-Byzantine style, 14th century)...


Saint Pantheleimon
On one of the hill above the lake are the remains of the Monastery of Saint Pantheleimon, the endowment of Saint Clement of Ohrid, which was turned into Imaret Mosque, which is today conserved, along with its broken dome and minaret. In its interior, we can still see traces of the oldest Monastery of Saint Pantheleimon from 893.


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