The next stop on our Macedonian journey was Ohrid (pronounced okh-REED), the lakeside resort town located in the southwesternmost part of the country. The bus drive there was a story in itself - a heartstoppingly beautiful drive through the mountainous countryside of a country itself completely covered in mountains. Small mosques and picturesque little churches were visible everywhere in each of the small villages we passed, standing side by side. The villages themselves seemed, to passers by, very well developed and well kept, and I would very much like to come back and explore more of this beautiful region.
After about 3 hours we arrived at Ohrid's bus station, and a few minutes later, we were greeted by the sunny shores of the town's namesake, Lake Ohrid. A small port lies at the center of town, providing a great view of the old part of town. Built on the cliffs lining the northern part of the lake.
Shortly after checking in to our hostel (which, like most places in town, provided a great view of the lake), we headed out to explore the town. Legend has it that 365 churches were built around Lake Ohrid, one for every day of the year. I believe it. Small churches turn up in the most unexpected of places - a back alley, by a remote little dock, in the side of a cliff - they are everywhere here, giving the town a very unique feel, as if the town really hadn't experienced some of the most brutal of regimes, first the Ottomans, then the communists.
One of the most impressive of these is the Cathedral of St. Kliment Ohridski. Kliment was perhaps Ohrid's most famous citizen, and statues of him adorn many cities around the area, including my own site, Preslav. He was a follower of Kiril and Metodi (the inventors of the Cyrillic alphabet), and was largely responsible for its spread throughout the region and its legitimacy as a real form of language for the Slavic people. Interestingly enough, Kliment later moved to the region in which I now live, setting up shop in Pliska, the first Bulgarian capital, about 30 minutes from Preslav.
Today, the cathedral has been restored to its former glory atop the ruins of the old one, overlooking the lake at one of its most beautiful points. His remains are interred inside the walls of the newly restored building, and Slavic-speaking people from all over come to pay their respects to the man who helped give them a voice. As such, the old monastery is considered one of the most sacred places to the Bulgarian people, and indeed all speakers of languages derived from the old Slavonic language.
Also of note to Bulgarian history, the Monastery of Saint Naum is located just a short distance from town. Saint Naum, later known as Saint Naum of Preslav, was a founder and major contributor to the Preslav Literary School, also known for helping to develop and popularize the Cyrillic alphabet. Some of the ruins of this important academy are located not 10 minutes from my house. This was a very special connection for me, and gave me a very personal appreciation of the history of Ohrid.
Like Skopje, Ohrid is dominated by a large fortress atop the tallest hill within the city limits. The fortress provides visitors with the best views in town, and from within its walls one can see all of Ohrid, and all the way across the huge lake into Albania.
On the edge of town, around the cliffs and accessible only by a small boardwalk or boat is the beautiful Church of St. John at Kaneo, built directly on the side of the mountain and looking down into the depths of the lake. Dating back to the 14th century, this small but picturesque church rewards the faithful (or adventurous) with a very unique experience. Removed just a small distance from the noise of the city, the spot seems worlds away, a place where one can experience the same beauty and isolation as monks of old must have sought.
Ohrid has moved into one of the top spots to visit in the region, providing so much history and beauty that it could not accurately be summed up in one small blog post. I could have spent an indefinite time in this amazing city by the lake. Though it is a relatively large city, the scale is diminished when contrasted to the landscape and the history surrounding it. After 3 days I was not prepared to leave, but we had to, and I can only hope that I can make it back to this amazing place.