Lake Ohrid (that’s pronounced Occckrhid) is a picturesque, tranquil water body shared between the Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia (FYROM) and Albania. Locals love telling you how deep the lake is – it’s 288 metres deep, which I concede is pretty deep – but it wasn’t the depth of the lake that impressed me, it was the calmness that welled up inside me whenever I sat and gazed out over its glassy, still waters.
Ohrid, a town of 40,000 people on the lake’s eastern shore, is the summer holiday destination of Macedonia, and in the summer months the town buzzes with activity. Reasonably-priced apartments can be rented out a short walk from the lake; days can be spent eating fritto misto in lakeside restaurants, mornings spent kayaking and swimming in the lake, afternoons spent sampling gelato, admiring the various historic churches, and wandering between the cocktail bars hidden along the cliff base at the water’s edge.
Lake Ohrid is not just deep, it’s also old; very, very old. About five million years old is the current understanding, which puts it up there with Lake Baikal and Lake Tanganyika as one of the oldest lakes in the world.
Here’s a fun trivia question for you: what is the average lifespan of a lake?
Answer: 100,000 years. Most lakes will silt up within this time frame.
I was entranced by Lake Ohrid. The size of the lake is just right, the shape of the surrounding mountain ridges is perfect, the colour and stillness of the water is spot on. The distant shore is forever lost in a baby blue haze, and the still, reflective waters are perfect for capturing the orange glow of the setting sun.
Church of Saint Panteleimon, Ohrid
Saint Clement of Bulgaria built a monastery in Ohrid in the 9th Century CE. Saint Clement was a disciple of Saint Cyril, and one of the key figures involved in the creation of the Cyrillic script (the Cyrillic script is the alphabet used in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, several Balkan states, the Caucasus, and much of Central Asia). It is here, at the Church of Saint Panteleimon, that Saint Clement began teaching the Cyrillic script to students.
Clement was buried in the monastery following his death in 916CE.
The church was converted into a mosque in the 15th Century when the Ottomans took control of the Balkans. Saint Panteleimon’s was fully reconstructed in 2002.
Saint Clement chose the site of an old Roman basilica for his monastery. The remains of several floor mosaics can be viewed in an archaeological site adjacent to the church.
Tsar Samuil’s Fortress, Ohrid
Just up the hill from the Church of Saint Panteleimon lie the remains of Tsar Samuil’s Fortress. Tsar Samuil was the emperor of the First Bulgarian Empire between 997 CE and 1014 CE.
Samuil made Ohrid the capital of the Bulgarian Empire, but when he died, in 1014 CE, it fell into the hands of the Byzantine Empire – the Bulgarian Empire collapsed four years after Samuil’s death. In the following centuries Ohrid changed hands repeatedly, between the Bulgarians, Byzantines, Serbs, and Albanians.
Church of Saint John of Kaneo, Ohrid
The Church of St John of Kaneo, thought to have been built sometime between the 13th and 15th Centuries (the exact date is unknown), is small and humble and just right for its setting.
I sat on the hill above the church for at least an hour. I watched rowboats slowly make their way across the lake. I watched the rays of the sun stream through the clouds, and dance across the water surface. I watched the shimmering lines of the distant, obscure horizon.
Then the heat started to get to me – it was the middle of the day, in the middle of summer. I wobbled to my feet, and slowly made my back to town, my eyes ever glued to that deep blue lake.
Practical information for reaching Lake Ohrid:
Buses to Ohrid from the capital, Skopje, are frequent. Trip time is 3.5 hours. At the time of travel (July 2015) there was an uncomfortably early morning bus running to Tirana, Albania via Durrës. Trip time is 4 – 5 hours.
Read more on the Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Ohrid region in the UNESCO World Heritage listing.