In brief: The ancient hillside city of Ohrid is an historical and natural splendor, but it still knows how to put on a party, especially a wedding .
The UNESCO World Heritage city of Ohrid is rich in medieval churches and structures from the time when it was an imperial capital for the 10th century First Bulgarian Empire under Tsar Samuil and a center for learning at its still active university.
Samuil’s fort replaced one built by Philip of Macedonia (Alexander’s father) in the 4th c BC and was modified for defense by the Ottomans around the 16th century. The restored walls of his fort are fun to walk for the dazzling views over the town, countryside and lake.
The wonderful Ottoman homes fill the hillside streets with splendid buildings, gazing onto a huge lake, across which you can see Albania.
It’s not just a pretty lake. Ohrid is prized for its unique and rich biodiversity, with more than 200 endemic species (found nowhere else on earth), and its antiquity. Scientists also say it’s one of the deepest and oldest lakes in Europe. We tried to ponder all that while sipping wine at the lakeshore and lingering over some delicious food, as various fishing boats and flat-bed boats puttered by.
We wandered the flower-bedecked streets of Ohrid for hours, still rich in Ottoman era architecture and feel. We kept missing the opening hours of the 19th century Robev Family House, home of a wealthy merchant in the typical building style of Ohrid, and now a museum of art. The best view might have been outside anyway, an adaptation of Ottoman-era top-heavy architecture. All the street lamps are miniatures of this.
As a bonus, on a Saturday, the day for weddings, we found ourselves crashing two of them, just because we happened to be visiting the two churches during the ceremonies. They were scheduled here instead of Skopje for the same reasons we were in town.
And what better place to be married – or just have your wedding photo taken – than a church dating back to the 11th century? We crashed two weddings at Lake Ohrid. In each, a bride in white; a groom in a skin-tight blue suit. Several priests, one of them the singer, the other the conductor of the ceremony. A podium with a ribbon-wrapped boat-shaped thing and icons of Jesus and Mary to kiss. Plus two crowns for the couple to wear.
Oddly we heard as much English as Macedonian. So many emigrants and offspring living in such places as Chicago keep a strong connection to their families in the homeland. So they take the long trip back for the short ceremony…and the long boisterous party to follow.
One ceremony was at the famously photogenic church, St. John the Theologian, perched on a promontory gazing out on Lake Ohrid. The other at St. Sophia in the center of town, whose beautiful western wall offers a striking photographic backdrop for wedding pictures.
(Also, for more pictures from Macedonia, CLICK HERE to view the slideshow at the end of the itinerary page.)