Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Ohrid region

 North Macedonia
Ohrid (municipality)
N40 59 30.6 E20 42 15
Date of Inscription: 1979
Extension: 2019,1980
Minor boundary modification inscribed year: 2009, 2009
Criteria: (i)(iii)(iv)(vii)
Property : 94,728.6 ha
Buffer zone: 15,944.4 ha
Ref: 99quater
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A superlative natural phenomenon, Lake Ohrid provides a refuge for numerous endemic species of freshwater fauna and flora dating from the Tertiary period. Situated on the shores of the lake, the town of Ohrid is one of the oldest human settlements in Europe. Built mainly between the 7th and 19th centuries, it has the oldest Slav monastery (St Pantelejmon) and more than 800 Byzantine-style icons dating from the 11th to the end of the 14th century. In the shallow waters near the shores of the lake, three sites testify to the presence of prehistoric pile dwellings, and the small Lin Peninsula is the site of the remains of an Early Christian church founded in the middle of the 6th century.

The Lake Ohrid region, a mixed World Heritage property covering c. 94,729 ha, was first inscribed for its nature conservation values in 1979 and for its cultural heritage values a year later. These inscriptions related to the part of the lake located in North Macedonia. The property was extended to include the rest of Lake Ohrid, located in Albania, in 2019.

Lake Ohrid is a superlative natural phenomenon, providing refuge for numerous endemic and relict freshwater species of flora and fauna dating from the tertiary period. As a deep and ancient lake of tectonic origin, Lake Ohrid has existed continuously for approximately two to three million years. Its oligotrophic waters conserve over 200 species of plants and animals unique to the lake, including algae, turbellarian flatworms, snails, crustaceans and 17 endemic species of fish including two species of trout, as well as a rich birdlife.

Situated on the shores of Lake Ohrid, the town of Ohrid is one of the oldest human settlements in Europe. Built mostly between the 7th and 19th centuries, Ohrid is home to the oldest Slav monastery (dedicated to St. Pantelejmon) and more than 800 Byzantine-style icons of worldwide fame dating from the 11th century to the end of the 14th century. Ohrid’s architecture represents the best preserved and most complete ensemble of ancient urban architecture of this part of Europe. Slav culture spread from Ohrid to other parts of Europe. Seven basilicas have thus far been discovered in archaeological excavations in the old part of Ohrid. These basilicas were built during the 4th, 5th and beginning of the 6th centuries and contain architectural and decorative characteristics that indisputably point to a strong ascent and glory of Lychnidos, the former name of the town. The structure of the city nucleus is also enriched by a large number of archaeological sites, with an emphasis on early Christian basilicas, which are also known for their mosaic floors. Special emphasis regarding Ohrid’s old urban architecture must be given to the town’s masonry heritage. In particular, Ohrid’s traditional local influence can be seen among its well-preserved late-Ottoman urban residential architecture dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. The limited space for construction activities has led to the formation of a very narrow network of streets.

On the Lin Peninsula, in the west of the Lake, the Early Christian Lin church, founded in the mid-6th century, is related to the basilicas of Ohrid town in terms of its architectural form and decorative floor mosaics, and possibly also through liturgical links.

Although the town of Struga is located along the northern shores of Lake Ohrid, town life is concentrated along the banks of the Crn Drim River, which flows out of the lake. The existence of Struga is connected with several fishermen settlements on wooden piles situated along the lake shore. A great number of archaeological sites testify to origins from the Neolithic period, the Bronze Age, the Macedonian Hellenistic period, the Roman and the early Middle Age period. Similar pre-historic pile dwelling sites have also been identified in the western margins of the Lake.

The convergence of well-conserved natural values with the quality and diversity of its cultural, material and spiritual heritage makes this region truly unique.

Criterion (i): The town of Ohrid is one of the oldest human settlements in Europe. As one of the best preserved complete ensembles encompassing archaeological remains from the Bronze Age up to the Middle Ages, Ohrid boasts exemplary religious architecture dating from the 7th to 19th centuries as well as an urban structure showcasing vernacular architecture from the 18th and 19th centuries. All of them possess real historic, architectural, cultural and artistic values. The concentration of the archaeological remains and urban structures within the old urban centre of Ohrid, in the Lin Peninsula, and along the coast of Lake Ohrid as well as the surrounding areas creates an exceptional harmonious ensemble, which is one of the key features that make this region truly unique.

Criterion (iii): The property is a testimony of Byzantine arts, displayed by more than 2,500 square metres of frescoes and more than 800 icons of worldwide fame. The churches of St. Sophia (11th century), Holy Mother of God Perivleptos and St. John Kaneo notably display a high level of artistic achievements in their frescoes and theological representations, executed by local as well as foreign artists. Ancient architects erected immense basilicas, which were to serve as models for other basilicas for centuries. The development of ecclesiastical life along the shores of the lake, along with its own religious architecture, frescoes and icons, testifies to the significance of this region as a religious and cultural centre over the centuries. The similarities between the mosaics of Lin church in the west of the Lake with those of the early basilicas of Ohrid to the east, reflect a single cultural tradition.

Criterion (iv): The Lake Ohrid region boasts the most ancient Slavonic monastery and the first Slavonic University in the Balkans – the Ohrid literary school that spread writing, education and culture throughout the old Slavonic world. The old town centre of Ohrid is a uniquely preserved, authentic ancient urban entity, adjusted to its coastal lake position and terrain, which is characterised by exceptional sacred and profane architecture. The architectural remains comprising a forum, public buildings, housing and sacred buildings with their infrastructure date back to the ancient town of Lychnidos (the former name of the town). The presence of early Christian architecture from 4th to 6th centuries is attested by the lofty basilicas of Ohrid and the small church of Lin. The Byzantine architecture of Ohrid with a great number of preserved sacred buildings of different types from 9th to 14th centuries, is of paramount importance and contributes to the unity of its urban architecture.

Criterion (vii): The distinctive nature conservation values of Lake Ohrid, with a history dating from pre-glacial times, represent a superlative natural phenomenon. As a result of its geographic isolation and uninterrupted biological activity, Lake Ohrid provides a unique refuge for numerous endemic and relict freshwater species of flora and fauna. Its oligotrophic waters contain over 200 endemic species with high levels of endemism for benthic species in particular, including algae, diatoms, turbellarian flatworms, snails, crustaceans and 17 endemic species of fish. The natural birdlife of the Lake also contributes significantly to its conservation value.

Suggested Bases:


Elbasan is the city at the very center of Albania. Its central location, North to South and East to West, is the reason it is sometimes referred to as “Kërthiza e Shqipërisë” (The Bellybutton of Albania). Elbasan is a key city for travelers to Korca, Pogradec and North Macedonia. All the travelers from Tirana or other parts of Albania must pass through Elbasan to arrive in North Macedonia through the Qafe-Thana border. See: The Elbasan Castle is right at the center of town. Only two ancient walls remain but the area inside is full of old houses, cobblestone streets, and an excellent restaurant. One castle wall is centered around the impressive sahati (clock tower). Castle of Elbasan The two-thousand-year-old Castle of Elbasan, a Roman construction built as early as the 3rd century B.C.,Foreign travelers in the ‘800s noted that cities like Elbasan no longer existed in Europe. Skampis, as this fortress-town was once called, was founded in 1466 by two strikingly different leaders: the Roman emperor Justinian and Sultan Mehmet the Second [read more].

Tirana is the bustling and modern capital of Albania. Sulejman Pasha Bargjini, a native feudal lord from Mullet, established the city in 1614. His first constructions were a mosque, a bakery and a hamam or Turkish bath. On 8 February 1920, Tirana was made the temporary capital by the Congress of Lushnje, and it was proclaimed the permanent capital on 31 December 1925. Tourists usually find Tirana a beautiful and charming city, where the cosmopolitan and small town feeling is intertwined with a lively night life. Tirana is where the old and new Albania meet. Unpaved streets host brand new Land Rovers, iPhone-toting youngsters rub shoulders with street vendors peddling all manner of items, and gleaming glass towers look down on abandoned construction projects. However, Tirana suffers from pollution problems mainly due to the rapid increase in cars in the city and continuous construction. Long gone are the days when Tirana used to be subject to power outages almost daily and this made Tirana a noisy city as the lack of power and lack of traffic lights had cars navigating by honking their horns [read more].

Durrës is an Albanian Adriatic port city. It has ferries to Bari in (Italy). Alternative spellings of the city’s name are Durazzo (Italian), Drač (Serbo-Croatian) or Dyrrhachion (Greek). The city centre where the archaeological sites are located can be toured by foot. Many taxis are available in Durrës. You can find them parked everywhere on the streets with a taxi symbol on the top of their car. There are also public buses in orange that can drive you around the city although much slower [read more].

North Macedonia

Bitola is a grand old town that still bears the marks of its turn-of-the-century importance as a center for diplomacy – while also exemplifying the country’s time-honored cafe culture. Bitola is nicknamed “City of Consuls” and is the second largest city in North Macedonia, with a population of over 70,000 in the city proper and nearly 100,000 in the larger Bitola Municipality. Near the border with Greece, it straddles the Dragor River at the foot of Baba Mountain in Pelister National Park. Bitola is quite nice, and it is favourite city for the Macedonians, since it has the most European atmosphere. It was a seat of consuls in the 19th century and with them they brought the European culture and influenced the local aristocracy, who started living in European fashon and building their houses in mixed neo-classical styles. Bitola is a nice place to visit since Pelister National Park is close, the ancient city of Heraklea is there, it has nice Ottoman architecture and 19th-century romantic architecture, so some good examples of everything [read more].

Skopje is the capital and largest city of the Republic of North Macedonia. Skopje is city of many cultures and many centuries. The various groups that have controlled the city through its history have each left visible reminders of their reign: multiple Dardanian and Roman-era archaeological sites dot the city; Byzantine and Serbian Empire churches and monasteries can be found around the outskirts; a great wealth of Ottoman heritage fills the Stara Čaršija; commieblocks and other Soviet-esque structures recall the Yugoslav era; and the current ruling party is erecting countless historicist neoclassical-style buildings in Centar. All of this comes together to form quite an interesting city. Skopje’s location on the Vardar and its nearby tributaries amongst towering mountains makes it a place of scenic beauty as well. Mount Vodno’s highest peak at 1,070 m (3,500 ft), capped by the Millennium Cross, stands visible throughout the city and is a major recreational destination [read more].

Kumanovo is city with about 105,000 people located in the northern part of Eastern North Macedonia. Located in the middle of a long valley 35 km to the northeast of Skopje, Kumanovo is one of North Macedonia’s larger cities. It is populated by Macedonians, Albanians, Roma, Serbians, Turks, and others. Kumanovo today is a modernizing town, where new offices, houses and restaurants are constantly being built. It is well-outfitted with sports grounds, theatres, internet cafes and eateries, and is especially famous throughout the country for its nightlife. Kumanovo is on the east-west crossroad in North Macedonia. The major road from Serbia to Greece and from Bulgaria to Albania passes near Kumanovo. See New Yugoslavia Square. The central square of Kumanovo features many interesting and historical buildings. It is anchored by the Craftman’s Hall, built in the early 20th century as the home of the Manufacturers Association of Kumanovo. Previously a cinema, it now houses a portion of the state archives among other local functions [read more].

3 replies »

  1. The Ohrid old town is your typically pretty mix of ancient streets and courtyards, with the added bonus of the Old Bazaar that runs from the waterfront to the market square. The bazaar is a marble-paved street lined with everything from ice-cream parlours to boutique clothes shops. Walk up to Samuel’s Fortress and look out over the town, or go a little bit further afield and into the mountains of the Galičica National Park. Walk in the fresh air and the shimmering sun, surrounded by birdsong and the smell of wildflowers. What could be more peaceful?


  2. Occasionally an image will be so iconic, so striking, that it alone can sell a destination. For me seeing a photograph of the tiny church of St Jovan Kaneo, standing proudly on the cliff top, the azure waters of Lake Ohrid, beautifully framed by hills and mountains, sparkling in the distance, made me instantly want to discover this picturesque place. Visiting the church did not disappoint and it is understandably the most-photographed site in Macedonia. The views are especially good at sunset.


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