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Monday, October 3, 2016

9/25: Ohrid Fortress, More Churches & Pharmacies

Earlier today we had visited a number of churches and also Ohrid’s Ancient Theater. Next, we hiked up to Car Samoil Fortress and, on the way, heard the call to prayer but only saw one minaret in the distance.
At the beginning of the 11th century, Ohrid briefly became the capital of the Bulgarian Empire, ruled by Car Samoil, whose fortress still presides over the city today. The fortress is one of the largest medieval fortifications in Macedonia. With its massive walls and ramparts, it took up the entire summit of the hill of Ohrid.
 There were great views over the lake and Ohrid.
We walked around the walls of the fortress and couldn't believe we were up on the parapets virtually by ourselves.
This looked like a solid mass of rocks until we got right up to it and realized there were actually toeholds to make the climb easier.
The fortress also had ancient graves, remains of a round tower and a cistern.

From the walls, we had unparalleled views in every direction.
I am sure neither you nor I will soon forget what Macedonia's flag looks like after these photos of it!
A view from the fortress of our next destination:
We descended from the fortress through a trail in the forest toward the ruins of a 4th century church. 
Throughout Ohrid’s Old Town we had seen these same light fixtures.
Because of the lake effect, Ohrid has an extremely temperate climate with summer temperatures averaging in the low 80s and rarely below freezing in the winter. We saw a number of pretty ancient cars in Ohrid but each appeared to have been in very good condition. 

Plaosnik is an archeological complex is the heart of Ohrid and one of the most sacred places in Macedonia. According to archaeological findings, this space has been inhabited since the beginning of time - beginning in the late Bronze Age and throughout the late medieval period. In ancient times in this area was the city of Lychnidos, and there were several temples on Plaosnik, including the temple dedicated to the God Dionis. 
In the 4th and 5th centuries, Lychnidos was the Episcopal centre of the Macedonian-Roman province New Epirus. New early Christian basilicas were built on the ruins of the old pagan temples. The central figure connected to Plaosnik is St. Clement, who rebuilt the old church at the end of the 9th century. He led the Ohrid Literary School and most consider that he founded the first Slavic University in Europe.

A new St. Clement University was being built adjacent to the church of the same name.
The ancient ruins were in the courtyard of St. Clement’s Monastery of St. Pantelejmon that we had seen from the ramparts. 
The 5th century basilica was restored in 2002 according to its Byzantine design. The restoration of the multi-domed church included glass floor segments that revealed the original foundations.

Janina: Perhaps you also recall seeing similar mosaics when you and Pat visited Ephesus?
The exterior Baptistry also had beautiful mosaics. Note the swastika symbol in the second photo below.

Back through the forest for a few minutes before reaching our next stop.

From the top of the hill, was one of the most famous views in all of Macedonia and, some say, one of the most photographed churches in the world, the 13th century Church of St. Jovan (John) at Kaneo. 

Notable about the architecture was the Armenian influence in the zig-zag line of the roof of the dome. There were only a few frescoes left inside, but the feeling of standing in the centuries-old sanctuary was worth the entrance fee.

As we walked toward the beach and the old fishermen's settlement of Kaneo, there was yet another church tucked away. It was called Mala, or small, Bodogorica.
I could only imagine the multitude of tourists at the tiny Kaneo beach that soak up the sun during the busy summer months.
We could have taken a water taxi here back to the harbor but we elected to just continue our stroll and get there in our own good time as we were in no rush. 

There were love locks on the small bridge plus all the astrological signs. I found mine, Gemini.

Church of St. Sofia aka Church of the Holy Wisdom: The 11th century church is the Cathedral of Ohrid archbishops. The small square in front of it was the main forum in ancient times. 
This is the fourth basilica built on this same spot, the oldest one being a Roman basilica. The present church was built in 1035 by Archbishop Lav with additions in 1317. The side porch was added when the church was turned into a mosque by the Turks. 
A model of the church:

Inside was the biggest composition of 11th century frescoes preserved in the world. The main altar had scenes from the Old Testament and an emotional procession of angels bowing to the Virgin Mary. 

In the right altar were portraits of patriarchs from Constantinople, Jerusalem and Antioch, archbishops from Ohrid and Roman popes. Ohrid archbishops always flirted with Roman Catholicism so they would keep their important position with the Orthodox church. 
When the church was converted into a mosque probably in the 16th century, both the interior and exterior were radically changed with the frescoes in the central part sadly being whitewashed over. 
The church is often used for concerts because of its superb acoustics. Too bad we weren't able to gain a deeper appreciation of the church with a guide again pointing out what to look for in the frescoes.

Once back in the center of town, we walked back up the pedestrian street we had been on the day before. Since Ohrid was a big religious and cultural center, it never was an important trade center, which was evident by the size of its bazaar. It was a simple bazaar consisting of just one street. 
After the bazaar was a small square and on it was a 1,000 year old plane (as opposed to maple or oak!) tree.
As I mentioned in a previous post, Steven had come down with a bad chest cold when we were in Skopje several days earlier. He decided he needed more meds than what he had brought with us so he went to one of the many pharmacies that line every street all over the former Eastern Europe. The pharmacies are almost always very small and have both the over the counter and prescription medications behind the counter. They don’t seem to have pharmacists filling and dispensing the medications but rather clerks, who, when not busy inside, are found outside smoking! 

Steven, through mime and the assistance of other customers who spoke some English, was able to convey he needed cough medicine and something stronger to get rid of the cold. The clerk gave Steven two medications in addition to the cough medicine and gestured that he needed to dissolve one medication in water and the length of time he should take it. Later, back at the villa, Steven checked out the medication online he had been given (with no doctor’s prescription) and found it was not for sale in the US. He felt so badly he took it anyway. It’s a little scary to think that anyone could ostensibly go from pharmacy to pharmacy and pick up antibiotics and any other medications willy nilly. Fortunately, the meds sure seemed to help and Steven was soon raring to go on our next adventure.

Posted from Gjirokaster, Albania on October 3rd, 2016.


  1. Lovely view of you on the top of the church mum!

  2. And your hair is red again. Lil Red

    1. Isn't it amazing what a little help from a bottle can do!

  3. Zachary: Thanks for lovely compliment - I appreciate it!

    Love you all the way from Corfu to you back home.


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