Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Ohrid, Where Time Stopped

Ohrid is slowly leaving behind its past, which embraces Medievalism, Revivalism and Communism.

When asked about Ohrid, people from other parts of Macedonia tell the following story: After God created the world and lay down to rest, the Devil got to work and set up Ohrid with all its beauties - the splendid lake, the steep mountains where the Galičica National Park is now located, a moderate climate and a fertile soil.

God woke up and looked around in astonishment. “What have you done, Devil?” he asked. “Your deeds are supposed to be evil!” “Oh, just wait, God!,” Satan replied. “You haven't seen Ohrid's citizens yet.”

Ohrid is said to have 365 churches, one for each day of the year. In reality, they are fewer, but the number is certainly large – a remnant from the time when the place was the residence of the Ohrid archbishops. Theoretically, they were under the authority of the ecumenical patriarch in Constantinople. In fact, however, they acted in such an independent way that in 1676 the Ottoman sultan abolished the archbishopric at the patriarch's request.

Earlier, something far more interesting had happened in Ohrid and because of it you now have problems reading any road sign written in Cyrillic. What appears to you to be the enigmatic alphabet of Macedonia, Bulgaria and Russia was invented here by St Clement of Ohrid. He was one of the students of Cyril and Methodius, the brothers who created the first Slavonic alphabet, the Glagolitic.

Outside the town, on the south bank of the lake and nearly at the Albanian border, lies a more well-preserved monastery. St Naum boasts a miniature church with medieval frescos and a well maintained yard, which is the favourite walking area for tourists and peacocks.

Locals say everything in Ohrid is as it used to be a century ago, and changes happen very slowly. As if to show this, a 800-year-old plane tree stands in the middle of the cobbled square by the old market and the Ali Pasha Mosque. The only difference between now and 100 years ago is that the hollow in its huge trunk is no longer used as a barber's shop or a café; now, it is filled with cement.

This article is courtesy of the Bulgarian magazine Vagabond.

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