World Natural and World Cultural Heritage of the Ohrid region
Situated on the shores of Lake Ohrid, 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. After those of the Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow, this is considered to be the most important collection of icons in the world.
Outstanding Universal Value
The Lake Ohrid region, a mixed World Heritage property covering 83,350 ha, was inscribed for its natural values in 1979 and for its cultural values a year later 1980. In 1979, the Committee decided to inscribe the Ohrid Lake on the World Heritage List under natural criteria (iii). In 1980, this property was extended to include the cultural and historical area, and cultural criteria (i)(iii)(iv) were added.
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.
Although the town of Struga is located along the 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.
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, along the coast of Lake Ohrid as well as the surrounding area 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.
Criterion (iv): The Lake Ohrid region boasts the most ancient Slavic monastery and the first Slavic University in the Balkans – the Ohrid literary school that spread writing, education and culture throughout the old Slavic world. The old centre of Ohrid is a uniquely preserved, authentic ancient urban entity, adjusted to its coastal lake position and terrain, which is characterized 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 with the lofty basilicas from 4th to 6th centuries, together with the Byzantine architecture 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 the urban architecture of the city.
Criterion (vii): The preservation of Lake Ohrid dating from pre-glacial times is 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 Lake Ohrid region also harbors a rich birdlife.
Despite a minor modification in 2009, the current boundary of the property still does not fully encompass all of the features that convey the property’s Outstanding Universal Value. Most notably in relation to its natural values, the integrity of the property is limited since only two-thirds of Lake Ohrid located in the Republic of Macedonia as well as a small part of the lake’s basin have been inscribed. The integrity of the property could be strengthened by extending it to the remaining one-third of Lake Ohrid located in Albania and including other areas essential to the protection of the lake’s watershed, in order to adequately protect the lake’s exceptional biodiversity. Main threats to the integrity of the property include uncoordinated urban development, increasing population, inadequate treatment of wastewater and solid waste, and tourism pressure. In addition, pollution from increased traffic influences the quality of the water, which leads to the depletion of natural resources.
The integrity of the property suffered to some extent, as several houses built at the end of 19th century were demolished in order to exhibit the excavated remains of the Roman Theatre. The overall coherence of the property, and particularly the relationship between urban buildings and the landscape, is vulnerable to the lack of adequate control of new development.
The town of Ohrid is reasonably well preserved, although uncontrolled incremental interventions have impacted the overall form of the monumental urban ensemble as well as the lakeshore and wider landscape. These are also vulnerable to major infrastructure projects and other developments.
Concerning the religious buildings, important conservation and restoration works have been carried out since the 1990s. Conservation works on the monuments in the region have been thoroughly researched and documented, but some have impacted the property’s authenticity. The icons and frescoes are in good condition and kept in the churches.
The originally residential function of some buildings has changed over time, as have some of the interior outfitting of residential buildings, which were altered to improve living conditions. While reconstructions often used materials identical to those used at the time of construction, new materials have also been used on occasion, which presents a threat for the authenticity of the property.
Ohrid – the old city of light:
Ohrid, with its natural, cultural, spiritual and historical features, is the most developed tourist and cultural center, not only in Macedonia, but in the Balkans and wider in Europe. These values had been recognized by the world, thus Ohrid and Ohrid Lake, many years ago were inscribed on the UNESCO list as a rare cultural and natural heritage. A true rarity is the claim by the world scientific community that in Ohrid there is a 7000 of continuous live and the remains of civilizations are noticeable in over 250 archaeological sites discovered so far.
Today Ohrid is a developed tourist center, worldwide known and cosmopolitan city too.