Tag Archives: Lake Ohrid

Paddy visits the wonder that is Ohrid

I suppose it is a good thing to aim to be objective in life. It shows wisdom and maturity, and an ability to balance all the arguments. For me however, all objectivity vanishes when I think of Ohrid! The setting of this beautiful city on the edge of the vast and wondrous eponymous lake is simply stunning.

Although he does not state it specifically, I believe Paddy visited Ohrid and its environs when on a motor tour from France to Greece with Joan in her Sunbeam Rapier in 1960. He tells the story to Debo in a letter dated 23/24 October 1960 (see page 67 of In Tearing Haste). Paddy describes visiting “Serbian Macedonia and wonderful lakes with frescoed Byzantine monasteries on the shores … (which) held us up for days.” There is little doubt in my mind that he is referring to Ohrid, and having been there myself I can understand why; it is a wonder that he ever left!

It is said that Ohrid, Macedonia, once had 365 churches although there are now only around twenty-five which remain open. Its name means City of Light and it has over 220 days of sunshine each year. The town creeps up the hillside surrounding a central esplanade and harbour dominated by the statue of St Clement, who was the student of Saint Cyril and his brother Methodius. They were the authors of the Cyrillic alphabet (approx 864 AD) which was created by the Byzantines to bring the Slavic nations into the Orthodox Church rather than let them fall under the influence of Rome during the early days of the schism between the two churches.

Ohrid is full of Byzantine history. The influence of the Empire can be seen everywhere from the statues to the fortress but principally in the churches and the ancient Basilica. The original church of St Clement was destroyed by the Ottomans who built a mosque on the site which has a clear view of the Lake. Clement’s relics were secretly moved by the Christian citizens of Ohrid to the smaller and less important Church of St Mary Psychosostria. Over time this church became known as the Church of St Clement, but the confusion is now ended as in 2000 the Macedonian authorities rebuilt the Church of St Clement on the original site. His relics have been moved back there to rest in peace. The site includes the remains of original Baptistry, and there are many mosaics all in very good condition.

The Church of St Mary is a wonder. Built in 1295 by the deputy Progon Zgur who was a relative of the Emperor Andronicus II Paleologus, it has twenty-nine scenes from the life of the Virgin around the walls. These frescoes are in generally excellent condition with little of the wear or defacement one often finds elsewhere. The reason for this is that most of the frescoes were obliterated by soot from candles. They were cleaned and restored only since 1960. The have to be seen to be understood. The ‘keeper’ of the frescoes is an amazing Macedonian lady with long black hair, with braided pigtails; the church and the frescoes are her passion, probably the centre of her life. She has produced a long book and the frescoes were the subject of her PhD. She says that the fresco of the Virgin that dominates the Apse is painted from lapis lazuli originating in Afghanistan. That one fresco would have cost something in the order of one kilogramme of gold (at today’s prices that is roughly $56,000).

Opposite the Church is the national Icon museum of Macedonia with over forty masterpieces. All this within just a few yards of each other!

If you ever get the chance to visit you will find all this and more. You will also meet friendly people, find good quality low-cost accommodation, and a wealth of Byzantine architecture and art. This CNN video shows many of the places I have written about and I know you will like it. If you do ever visit Ohrid, please contact my friend Katerina Vasileska who runs a tourist business in Ohrid called Lost in Ohrid. She will be happy to arrange good accommodation, local tours, and generally be of assistance during your visit.

Finally, don’t forget that for the intrepid there is an opportunity to walk through Albania to Ohrid in May of 2011 with the Via Egnatia Foundation. See my recent post Walking back to Byzantium along the Via Egnatia where you can find out more and how to register your interest.

Click to play … there is a 30 second ad before the Ohrid movie starts.

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Welcome to the Patrick Leigh Fermor blog

Tom at Lake Ohrid on the Via Egnatia, 2009

My name is Tom Sawford and I live in Winchester, Hampshire, England.

I first became aware of Paddy quite late in life; I guess he is an acquired taste. Maybe you need to have some awareness of the broad range of subject matter that he can, often without warning, cover in his books. Perhaps it is only after formal education, reading widely, developing a broad appreciation for history, and just plain living that you have the ability to grasp some of what he is getting at. A strongly developed vocabulary is also a boon; or at least a dictionary and of course now with access to Google it is possible to quickly research some of the more obscure topics that Paddy assumes mere mortals will be aware of. I remember the first time I read A Time of Gifts and being amused that Paddy clearly expected his readers to have at least a schoolboy/girl grasp of Latin as phrases pour out with no explanation or translation.

But surely that is the attraction of his work. It aims for the highest pinnacles of linguistic and intellectual endeavour and if you like what you read it drags you along with it, drinking from the cup of knowledge that Paddy offers.

He is of course so much more than a writer. It has been said that he is the ‘greatest English travel writer’. I don’t agree with that. I believe he travels to write, having so much more to say than to merely discuss the merits of one hotel over another or the quality of food in Greek fishing  villages. In my view he was the “Greatest Living Englishman”. Not that we don’t have other great Englishman (but perhaps less than we once had), but more than that he is that unique person who personifies what was once the mark of an Englishman; educated; heroic, handsome, generous; and modest (to a degree).

Sir Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor DSO OBE lived a full life, and had experiences that few others will likely ever have again. He had lived a pretty full life before the second world war, even living with a Romanian princess who was older than he, and during that conflict he applied his skills to fighting behind German lines, and was unique in achieving the capture, with “Billy” Moss, of the German Garrison Commander of Crete, Major General Kriepe. After the war he travelled, wrote, married, developed long-lasting friendships, and built a house in Greece. My epithet stands because few can match what he has done and also the manner in which he did it.

The purpose of this blog is to bring the life and work of Paddy, and his many colleagues, to the attention of a wider audience, and to create an archive of on-line material. He, and they, deserve to be recognised and remembered in a world that has changed much during their lives, but would be the poorer without them.

If you would like to help with the blog, make a contribution or anything else, please contact me tsawford[at]btinternet.com.

Tom Sawford

April 2010