Ochrida: Holy City of Bulgaria

Anthony Bryer explains how Byzantines, Bulgars and Serbs all left their imprint on medieval Macedonia; for six turbulent centuries the Churches of Ochrida exerted a powerful influence on Balkan politics and Eastern Christianity.

High in the mountains of Macedonia, where the borders of Greece, Yugoslavia and Albania meet, lie the great blue lakes of Prespa and Ochrida. Today the city of Ochrida stands in the Peoples’ Republic of Macedonia. The last time its citizens could claim to be Macedonian was in the fourth century B.C. when, as Lychnidos, Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, added it to his empire; but Macedonia, the oldest and most hopeless of all Balkan concepts of nationality, has refused to die.

Between the two Macedonias, Ochrida has been part of the Roman, Byzantine, Bulgarian, Serbian and Ottoman Empires, to say nothing of periods of Ostro-gothic, Norman, Epirote, Nicene, Albanian and German occupations. Balkan politics are notoriously complex, but by becoming a focus for the national and religious aspirations of three nations, Ochrida has had more than her share of vicissitudes. Its importance and fascination is as a key, a touchstone to all Balkan history.

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