Summers on Lake Ohrid offer something for everyone: beaches, nightlife, cultural events and the many historical sites and churches. But increasingly, there has been a conflict over North Macedonia’s favorite vacation spot between preserving its historical heritage and providing a destination for summer fun.
When authorities in North Macedonia demolished lakeside bars and wooden jetties at Lake Ohrid to comply with UNESCO recommendations, locals say the resorts have lost their charm. Many believe the move was bad for the tourism industry, although with the country’s relaxed COVID-19 travel rules, Ohrid was still crowded with visitors this summer.
Lake Ohrid and the town of the same name as well as the nearby mountain of Galicica are among the 28 UNESCO World Heritage sites classified in the categories of culture and nature. However, since 2019, the site has been threatened by the cultural organization of being inscribed on the list of endangered heritage sites, if the authorities fail to demolish 1,000 illegally built facilities, including more than 400 on the shore.
Following repeated recommendations from UNESCO and under public pressure to keep Ohrid’s place on the World Heritage list, authorities have rushed to do their job.
Ohrid Mayor Konstantin Georgieski has promised that all illegally constructed piers and facilities will be removed from beaches for which concession agreements have expired.
âThe illegal exploitation of beach concessionaires has ended and business interests will no longer be above the laws and interests of the city of Ohrid. We remain committed to obeying the laws and upholding the recommendations of UNESCO for the preservation of natural and cultural world heritage, “said the Mayor of Ohrid added.
After the makeshift bars and jetties were demolished, most of the beaches were quieter places; there was no more beach party during the day and the loud music that served as the soundtrack to summers on the lake was gone.
One of the most popular beaches in the old town, Potpes, accessed by crossing a long wooden bridge, looked completely different this year. There was no longer any loud music from the nearby cafe bars and / or an opportunity for visitors to cool off with beer or cocktails.
âBars no longer exist, everything has been demolished because UNESCO asked for it,â said Ohrid citizen Klime. bne IntelliNews.
âBars and wooden jetties on other beaches along the Ohrid coastline, like the more popular Cuba Libre and Cadmo, are also demolished, everything that was built on the beaches has been demolished. It happens when outside factors tell us what to do, âhe complained.
He explained that the beaches several miles from the city center were operated by concessionaires, but after the concessions were not renewed they are now completely neglected.
Some tourism workers also believe that the demolition of attractive beach facilities could cause serious damage to tourism.
However, there has been no decline in the number of tourists this year. Neither the loss of piers and beach bars, nor the coronavirus pandemic have prevented tourists from all over the world from flocking to Ohrid, as restrictions in many countries have been relaxed and entry into North Macedonia is easy, with no PCR tests or vaccination certificates required, at least for now.
In mid-August, under the blazing midday sun with an air temperature of over 35 degrees Celsius, the streets of Ohrid were almost empty. Meanwhile, nearby beaches were crowded, mostly with foreign visitors, some from as far away as China and other Asian countries.
âThis is my second time visiting Ohrid. The first time I came here was eight years ago, but only for two days, now I will be staying longer. It’s beautiful here, âsaid a Chinese visitor bne IntelliNews. Local visitors from North Macedonia are frequent visitors to Ohrid and the number of Serbian tourists is also significant.
However, some complain that the resort is overcrowded during the peak of the season.
âFour small ships full of tourists arrived in St. Naum [monastery and nearby beach] in the morning and there was no more room at the beach. I remember it as a quiet place, so you can enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of the monastery, but this year was completely different, âsaid Rade, a citizen of Skopje. bne IntelliNews. There is no parking space in town or near beaches, he added.
UNESCO’s last warning came in late May, when the organization said the country’s authorities had done little to address the existing problems in Ohrid, which could lead to the city’s listing and of the lake as an endangered heritage site.
UNESCO cited the neglect of natural and cultural riches, leading to the gradual erosion of the city’s characteristics, as reasons for putting the place on the endangered species list.
He also indicated that there was a lack of awareness among the population and local authorities about the need to preserve their heritage, especially the architecture of the old town.
The warning shocked authorities, both centrally and locally, forcing them to begin with the demolition of some of the facilities illegally built near the most popular beaches in response to UNESCO’s demands.
In June, UNESCO gave North Macedonia two more years to implement its recommendations.
The UNESCO decision also refers to neighboring Albania, which shares a smaller part of the protected basin of Lake Ohrid with North Macedonia.
Ohrid, with over 40,000 inhabitants, is known to once have 365 churches, one for each day of the year, and is also referred to as “Jerusalem of the Balkans” and “the Pearl of the Balkans”.
Located by the lake, the city of Ohrid is one of the oldest human settlements in Europe. Built mainly between the 7th and 19th centuries, it is home to the oldest Slavic monastery, Saint-Pantelejmon, and more than 800 Byzantine-style icons. Three sites testify to the presence of habitats on prehistoric stilts.
Lake Ohrid is an unusual natural phenomenon, with many endemic species and relics of freshwater flora and fauna dating to the Tertiary period. As a deep and ancient lake of tectonic origin, Lake Ohrid has been around for around 2 to 3 minutes, UNESCO explains.
A large number of archaeological sites bear witness to origins from the Neolithic period, the Bronze Age, the Macedonian Hellenistic period, the Roman period and the High Middle Ages.
Historical and religious sites include St. Jovan Kaneo, St. Sofia and Plaoshnik churches in the beautiful old part of town with narrow streets and unique architecture. Another major tourist attraction is the Samuel Fortress, overlooking the old town. Built in the 11th century, it was restored in 2003. Recent excavations have shown that the fortress was built on the site of an earlier fortification, dated to the 4th century BC, which was probably built by King Philip II of Macedonia.
The Bay of Bones is a museum and archaeological complex located at the excavation site along the Ohrid coast, representing an authentic recreation of prehistoric stilted habitat from the late Bronze Age and early Bronze Age. the iron age. Bay of Bones is a very popular day trip destination, as are the daily cruises to St. Naum Monastery.
Pearls are another feature of the city. For most tourists, buying Ohrid pearl jewelry is a must. The beads are made from the scales of plasica (common blue) fish, a species of fish endemic to Lake Ohrid, and the production process has remained a secret family tradition for over a century and has been passed down from generation to generation. Talevi and Filevi are the two most famous families involved in the traditional pearl trade.
After spending time on beaches or visiting monuments, tourists can enjoy food in restaurants, the famous local dish of which is Ohridska pasrmka (trout). At night, DJs start playing in coffee bars and clubs, and local and regional music stars arrive for concerts.
One more reason to visit Ohrid during the summer is the country’s biggest musical and theatrical event, the Ohrid Summer Festival, which is traditionally held from July 12 to August 20 and has a rich artistic program.
This year, more than 500 artists from 18 countries performed during the festival, with most of the events taking place in the old amphitheater or the Hagia Sophia Church in the old town.
End of season?
For visitors to North Macedonia and the region, Ohrid is never boring, even during the pandemic. However, as the number of new infections has started to rise rapidly in recent weeks and due to fears of the spread of the Delta variant, authorities have made it compulsory for tourists entering the country to present a vaccination certificate or PCR / rapid / recovery test. The measure will come into effect on September 1.
After the seemingly mild season until mid-August, authorities have also tightened measures for catering establishments amid the growing number of COVID-19 infections, which some fear will ruin the hopes of tourism workers. May this year’s successful season make up for the huge loss of the 2020 disaster sector.
From August 16, only those who have a certificate that they have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine or PCR / rapid / antibody test will be able to enter the open-air parts of bars and restaurants and other events. where more than 30 people are present, while the interior parts of all facilities will be closed.