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Ohrid - the city of centuries

The shores of Lake Ohrid have been inhabited since prehistoric times. Archaeological findings speak of settlements form the Neolithic period (the early Stone Age) 6.000 years B.C. A Neolithic settlements rich in archaeological material have been discovered dating from this period in the level part of Ohrid in its northern suburb of Dolno Trnovo.The archeological excavations dating May 2006 (by the archeologist Pasko Kuzman) certify that there were prehistoric pile dwellings on the lake coast in the center of Ohrid. According to the archeological excavations of a pile dwelling discovered between the tourist school and the ‘Ohridati’ settlement, and according to the archeologist Pasko Kuzman, this prahistoric settlement existed 5000 years B.C., implying that it is as ancient as 7000 years. According to historical sources, the earliest known inhabitants of the Ohrid Lake region were Brigians and Ohrygians and Enhelians, the latter dominating for a long time. They, according to Herodotus and Apollodorus, were not Illyrians but were their closest neighbours. Later on are mentioned Desaretes in this area and of the town of Lychinidos as the capital of Desaretia.

In the 1st millennium B.C. there existed for several centuries a powerful settlement, whose name is unknown today, in the vicinity of today’s international airport, some dozen kilometers to the north of Ohrid. Rich archaeological findings have been discovered there: golden masks, golden sandals, golden bracelets, bronze craters, etc. These have come from the princely tombs in the widely known Trebeniste necropolis.

The existence of the ancient town of Lychnidos (today’s Ohrid) is linked to the legend of the Phoenician Cadmus who, banished from Thebes, in Beoetia, fled tothe Enhelians and founded the town of Lychnidos on the shores of Lake Ohrid.

Around the middle of the 4th century B.C. Lychnidos (as Ohrid was then known or called) and the settlements on the shores of the Lake Ohrid were seized by Philip II of Macedon. After conquering these regions in 148 B.C. the Romans built the Via Egnatia linking present-day Durres (Durazzo) with Salonica and Constantinople via Lychnidos.

With the spread of Christianity, which began to penetrate these regions towards the end of the 3rd century, the classical shrines were gradually destroyed and replaced by monumental early Christian churches, fragments of which have been discovered in several spots in Ohrid and its surroundings.

The first Christian missionary to come to Lychnidos was Erasmus of Antioch. Records say that in the 5th century this town was the seat of the bishops of Lycnidos. In the 6th century, when Lychnidos was part of the Byzantine Empire, the Slavs began crossing the Danube and penetrating the Balkan Peninsula. A Slavic tribe called Brsjaci settled in the region of Lychnidos.

The name Ohrid is first mentioned in a protocol issued by the Assembly of Constantinople in 879. It is believed to have been derived from the Slavic words - vo hrid - “on a hill” - since the old town of Ohrid stands on the crest of a hill. Kliment and Naum, the two best - known disciples of the missionary brothers Cyril and Methodious of Salonica, came to Ohrid after the failure of their mission and their banishment from Moravia.

Kliment was the first to come (886) and Naum joined him fourteen years later in (893) in the district of Kutmicevica, which borders on present day Macedonia, Albania and Greece and which comprises Ohrid and now vanished towns of Devol and Glavenica. With their arrival, Ohrid developed into a leading center of Slavic cultural and literary activity.

Kliment spent thirty years among the Macedonian Slavs. The first Ohrid literary school was founded at his monastery church of St. Pantalejmon in Ohrid, (built in 893). The 3500 pupils who came out of this school spread the Slavic script, culture, art and church singing across several Slav landsas far as Kiev in mediaeval Russia. By the end of the 9th century and beginning of 10 th century the Slavic literacy, spirituality and culture were founded. Ohrid was a center of Slavic literacy, spirituality and culture. Ohrid has a disserved place in the spreading of the Slavic spirituality in Europe and across the world, especially in the process of evangelism of the Slavic Christian East. Itactually begins on the shores of Lake Ohrid by the engagement of St. Kliment Ohridski and St. Naum Ohridski.

The process of evangelism of the Slavic East by implementing Slavic words and Slavic church service began in Ohrid. It was spread through the Bulgarian Preslav to Kiev and Moscow, to the Far East in Asia, to the coast of the Indian Ocean, from Vladivostok on the south to the Kamcatka penincula on the north in present Russia.

Long after the death of Kliment in 916 and Naum in 910, the Ohrid literary school continued to be a source of manuscripts invaluable for Slavic studies and the history of art. This school began work on Macedonian soil in the 9th century and was a loyal adherent of the Glagolitic alphabet. Some of the most valuable Slavic manuscripts dating from the period up to the 12th century, when the Glagolitic alphabet was supplanted by the Cyrillic are attributed to it.

Samuel’s Empire, the first Macedonian Midevial state had its genesis in the Ohrid region. Around the middle of the 10th century, a Slav prince, Nikola, and his sons David, Aron, Moses and Samuel rose first against Bulgarian rule in 976.

Samuel emerged at the helm of the mediaeval Macedonian state. Macedonia was the heart of this empire, which limits were constantly extended during the Emperor Samuel’s reign which lasted for nearly four decades, until they reached as far as the rivers Danube and Sava, the Bay of Corinth and the Adriatic Sea. During the reign of Samuel (976 - 1014) and his successors, Gavrilo Radomir and Jovan Vladislav up to 1018, first Prespa and thenOhrid were the imperial capitals.

After Samuel’s defeat on Mount Belasica in 1014, the Byzantine Emperor Basil II captured 14 000 of his soldiers and after blinding them, but leaving each hundredth soldiers with one eye, he returned them to Samuel. Samuel’s successors were unable to control the vast empire and soon afterwards, in 1018, it suffered total defeat. Emperor Basil II, on capturing Ohrid, ordered the city ramparts to be demolished and Samuel’s imperial family was taken prison. The patriarchate Ohrid was reduced to the rank of an archbishopric.

The period of the archbishopric, whose jurisdiction extended over a vast territory from the Danube to the walls of the city of Salonica and the Adriatic Sea, was a particular chapter in the history of mediaeval Ohrid. Wishing to retain its influence over the Macedonian Slavs, the Court at Constantinople appointed as head of the Ohrid archbishopric the most influential and capable church dignitaries: writers and philosophers, learned theologians and poets. Thus Ohrid developed into a prosperous town which attracted some of the best-known painters andarchitects of the period.

In the 11th century, Leo, one of the most outstanding supporter of the Orthodox Church was appointed Archbishop of Ohrid. Ohrid’s cathedral St. Sophia (Holy Wisdom) was reconstructed and decorated according to the ideas of Archbishop Leo.

After the Crusaders took Constantinople in 1204, the archbishops of Ohrid were appointed from among local church dignitaries, who eventually proclaimed the complete independence of the Archibishopric of Ohrid, having found legal ground for this in Justinian’s legal acts. This enables the archbishop of Ohrid, Demetrius Homatian, a distinguished mediaeval orator and writer - author of the “Short Life of Kliment of Ohrid” to crown the Byzantine despot, Theodore Comnenus, as emperor despite the violent opposition of the patriarch of Constantinople.

The Archbishopric of Ohrid had its patrons and its own specific cults and later sponsored its own painter’s workshops. The founders of Ohrid’s churches were not only nobles from abroad, but included local churchmen and abbots of the monastery of St. Kliment. The cult of Kliment and Naum was particularly strong and both are portrayed in the most conspicuous areas of the church walls.

In 15th and 16th centuries, the jurisdiction of the Archbishopric of Ohrid was expanded to include new territories in the Balkans and the Mediterranean. In the 16th century, the Archbishopric extended its authority to the Orthodox colonies on Malta, Apulia, Calabria, Sicily, Venice and Dalmatia.

The Archbishopric of Ohrid was abolished and incorporated into the Patriarchies of Constantinople in 1767 at the order of the Turkish Sultan Mustapha III.

The Ohrid Archbishopric was restored at the Second Church and People’s Council in Ohrid, in 1958, and now bears the name of the Macedonian Orthodox Church.

The Ottoman Turks held Ohrid from the end of the 14th century to the beginning of the 20th century from 1395 to 1912. At first the Turkish sultans helped the Archbishopric of Ohrid to expand its jurisdiction. But this changed after 1466, when a number of distinguished citizens of Ohrid had assisted an uprising launched against Turkish domination by the legendary Albanian warrior Skenderbay. In consequence, Archbishop Dorotheus and a number of churchmen and wealthy local men were forcibly removed from Ohrid on the Sultan’s orders and died as prisoners.

At the turn of the 19th century, Ohrid was a powerful economic and cultural center. Its leather workshops exported their goods to several European cities, Constantinople, Salonica, Leipzig and Vienna and there was a fresh upstage of building activity and woodcarvers and painters flocked to the city from the surroundings of Debar.

In the latter half of the 19th century, neighboring Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia fought for domination over Macedonian territory.

Ohrid at the begining of the 20th century In the wake of abolition of the Archbishopric of Ohrid and its incorporation into the Patriarchies of Constantinople in 1767, there was a period of Hellenising influence on Ohrid’s cultural life. Resistance to Greek spiritual domination became particularly vigorous following the nomination in 1860 of the notorious Bishop Melentius as Metropolitan of Ohrid. The first to rise against Greek cultural influence was a prominent Macedonian educator, Dimitrie Miladinov, a native of Struga and a teacher of the Macedonian poets Grigor Prlicev and Rajko Zinzifov. He was poisoned in a prison in Constantinople together with his brother, the poet Konstanin Miladinov.

In Ohrid the movement of progressive Macedonians against spiritual enslavement by Greece came under the leadership of the poet Grigor Prlicev, author of the epics “Serdarot” and “Skenderbay”. After his epic “Serdarot” had won a prize on a competition in Athens in 1860, he received an offer to go to study at Oxford, but turned it down and returned to his native Ohrid.

The struggle against Greek cultural domination triumphed in the end and, by a decree of Sultan passed in 1869. Greek schools in Ohrid were closed down.

In the honor of the great literate, in the old part of Ohrid was built a memorial museum - the house of Grigor Prlicev.

Revolutionary activity to prepare the people for an armed rising took an organized form in the district of Ohrid in 1894. On the night of August 2, 1903, a large-scale rebellion known as the Ilinden Uprising was staged with the active support of the population throughout Macedonia.

Its impact, as subsequent developments were to show, was felt far beyond Macedonia. The Ottoman Turkish military authorities quickly reacted with heavy reprisals and the Ohrid branch of the revolutionary organization ordered the evacuation of the rural population to the mountains of the region of Rashanec (northeast of Ohrid). They endured the onslaughts of the far superior Turkish armed forces until the end of August of the same year, when Rashanec became the common grave of a large number of women, children and old people as well as insurgents.

From 1912, when Ottoman Turkish rule finally come to an end, until 1915, Ohrid was under the administration of Serbia.

Between 1918 and 1941 it was a part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. From 1915 to 1918, during the First World War and again in the Second World War, it was under the Bulgarian rule.

Ohrid was liberated on November 7, 1944. Since then, Ohrid has been a part of Macedonia in the past six decades and has greatly prospered. It has become an important tourist resort, made significant steps in the development of tourism industry and now has an extensive network of educational, cultural, medical and other institutions.

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