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Lake Ohrid - A treasure of ancient plant and animal life

Observing Lake Ohrid, illuminated by the sun at any time of the year, one gets the impression that it has just been born, no matter that it came into being million of years ago. In its blue waters there is a plant and animal kingdom known today only through fossils. The single condition that has made possible the preservation of the remains of the ancient flora and fauna and its further evolution is the long continuity of Lake Ohrid’s existence. In fact Lake Ohrid began its life even before man’s appearance. Lake Ohrid came into being about four million years ago - according to Dr. Sinisa Stankovic, a long - year researcher of this lake. Lake Ohrid came into existence in remote geological ages as a result of tectonic shifts. There are only a few lakes in the world today whose antiquity can be compared with that of Lake Ohrid. It is possible that only Tanganyika in Africa and Titicaca in South America came into being in the same geological period.

The nature of Lake Ohrid’s formation is also of interest. It came about as a result of the vertical sinking of the land. Only a relatively small number of lakes have been formed in this fashion.Lake Baikal in Siberia in Russia, the deepest lake, which is several hundred times larger than Lake Ohrid, came about in this way. The waters of the two lakes are inhabited by similar flora and fauna.

Lake Ohrid lies in a basin surrounded at all sides by mountains with peaks of over 2,000 meters. To the east there are Mount Petrino and Mount Galicica with the Magaro peak (2,275m) which separates Ohrid basin from that of Prespa. To the south there are the hills and lower mountains of Albania.

Lake Ohrid rightly deserves the name “Macedonia’s freshwater sea”. Not only for its warm water blue colour, which gains its intensity from the sky blue colour, but because of its size, this lake gives an impression of being a sea. It covers an area of 358 square kilometers and one gets an impression of being in front of a large bay of the sea as if a part had been uprooted of the sea’s breadth, and launched among high mountains 695 meters above sea level. On its northern shore the ancient city of Ohrid, rises above the lake like some colossal piece of scenery, located on a double hill with highest point at Samuel’s Fortress 800 m. above sea level.

An opportunity to grasp its picturesque dark - blue surface and the harmonious ellipsoid shape is given from different places. From the monastery of St. Naum the invisible frontier line extends towards the village of Radozda on the other shore and divides the Lake into two parts. Two thirds of its surface area belong to the Republic of Macedonia and one third to Albania.

The Lake is 30 km long, and its width varies from a maximum of 15 km, to an average of 11 km. Lake Ohrid has been found to be deepest 286 m., about 5 km from the shore, in the section between the fishing villages of Pestani and Trpejca. Its average depth is 151 m.

The rare clarity of the water in Lake Ohrid whose translucency may reach down to depth of 22 meters, is due to numerous underwater springs all along the south and the east shores. Much of this water comes from Lake Prespa, which lies at a greater altitude and is also the outcome of a tectonic shift.

The most famous springs are those at Studencista, better known as Biljana’s Springs, in the immediate vicinity of the city of Ohrid. There are powerful springs near the Monastery of St. Naum (29 km from Ohrid) which emerge from the limestone at the foot of Mount Galicica. Their water first forms a picturesque little lake in which in the course of the centuries two islets have been formed. The crystal clear water then flows in a small, fast - flowing river into Lake Ohrid.

The Crn Drim river flows out of Lake Ohrid at Struga (14 km from Ohrid) making its way through Albania, finally enters the Adriatic Sea.

The shores of the lake have been populated since ancient times. In the course of recent centuries, in addition to a number of small, mostly fishing settlements, three larger urban settlements have grown up on the lakeside: Ohrid and Struga on Macedonian territory and Pogradec on Albanian.

With its unique flora and fauna the lake is one of the largest biological reserves in Europe. The earliest scientific studies, undertaken in the course of the 19th century, showed that, as one of the oldest lakes in the world, it has preserved primeval life - forms which no longer exist in other places or only exist as fossils.

The fish in the lake are of particular significance. Lake Ohrid contains seventeen different species of fish belonging to the three groups: trout, white fish and eel.

Ten species of fish are endemic to Ohrid. The best - known are two kinds of trout, letnica (Salmo Letnica) and belvica(Acantholingua - Salmothymus ohridana), which are not to be found anywhere else. Besides eel, chub, carp and barbell there are also undermouth and moranec and a tiny fish called plasica, bleak (Alburnus alburnus alborella).

The endemic circular Ohrid sponge (ochridospongia rotunda) is one of the most interesting survivals in the lake. There are also other forms of sponge in the lake which are more widespread. The round Ohrid sponge however, has been compared by scientists only to sponges in the Lake of Tiberius in the Near East and in Lake Baikal. Tiberius and Baikal sponges are very ancient remains of a one - time living world in the Euro - Asian region which have been preserved up to the present day, each in its own lake habitat.

Systematic studies of the waters of Lake Ohrid were begun by Dr. Sinisa Stankovic (1892 - 1974) as early as 1922. His research into the ancient forms of flora and fauna continued right up to the time of his death. He showed that the lake contains endemic animal and vegetable forms which were completely unknown, and that in this sense it is a unique natural historic museum.

For precisely this reason, Like Ohrid is one of the world’s natural reserves and is important to science because it has remained unchanged for a long time in the geological sense. This fact makes the lake an ideal laboratory for the discovery of many secrets concerning the appearance and development of life on Earth.

For ongoing research into Lake Ohrid it was necessary to organize a scientific institution of Ohrid. Thus, in the course of 1935, Dr. Sinisa Stankovic founded the Ohrid Hydrobiological Institute, near “Studencista Springs”. In recent years Lake Ohrid has arisen interest among scientists worldwide. It is one of the best and longest studied lakes. This fact was one of the reason why in 1972 a group of American limnologists joined with their Macedonian colleagues in an attempt to discover some of the Lake’s unrevealed secrets. A joint research project was carried out supported by the Smithsonian Institute in Washington and the city of Ohrid.

Lake Ohrid has always had great economic significance for the life of the region. From the beginning of time fishing has been one of the most important economic activities of the inhabitants.

Owing of the influence of the Adriatic Sea, the Ohrid basin enjoys a modified Mediterranean varieties such as cypress, almond and fig trees. The whole valley and the surrounding mountains are situated in a basin where influences of several different climates those enjoyed by the Adriatic and Aegean coasts, the continental regions and the high mountains intermingle. For many years during the summer season Ohrid has hosted an international swimming marathon. It was first held in 1962 and many swimmers from abroad took part in it.

Extensive research on the part of the medical experts have confirmed that the shores of Lake Ohrid posses excellent potential for the development of invigorating and health giving tourism. A relatively low atmospheric pressure, a large number of sunny days in the year, favorable air currents, gentle seasonal changes of temperature, and a whole host of other climatic feature have a beneficial effect on health. According to the medical experts, Lake Ohrid is an ideal for healing patients with heart diseases, heart strokes, etc. The cold lake water is useful for people with vein problems. For them it is useful to take walks in the shallow waters of Lake Ohrid. There is a medical recommendation for using the facilities within the monastery complex St.Naum and the villages Ljubanista and Trpejca. This coastal area is ideal for climate therapy. Because of the close position of the mountain Galicica, which is based between Lakes Ohrid and Prespa, the lake climate is useful for anemic persons. The sea level altitude and the clear air help in the creation of the red cells. The waters of Lake Ohrid have a positive effect for healing the infantile paralysis.

Underwater and coastal archeology of Lake Ohrid

Under the waters of Lake Ohrid there are archeological excavations dating from prehistory and on. Prehistoric settlements have been excavated by the end of the 20th century at Gradishte, by the village of Pestani, by Ohrid divers. The biggest underwater archeological site in Macedonia was found by a group of Struga divers at Vrbnik close to Struga in the mid eighties.

The epochal archeological discovery at the “Ohridati” settlement, close to the coastal area of Lake Ohrid, once again certified that, under the lake, there are archeological reserves dating from the period of prahistory and on. The coastal part of Lake Ohrid starting from the ‘Palace’hotel to the ‘Ohridati’ settlement lies on the remains of several pile dwellings since the neolithic age through the end of the Bronze age. Most of the new houses were built on the pile dwellings remains in this coastal part in the center of Ohrid.

Galichica National Park

If, like so many others before you, you find yourself on the road traveling to Ohrid, attracted by the beauty of this cosmopolitan city of civilization, complete your journey by visiting Galichica, the lovely mountain that keeps secrets for at least the next million years, as it was said by certain explorers. 

Galichica is the reality which you must have seen, as an example of beauty, at least once in your dreams.Galichica, like so many other places and buildings in Ohrid, cannot be retold, but the feeling you have when you experience its beauty is unrepeatable. In Macedonia – the biblical country, there are several places which explain its uniqueness, and one of those, beauty of the nature, or as the citizens of Ohrid use to say – a gift from God, is Galichica.

Due to its exceptional natural beauties and the rich endemic flora and fauna, in 1958 Galichica has been proclaimed a National park.

It is situated in the south-west of Macedonia, at the meeting point of the borders of Macedonia, Albania and Greece.The lakes of Ohrid and Prespa are included within its boundaries, as well as the island Golem Grad in the Prespa Lake.

The National Park Galichica is divided into three zones:

  • The highly secured zone
  • The tourist and recreation zone and
  • The economic zone

Galichica is endowed with rare species of floral and animal wildlife.What you simply mustn’t miss are the springs of the river Crn Drim (Black Drim), located near the complex St. Naum, where at the price of 50 to 100 denars you can offer yourself a ride on a small boat along the thirty subterranean and the fifteen coastal springs in amazing surroundings and have an unrepeatable adventure.

On 1735 m. above sea level the place called Vidikovec - Goga is situated, a position from where you can see the two lakes - Ohrid and Prespa Lake - at the same time. On Galichica there is also a trekking trail – Asan Dzura, as well as a cycling trail for the fans of this sport. For those admiring the beauties of the caves - on Galichica you can also visit the 224 m. long and 6 m. wide cave Samatska Dupka.For the ones who like rural tourism and eco-food, Galichica is where Bacilo - Planinska kuka (Mountain house) is located.

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