Muslims, Mosques, Monuments & Meals From Around The World | Ohrid, Macedonia

Think Europe, you won’t usually immediately think about Macedonia. A forgotten about jewel of the world, Macedonia lies right in the centre of five other countries including Bulgaria, Kosovo, Greece, Albania and Serbia.

These countries and others around them make up what we know as the Balkan countries. The Balkan countries all possess great history, nature, architecture and other great monuments which are unique to this region.

We went on a voyage to explore the Jewel of Macedonia, Ohrid. More specifically we travelled with one interest in mind; to find out more about the Muslims, Mosques, Monuments and Meals in Ohrid. This was our quest. With over 2 billion Muslims in the world, and the general opinion on Muslims being stereotyped with negativity throughout the media, we want to explore the world, meet Muslims, visit beautiful mosques, visit great historic monuments and eat delicious food from different cuisines to represent to the world, who Muslims really are. This is the first featured article on this topic. Although we have travelled to various countries before Ohrid, we never actually thought of the idea until we had a moment of spark back in November 2018. This was when we decided to begin a project called ‘Muslims, Mosques, Monuments & Meals from around the world’.

So let’s begin…

Muslims In Ohrid & Macedonia

“Are you Muhammadan?” this man asked me as I walked past him.

Muslims have been living in Macedonia since the conquest of the Ottoman Empire which dates back to the 15th century. Since then, many Turks migrated to this place and until today their generations continue. Many Muslims in Macedonia have also migrated from their neighbouring country, Albania, after being effected by the devastating communist charge. Today, Muslims make up almost 50% of the countries population making it a great place for Muslims to visit from around the globe.

Ohrid, which is also known as Lake Ohrid, due to its beautiful lake, has almost 30% Muslims, with Struga (a close by town) having a population of 70 % Muslims. There are also villages towards the north of Ohrid such as Labunishta and others having a 99% Muslim population (from approximately 10,000 citizens). There are many villages throughout Macedonia, that if you visit, you will find Muslims.

What interested me is what Islam means to a person. What does it mean to be a Muslim? Is it the clothes and the way a person looks? Is it an Islamic dress code that defines whether a person is a Muslim or not? Not at all. Travelling here reminded me that there are Muslims all over the world, some black, some white, some asian, some Russian, some Arab, some Chinese and so on. Islam to a Muslim is belief in the oneness of God and believing that Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the final Messenger of God. Islam to a Muslim is about using the ethical teachings of God and His Messenger to live a cordial and fulfilling life for one’s own benefit and also for the benefit of those around him. Islam to a Muslim is about bringing about positivity, progress, balance, moderation and meaning to one’s life. It’s belief that transcends the heart and defines one’s life with purpose.

We were invited by a native of the country named Amer Demishi to visit his village, Labunishta. A talented photographer, he asked me to visit his village on a Friday as this is a special day for Muslims. Unfortunately due to time-constraints we were unable to visit. I do regret not visiting, but will definitely visit the next time I am in Macedonia. The village is open with arms wide apart for people to visit and explore. If you are interested in paying some of the locals a visit, contact Amer via his Instagram page and he will be happy to help.

We met with Cenan and his wife and their son Abdullah in Alpi restuarant. At first, due to my limited imagery of Muslims, I did not count for them to be Muslims until I heard the blessed words, ‘‘Assalamualaikum‘ meaning ‘peace be upon you’. Cenan and his wife made us some amazing breakfast which consisted of a cheese omelette with a side of salad and a Palacinki (pancake) dressed with chocolate and filled with bananas. Whilst Cenan’s wife made us the food, Cenan brewed me a well deserved cup of cappucino and my wife a cup of hot chocolate (which according to her was the best hot chocolate she had ever had!).

Cenan of Alpi Restuarant

Walking through Ohrid we bumped into many Muslims who would greet us with ‘Assalamualaikum‘. They would reply with Alhamdulillah when asking them how they were. Many of the Muslims that we came across were originally Macedonian and would quite proudly tell us that they love their country. They came across as very grateful people, filled with geniality and kindness as well as possessing a great fondness of meeting foreigners and visitors to their country.

Mosques In Ohrid

As well as there being many old churches in Ohrid, there are also many mosques with many of them being 500-600 years old. Ohrid is not a big city and much of the sites here can be seen on foot. Despite it’s small size as a resort city, it still boasts many Mosques which makes it a perfect place for Muslim visitors and those interested in Islamic history. The mosques here are not all newly built. Some of the mosques here have been standing since the conquest of the Ottoman empire dating back to the 15th century. Over the years, these mosques have been well maintained and some have been refurbished. Below are some of the Mosques we visited.

Ali Pasha Mosque – St Clement of Ohrid. The mosque was under construction when we were there (April ’19). This mosque was built in the year 1573 by Sulejman Pasha and served also as a school. The mosque possesses beautiful ottoman architecture and is very spacious inside as well as outside.

Ali Pasha Mosque

Zeynel Abidin Pasa Cami [Halveti Hayati Tekke] – St Clement of Ohrid. A small and conveniently located mosque, it features a small prayer room with facilities for women. There are toilets and washing facilities in the basement. The mosque has an open spacious courtyard probably used for Jumuah [friday prayers].

Zeynel Abidin Pasa Cami

Haci Hamza Mosque – Goce Delchev. A small mosque at the end of the street Goce Delchev close by to many Halal restaurants. The mosque is open round the clock which is great just in case the others are closed. The other mosques usually close after each of the five prayers.

Haci Hamza Mosque

Emin Mahmut Mosque – Goce Delchev 186. A small local mosque, probably used for the locals. This mosque also has ablution facilities right outside. When we went there for Asr, the mosque was closed. Not entirely sure if it is operational.

Emin Mahmut Mosque

Kuloglu Mosque – Goce Delchev. Another beautiful small mosque, we were welcome to this mosque by two elderly gentlemen and three children who welcomed us with ‘Merhaba’ and ‘Assalamu’alaikum’. (Would’ve been better without the white van in the way :-))

Kuloglu Mosque

Haji Durgut Mosque – constructed in 1466, this is a small mosque with an attractive courtyard perfect for some relaxation. The mosque has a very attractive minaret from which the mesmerising Adhan can be heard five times a day.

Monuments In Ohrid

Ohrid is a small place but with many places to visit. If you’re coming here, you will most definitely find something to do everyday. Below are some of the monuments that are highly visited all year round.

National Museum – Robevi Family House

In short, this is a house of one of the residents of Ohrid turned into an archeological museum. It is a really good example of Ohrid architecture and interestingly the house gets more spacious the higher you climb. There’s a lot to see inside including artwork, carpets, clothes, household utensils and more. It is really quite amazing that a lot of this has been preserved until today. It’ll take you around 30 minutes to do a tour of the entire house.

The house belonged to the Robev family in the 19th century but was originally built by Todor Petkov from a village Gari near Debar in 1863 – 1864 thus making it one of the most representative example of the old-town architecture.

Getting There: You can easily walk here or get a taxi. It’s easier to walk here. If getting a taxi, simply mention the name of the museum and the taxi driver will take you there. 
Address: Tsar Samoil, Ohrid 6000, Macedonia
Hours: 10AM – 2PM & 6PM – 9PM (may differ in winter)
Price: 100 MKD

National Workshop For Handmade Paper

Located next door to the Robevi Family House museum you have this small yet interesting hand made paper museum. Walking by this museum, you can easily miss it so keep this one on your list and keep a look out. Inside, you can see a demonstration on how paper is made. We were shown how paper can be made using oaktree, cotton and water.

This place is one of the seven in the world and they have been printing paper since the 16th century. They also have a copy of the Gutenberg press (150 years old) on which the first printed book was the Bible! There are only two copies of the Gutenberg Press in the world and one of them is here in Ohrid.

Getting There: You can easily walk here or get a taxi. It’s easier to walk here. If getting a taxi, simply mention the name of the museum and the taxi driver will take you there. 
Address: Tsar Samoil 44, Ohrid 6000, Macedonia
Hours: Monday-Saturday from 8:30PM – 9:00PM; Sunday and winter working hours 9:00PM – 4:00PM.
Price: Free

Ancient Theatre

This place was built in 200BC and is a hellenistic-type theatre. Legend has it that this place was once used for gladiator fights. It was built in this location because this is the center of the elevated town. The location is protected from winds that would have interfered with acoustics during performances.

For a long time this place was abandoned until it was discovered accidentally. It was then later excavated and today is a tourist site as well as the place used for the annual Ohrid Summer Festival. Oh yeah and one more thing, you can get some awesome views of Lake Ohrid from here.

Getting There: You can easily walk here or get a taxi. It’s easier to walk here. If getting a taxi, simply mention Ancient Theatre and the taxi driver will take you there. 
Address: Ilindenska, Ohrid 6000, North Macedonia
Hours: Open 24 hours
Price: Free

Samuel’s Fortress

One of the largest medieval forts in Macedonia, this place occupies the entire Ohrid hill which rises to 100 meters. It was definitely a mission to climb our way up here but worth it once we reached the top. The steps were incredibly steep so do be careful. Anyway, the purpose of the fortress was keeping a watch out over the city to protect the public.

The fortress was destroyed a number of times, only to be rebuilt and upgraded. From all sides of the fort you can get some amazing views of the city except for one side from which you get a really nice view of Lake Ohrid.

Getting There: You can easily walk here or get a taxi. It’s easier to walk here. If getting a taxi, simply mention Samuel’s Fortress and the taxi driver will take you there. 
Address: Samuel’s Fortress, Ohrid, North Macedonia
Hours: 9AM – 6PM
Price: 60 MKD

Church of St. John at Kaneo

Wow! One of the most spectacularly constructed churches in the world built in one of the most magnificent of locations. This church has a byzantine/armenian architectural style and was built in the honor of St. John the Theologian. The church is right above the fisherman’s settlement which is a great place to catch a boat ride and eat some fish. The church is known to be one of the most beautiful churches in the entire Balkan region!

Getting There: You can easily walk here or get a taxi. It’s easier to walk here. If getting a taxi, simply mention Church St John Kaneo and the taxi driver will take you there. 
Address: Kaneo Plaosnik Pateka, Ohrid 6000, North Macedonia
Hours: 9AM – 6PM
Price: Free unless you want to enter the church which will cost 100 MKD

Church of Saints Clement and Panteleimon

This is a byzantine style church located in the area Plasonik. The interesting thing about this church is that it is likely the place where the first students of the Glagolitic alphabet were taught; the alphabet used to translate the bible into old church slavonic.

Saint Clement had this built when he arrived into Ohrid and used it as a place for teaching his disciples. In the 15th century the church was converted into a mosque by the Ottomans. In the 16th century the Ottomans allowed for monasteries and churches to be restored. After this another mosque was built known as the Imaret Camii with this being torn down in 2000.

A little known fact; within the compound, in one of the corners you will find the graves of two muslim Turkish men who were residents of Ohrid. The names of only one of the men is inscribed on the wall outside which is Sinan Celebi from the year 1493.

Getting There: You can easily walk here or get a taxi. It’s easier to walk here. If getting a taxi, simply mention the name of the church and the taxi driver will take you there. 
Address: Kuzman Kapidan, Ohrid 6000, North Macedonia
Hours: 9AM – 6PM
Price: 100 MKD

Visit The Bay of Bones Museum

Known as ‘The Museum on Water’, this is an archeological complex along the Ohrid coast. It’s a very popular day trip stop and one of the most visited places in Ohrid. This place was home to a settlement of pile dwellers in prehistoric times. They resided here above the water and were supported by 10,000 wooden piles which were obviously anchored. 

For a long time they were left unattended until it was excavated by an underwater team around 1997 – 2005. The museum stands to be a reconstruction of the settlement and gives visitors the chances to experience and see what it would have looked like a long time ago.

Getting Here: The museum is 16KM from Ohrid. You can get a bus from Ohrid bus station for 60MKD or a taxi for 16 EUR which will also take you to the monastery of St Naum. You can also get one of the boats here. Boats that go to St Naum do stop here for an hour. 
Address: Bay of Bones Museum, Р501, Macedonia 
Hours: 9AM – 7PM (July – August), 9AM – 4PM (rest of year). Remember that the museum is closed Mondays from October through to April.
Price: 100MKD [Adults], 30MKD [Students & Children]

1000 Year Old Cinar Tree

This is a interesting fact. Travel guides and locals tell us that there is a 1000 year old Cinar Tree at the end of the Old Bazaar street (St Clement of Ohrid). Here you’ll see local street food vendors as well as locals selling souvenirs.

History tells us that this tree was planted by Kliment Ohridski 11 centuries ago and since then it has been a gathering place for everyone regardless of religion and social status. Close by to the tree, you will also see some city taps. These were the first city taps with cold water conducted from a close by mountain.

Since its inception, the tree has been through earthquakes, floods, battles and a change of masters. On the other hand, it was also a place where people gathered, conversed, bonded and got married. If in Ohrid, make sure to visit this ‘great’ tree.

Getting There: Walk over to the end of St Clement of Ohrid road which is at the end of the Old Bazaar. 
Address: St Clement of Ohrid, Ohrid, North Macedonia
Hours: Open 24 hours
Price: Free

Visit Monastery of Saint Naum

Unfortunately we did not get to go to this place as we missed the weekly scheduled boat ride there. I highly recommend going there as it truly is a tranquil spot located at the very southwestern corner of the Lake Ohrid. It’s 29KM from the town of Ohrid and interestingly only 1KM from the Albanian border.

The location of this church was chosen on purpose as it provided a setting for peace and spirituality. It is one of the most popular tourist destination in Macedonia. The monastery dates back to 905 when it was first established.

Getting There: Either take a bus or boat to the Monastery. A bus can be taken from the Ohrid bus station and a boat can be taken from the port of Ohrid. There is a company that takes people there for €10 return via boat (another 100MKD to enter the monastery). Their details are below.
Address: Monastery of Saint Naum, Р501, 6320, North Macedonia
Hours: 9AM – 6PM
Price: 100MKD

Boat Details:
Websitehttp://www.boatohrid.com
Email: gilevskizoran@gmail.com
Phone Number: +38970232202, +38970232099, +38970264778

This boat takes you to the monastery around 10AM, allows you to spend a couple of hours or longer over there, then returns back to Ohrid port setting off around 2.30PM. Times may differ in the peak summer season.

Visit Church of St Sophia

One of the largest churches in the region, this place was once upon a time a cathedral. The exact date of its construction is unknown as there is no inscription with this information. When the Ottomans conquered Ohrid, the church was converted into a mosque. Much of the design, interior and exterior of the church was redesigned to look more like a mosque.

Getting There: It is best to walk here but you can also take a taxi. 
Address: Tsar Samoil 88, Ohrid 6000, North Macedonia
Hours: Not sure, but if you visit throughout the day hours it will be open. 
Price: Free unless you want to enter the church which will cost 100MKD

Meals In Ohrid

Fortunately due to the large population of Muslims residing in this city, Halal food is available. Apart from Halal food though, there are many Muslim owned bakeries and vegetarian restaurants that serve delicious food. As Muslims we prefer if a place we are visiting has Halal food. However, after visiting Ohrid, we have come to realise that besides meat and chicken, there are many other foods which serve the vegetarian palate that are extremely delicious. Muslims miss out a great deal by not travelling to a particular country just because the place does not serve Halal food. Good food is good food whether its meat/chicken or not. Of course, if you really cannot find any Halal food in a particular place and really want meat, you can always opt for the fish – a more expensive but tasty option!

In Ohrid, we did not have any problems finding Halal food. We got to try some traditional Macedonian dishes as well as dishes that are somewhat indigenous to the Balkan region. Below are some of the dishes that we had and recommend trying. Not all the foods below are particularly Macedonian, but they were foods that we tried whilst in Ohrid, Macedonia and really enjoyed. Therefore we thought we’d share this with you guys.

Mousakka

An oven baked mince beef and potato gratin dish. This is almost like a Balkan style lasagne but instead of pasta sheets you have potato layers. The Mousakka at restaurant Adana 2 was scrumptious and we highly recommend it.

Cost: 180 MKD

Veal Soup

This dish consists of shredded meat in a spicy soup which is warming and nutritious. We highly recommend restaurant Adana 2 again for their veal soup which was absolutely delicious. The veal was extremely tender and was packed with flavour.

Cost: 100 MKD

Tavche Gravche

Tavche Gravche basically means beans cooked in a skillet. This is a hearty and tasty oven baked beans meal which is also a traditional Macedonian dish. Most restaurants serve this traditional dish.

Cost: 80 MKD

Zelnik

This is a crispy savoury pastry dish filled with either feta cheese and/or spinach and many other fillings. This can be found in most bakeries. Usually eaten throughout and not just for breakfast like we assumed. It can be quite filling even when eaten alone.

Cost: 35 MKD

Palacinki

Sweet pancakes that can be topped with many things such as chocolate sauce and honey etc. This is served at many Restaurant/cafes. We ate this at Alpi restaurant for breakfast and it was prepared by a very kind and friendly elderly woman. Pop over and taste some of her famous palacinki and also omelettes! Cenan, his wife and their son Abdullah will go out of their way to look after you.

Cost: 160 MKD

Sweet Bakery Items

One morning I walked into a bakery called Bakery Boulevard and all of a sudden was greeted with ‘Assalamualaikum’. To my surprise, the young man serving informed me that the items in his shop were all Halal and that the place is run by a Muslim family. As well as many other bakeries in Ohrid, they sold croissants, muffins, pies and doughnuts etc. Make sure you stop by and get something at least once whilst you’re there. We usually went to the bakeries on Boulevard Macedonian Educators.

Cost: Bakery items range between 15 MKD – 50 MKD depending on what you want. The croissant below which is filled with chocolate costed 20 MKD.

Chocolate Filled Croissant From Bakery Boulevard

Falafel and Hummus

This may not be a traditional Macedonian dish but we had to give a shout out to Dr. Falafel which is based near the Cinan tree for having one of the the best falafel and hummus meals. It comes served with salad, bread and a drink. A great place for vegetarians/vegans.

Cost: The entire plate below consisting of 6 falafel balls, hummus, tahini sauce, chick peas, olives, cabbage, beetroot, red onions, lettuce, cucumbers and carrots along with pogacha bread and a can of drink costed only 200 MKD.

Shopska Salad

Though this salad is famous throughout Macedonia, originally it is a traditional Bulgarian salad which has today become famous throughout the Balkan region. It consists of tomatoes and cucumbers topped with feta cheese and olives with a dressing of olive oil.

Cost: 120 MKD

Conclusion

Muslims have been present in Macedonia since the 15th century making it a place richly filled with Islamic history. Driving around Macedonia we noticed many minarets which acted as a symbol of Muslims living in that particular area. Muslims of Macedonia have contributed towards the development of the country in many positive ways leaving behind some beautifully constructed houses of worship. Today, the Muslims here live with hope and humility looking forward to the future. Walking around and talking to the locals reminded us that although the country experienced turmoil in the past, Muslims, Christians and people of other/no faiths live side by side in harmony to create a hospitable place for everyone, whether a resident of the country or a visitor to the place.

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