A Discovery of Macedonia’s Religious Architecture
Macedonia’s religious architecture is reflected by the country’s diverse history and culture. The predominant religions are Orthodox Christianity and Islam. However, Roman Catholicism, Protestant and Jewish faiths are also present.
With over 1800 churches and approximately 580 mosques, Macedonia’s religious architecture is a glorious celebration of each respective faith. Every structure displays impressive architecture and delicate decorations. A visit to these fascinating places of worship gives you an incredible insight into Macedonia’s beautifully preserved sacred sites.
10 Magnificent Examples of Macedonia’s Religious Architecture
(In no particular order)
1 Church of Saints Clement and Panteleimon
Ohrid (Image above)
Macedonia’s Southern city, Ohrid, is home to a number of interesting historical religious sites. It has even been referred to as the Jerusalem of the Balkans, having once had 365 churches situated in the city, one for each day of the year. This Orthodox church, however, is a must when visiting the UNESCO World Heritage city. Originally built by St Clement in the 9th Century. It was thought to be where he taught his Liturgy disciples. The church’s fine architecture and poised position overlooking Lake Ohrid create a postcard picture. Be sure to take a look inside where you’ll find painted frescoes and St Clement’s tomb.
2 Šarena Džamija (Decorated Mosque)
Located in the country’s North-Western town of Tetovo the Ottoman-era mosque was originally built in 1438, funded by two sisters. The beautifully painted and well preserved external and internal walls are a result of reconstruction and conservation efforts throughout the years. The floral artwork and absent exterior dome are said to be unlike traditional Ottoman mosques. However, the beauty and tranquillity of the mosque are ever present.
3 Monastery of Saint Naum
On the Southern end of Lake Ohrid is another Bulgarian Empire era Orthodox church. Originally built in 905 AD, it was destroyed at some unknown time and rebuilt during the Ottoman Empire era. Within the monastery walls, you will find the church which holds the tomb of where Saint Naum rests. Along with a restaurant where you can enjoy a coffee and mountain views on the balcony. Alternatively, wander around the monastery walls and take in panoramic views of Ohrid Lake and the dominating mountains of nearby Galichica National Park.
4 Heraclea Lyncestis Great Basilica
Heraclea Lyncestis, Bitola
Located just south of Bitola the ancient city of Heraclea Lyncestis is one of Macedonia’s most impressive archaeological sites. Conquered by the Romans in the 2nd century AD, Heraclea continued to prosper as it had during its previous ancient Macedonian ruling. Particularly when Christianity became the Romans official religion between the 4th and 6th centuries, and Heraclea became an Episcopal See. Today, the residence of Heraclea’s Bishop’s and their devotion to Christianity can be seen in the wonderful mosaic floors of the city’s Great Basilica. Other remarkable Roman ruins which can be found include a courthouse, thermae, amphitheatre and a smaller basilica.
5 Soborna Crkva (Church of St. Clement of Ohrid)
Soborna Crkva cathedral is the largest Orthodox church in Macedonia and is dedicated to St Clement of Ohrid, the patron saint of the Macedonian Orthodox church. It is one of the most recently built churches, constructed after the devastating earthquake in 1963. Located near the centre of Skopje, the multi-domed structure is of a circular shape with a huge central dome measuring 650 square metres. Inside you’ll find colourful frescoes and an incredible chandelier hanging over the centre.
6 Gazi Hajdar Kadi Mosque
Just north of Bitola’s city centre is the 16th century Haydar Kadi Mosque. Built by a Turkish architect named Sinan Mimar, and funded by a local judge Haydar Kadi. At its time it was considered to be the most beautifully decorated mosque in the region. Due to its disuse as a place of worship after the first Balkan war, the mosque was left to deteriorate. However, after many years of restoration, it reclaimed its beauty and reopened in 2016. As you walk through the heavy external wooden doors you enter the mosques serene courtyard. Which then leads you to a display of ornate paintings and decorations hidden under the mosques delicately restored brick archways.
7 St Dimitrij Church
St Dimitrij was built in 1830 to replace a former burnt out chapel and is the main Christian Orthodox church in Bitola. Built during the time of Ottoman ruling, it was designed to be modest in decor and to remain lower in height than surrounding mosques. Inside, however, much like most churches in the region, it surprises you with a wonderful display of detailed frescoes and decoration.
8 Sveti Jovan Bigorski Monastery (Saint Jovan Bigorski Monastery)
Mavrovo National Park
Nestled in the hills of Macedonia’s Mavrovo National Park lies Saint Jovan Bigorski Monastery. Originally built in 1020, the church suffered destruction from the Ottomans in the 16th century and a destructive fire in more recent years. Yet it has been fully restored to display its wonderful stone and wooden beamed structure. It is also a wonderful place to reflect and take in the stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
9 Church of St Panteleimon
Perched on Mount Vodno’s hillside in the village of Gorno Nerezi just outside Skopje, lies the Eastern Orthodox Church of St Panteleimon. Dating back to the 12th Century Byzantine era it is dedicated to St Panteleimon, Patron of Physicians. The church features a reddish brick coloured exterior, with beautifully restored paintings on the inner walls. Some of which date back to original 12th-century frescos.
10 Millenium Cross
Skopje’s Millenium Cross deserves a mention here I feel, as it is the most prominent monument of the capital’s skyline. The 66-metre high structure sits at the highest point of Mount Vodno and is dedicated to 2000 years of Christianity in Macedonia. Its elevated position means you can see the cross on almost every street corner of the city. Especially at night when it is lit up to glisten against the dark Macedonian sky. To get a closer look at the structure, take the cable car up Vodno mountain, where you’ll also be rewarded with panoramic views of Skopje.
An integral part of Macedonia’s culture
The wonderful thing about travelling in Macedonia is that you will come across stunning religious architecture in every town, village or even footpath that you pass. Every place has a history and a story to tell and remains an integral part of Macedonia’s community and culture.
There is more to Macedonia than its remarkable religious sites.
All of the sites have been personally visited. Further information has been researched from the following sources.
Church of Saints Clement and Panteleimon visitohrid.org
Šarena Džamija islamic-arts.org
Monastery of Saint Naum whereismacedonia.org
Heraclea Lyncestis Great Basilica haemus.org.mk
Soborna Crkva journeymacedonia.com
Gazi Hajdar Kadi Mosque bitolatourist.info
St Dimitrij Church whereismacedonia.org
Sveti Jovan Bigorski Monastery whereismacedonia.org
Church of St Panteleimon voiceskopje.org
Millenium Cross goskopje.com