The natural features of the Republic of Macedonia (geological composition, relief, climate, hydrography, soil, flora and fauna) make it one of the most diverse countries in Europe in this respect. During the past five decades, the network of protected natural features and rarities has been enlarged to include 74 natural environments with a total area of 187,895 hectares, or 7.3% of the country’s territory. The status of protected environments or species in the Republic of Macedonia has been assigned to three national parks (108,338 hectares), four strict natural reserves (12,855 hectares), three environments with exceptional natural characteristics (2,338 hectares), 14 individual plant and animal species living in areas outside the natural reserves (2,709 hectares), and to 33 natural environments within the category of what is known as the protected “monuments of nature” (61,655 hectares).
Lake Ohrid, monument of nature. It is situated in the south-western part of the Republic of Macedonia at an altitude of 695 metres. It covers an area of 358.2 square kilometres, 229.9 of which belong to Macedonia. Lake Ohrid was formed in the Tertiary period, between two and three million years ago. Its greatest depth is 289 metres, which makes it the deepest lake in the Balkans. There are more than 200 types of endemic organisms living in the lake, and 70 percent of the plants and animals in Lake Ohrid are of endemic characters. While the lake is fed by water from three rivers, most of Ohrid’s water comes from another lake- Prespa, on the other side of the Galichica Mountain. Being at a higher elevation, Prespa spills its water down to Ohrid through mountain springs, the most important being Ostrovo near the monastery of St Naum, and Biljana near Ohrid town. Some of these are virtual living fossils, remaining basically unchanged from the Tertiary period to this day, including the sponge, relict snails (more than 70 types) whose species is about 30 million years old and whose relatives can be found today only in Lake Baikal (Russia), as well as endemic worms. The lake’s relict fauna is widely known in the world and includes the letnica trout (Salmo letnica Karaman) and the endemic belvica trout (Salmothymus ohridanus), as well as the endemic gudgeon (Gobio ohridanus), roach (Rutilus rubilio ohridanus), chondostrean (Chondrostoma ohridanum) and minnow (Paraphoxinus minutus). Lake Ohrid has been included in a great number of zoology textbooks due to the unsolved mystery of its eel: it comes to this lake from the Sargasso Sea, thousands of kilometres away, and spends about 10 years in the depths of the lake while it matures sexually. Then, driven by an unexplained instinct, in autumn, it starts off on its journey back to its original point of departure. There it spawns and dies, while its descendants will return to Lake Ohrid. In 1979 the lake was included in UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites as an outstanding environment and in 1980 it was designated as the Ohrid natural, cultural and historical area. Ohrid is the Macedonian cultural safe. The Lake, Fortress of Samuel, many historical and cultural monuments from all historical periods, St. Cyril and Methodius , the Cyrillic alphabet that they have left to us, frescoes and icons, the old architecture of the town of Ohrid , the carvings, the Ohrid pearl, and everything that this town carries with its archaic sings is a great tourist resort and a great experience. It was inhabited since the Neolithic period, years 6000 B.C. Ohrid is the center of the Christianity in this region. The roots of the first country of the Macedonians, the Samuel Kingdom are connected to this town. Ohrid like an open book that has all the details from the past. It is a museum of the antique and middle ages art .There isn`t an anthology of these periods without famous frescoes and icons from Ohrid.
Lake Prespa, monument of nature. Lake Prespa is situated in the furthest south-western part of the Republic of Macedonia, at a junction intersecting with Greece and Albania. It covers an area of 274 square kilometres, of which 176.8 belong to Macedonia. It lies at an altitude of 853 metres, and its greatest depth is 54 metres. Of the total of 13 types of fish in the lake, six are endemic. Since 1995 Lake Prespa has been included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.
Lake Dojran, monument of nature. This is the smallest tectonic lake in Macedonia: it occupies an area of only 43.1 square kilometres. Its western part (27.3 square kilometres) belongs to the Republic of Macedonia and its eastern part to Greece. It is a shallow lake — with a maximum depth of ten metres, and lies at an altitude of 148 metres. Lake Dojran is what has been left of the former Aeonian Sea. Its fauna includes both invertebrates (protozoa, or one-celled organisms, sponges, worms, molluscs, arthropods and insects), and vertebrates (fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals). Twelve endemic fauna species have been registered in the lake. Lake Dojran is also known for the traditional practice of fishing with the help of cormorants that drive fish to the catch known as mandri and made up of reeds. According to an old legend, a Macedonian girl named Dojrana was accustomed to fetching water from special springs that had to be sealed following use. Yet at the very moment Dojrana was filling her jugs, she heard that her beloved had come back from the army, and forgot to seal the springs. Lake Dojran was, the legend says, the result of her unthinking euphoria. Due to the Mediterranean climate of southern Macedonia and the proximity of the balmy Aegean not far to the south, vegetation starts blooming in the Dojran area in early spring and continues to do so until late autumn. And so though Lake Dojran is only 10 meters (30 feet) deep at its deepest point, it is brimming with life. Owing to the large quantity of weeds that grow in the lake and the large number of plankton on its surface, Dojran’s waters are considered to be very beneficial for treating rheumatism, skin diseases and respiratory diseases, and many tourists come for precisely this reason. Characteristic of the lake are the fishing boats and the fishermen’s huts standing on stilts above the surface of the water. The method of fishing here is very original and very old, performed with the help of the cormorants, gulls and other birds that fly above the lake, directing the fish into the baskets where they are gathered in huge quantities. The father of history himself, Herodotus, noted Dojran’s great richness in fish way back in the 5th century B.C.E. According to him, the lake was so teeming with fish that if you put an empty basket in the water at night, by morning it would be full. These days, the best known types of fish are red-finned carp, trout, perch, seathfish, eel and claw-fish.
The mountains in Macedonia are divided according to the following criteria: Time of origin, the geological composition, the size and the geographical orientation, they are divided in two groups: Rhodope and Dinaric. Height: high, medium and low. In the first division, the Rhodope group is considered as older and embraces the larger part of the mountain regions in eastern Macedonia, while the Dinaric group is younger and divided in 3 subgroups: Vardar zone, which includes the mountains on the both sides of the river Vardar, right after the great curve of the river north-west of Skopje. Pelagonia massif, located in the west-southwest of the Vardar zone and eastern of the Shara zone. Shara zone, the highest one in Macedonia, is located in the most western part of the country, and stretches in north-south direction along the borders with Serbia and Montenegro, Albania and Greece. According to the second division, the group of high mountains of altitude above 2000 meters includes: Korab 2764 (2864m), Shar Planina (2747m) Baba (2601m), Jakupica (2540m), Nidze (2521m), Deshat (2373m), Krchin (2341m), Galichica (2288m), Stogovo (2273m), Jablanica (2257 m), Osogovo (2252m), Kozhuf (2171m), Bistra (2163m), Raduka (2080m), Cheloica (2062m) and Belasica (2029m). The mountains in the Republic of Macedonia, by their shape are very different, ranging from mild round shape in the eastern part, to fully Alpine in the western part. Such diversity offers great possibilities for developing sports as alpinism, sport climbing, speleological, cannoning, paragliding, skiing, ski-climbing etc. On the slopes of some of the mountains, there are ski-centres, such as Popova Shapka on Shar Planina, Mavrovo (Bistra), Begova Cheshma (Baba), Krushevo (Krushevo Mountain), Oteshevo (Galichica) and other smaller centres, constantly developing.
Pelister national park. Highest point: peak Pelister 2601m It is situated in the south-western part of the Republic of Macedonia and covers an area of 12,500 hectares. The massif is located between the cities of Bitola and Resen in the north, in the southern direction it continues in a straight line to the villages of Dragash and Dolno Dupeni, from where it continues on the territory of Greece. The western border of the massif is drawn by the Prespa Lake and the Resen Field, and the eastern with the Bitola Field. Approx. 65% of the massif is on Macedonian territory and the rest 35% on the Greek one. In 1948 it was the first to be proclaimed a protected natural environment in Macedonia. The mountain’s highest peak is also called Pelister, reaching 2,601 metres. What is known as stone rivers are the most striking feature of the relief forms in this national park.These are relief slopes full of stone blocks of different composition. The two glacial lakes, the Large and the Small Lake, known as “Mountain Eyes,” are particularly attractive. A total of 88 tree types have been registered as growing in the park, or 29% of the dendroflora of Macedonia. The molika pine is considered to be the most valuable of all — it is an autochthonous sort of five-needle pine originating from the Tertiary Period. As far as vertebrates are concerned, there are 10 types of amphibians, 15 types of reptiles, 91 types of birds and 35 types of mammals. Within the species of fish, the most typical are the Pelister endemic brook trout (Salmo trutta peristericus) and the Pelagonija brook trout (Salmo trutta pelagonicus). Approach: There are several approaches to the mountain. The best is the one via Bitola, by the asphalt road through the villages of Trnovo and Magarevo to the “Molika” hotel which is only 15 minutes on foot from the “Kopanki” mountain lodge; or by an asphalt road through the village Nizhopole, from where on foot following the mark is the easiest way to reach “Golemo ezero” (Big lake) mountain lodge. A gravel road usable in summer continues from this point. To the “Neolica” mountain lodge lead marked trails through the villages Lavci and Bukovo.
Mavrovo national park. The highest mountain peaks in Macedonia are all found in Mavrovo National Park, located in the western-central edge of the country. These peaks, which include the Sara, Deshad and Bistra, are topped by the imposing Great Korab Mountain (2,764 meters or 9,069 feet high). Not only do these mountains provide magnificent visual landscapes, they also offer some of the best skiing in the Balkans. Mavrovo’s impressive forests contain more than 100 rare species of trees, and its rugged hilltops are rich in wild teas and herbs that can be easily gathered by hand. Lake Mavrovo, located just beneath the ski centre, makes Mavrovo National Park a popular weekend resort all year around. This park, proclaimed a protected natural environment in 1948, covers an area of 73,088 hectares. Its central section occupies the valley and basin of the breathtaking River Radika. A large number of interesting morphological forms can be found in the park: river valleys, canyons, gorges, waterfalls, karts fields, hollows, funnel-shaped depressions, caves, glacial lakes and denudation forms. The Mavrovo National Park boasts a wide variety of flora: there are more than 1,000 types of higher plants, including 38 tree species, 35 species of bushes, as well as about 60 endemic, relict or rare plant types. The park’s fauna includes 140 types of birds, of which the most widespread are the grey falcon, the imperial eagle, the golden eagle, the forest owl and the pallid harrier. There are also 11 types of amphibians, 12 types of reptiles and 38 types of mammals, among which the most typical are the bear, the lynx, the chamois and the wildcat.
The Shar Planina massif is located between the Gostivar and Tetovo valleys in the south-east, the Mavrovo Lake on the south, the Korab massif in the west. From here, with a small part, the massif enters the Albanian territory, while its northern and north-western parts lie on the territory of Serbia and Montenegro. Highest point: peak Titov Vrv (2747m). The maximum length of the massif is 75km, and the maximum width 32km. It stretches on a surface of 1600km; 56.25% of the massif is located in Macedonia, 43.12% in Serbia and Montenegro, and 0.63% in Albania. Approach: The most frequently used approaches are: via Tetovo and the Popova Shapka ski-centre or via the village Vratnica. There are many alternative approaches as well. Hiking routes: With its 23 peaks above 2500 meters of altitude and the 39 lakes (27 on Macedonian territory), this mountain has a large potential for routes, but because of this guide’s small range, hereby we give a detailed description only of the most frequently visited ones.
Galichica national park. This park is to be found in the south-west of the Republic of Macedonia, between Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa, and covers an area of 22,750 hectares. From Goga, the highest peak of the mountain, both lakes are simultaneously visible – a unique and extraordinary sight, especially at sunset. It was proclaimed a national park in 1958. It boasts a wide variety of flora: Galichica is the only habitat for some plant species in the territory of Macedonia. Of the 20 types of higher plants, 12 types are known to exist only on Mount Galichica and in the area around Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa, representing local endemic species. As far as animal life is concerned, the park encompasses 25 endemic types. There is an exceptional variety of butterflies (1,664 species) — an enormous concentration in a relatively small area. Being the natural habitat of 30 types of amphibians and reptiles, the Galihcica National Park boasts approximately the same number of species as the complete herpetofauna of Germany, Switzerland or Austria, for example. The class of birds numbers as many as 266 species, which represents 84% of the ornitofauna in the territory of the Republic of Macedonia. There are 51 species of mammals, representing 62% of the total fauna of mammals in this country. Galichica is one of Europe’s richest national parks in terms of flora, and easily accessible too; it’s only a fifteen-minute drive from Ohrid town, and very close to settlements on the Prespa side as well.
Demir Kapija Canyon, monument of nature. This is the longest canyon of the River Vardar (19 kilometres). It is a large cleft into a belt of lime and eruptive rocks, dividing the valley of Tikvesh from the Gevgelija-Valandovo valley. A section of the Skopje-Salonica motorway passes through this rare monument of nature, one of the richest ornithological reserves in Europe by the number of rare birds of prey: white-headed vulture (Gyps fulvus), Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), golden eagle (Aquila crysaëtos), harrier eagle (Circaetus gallicus), vulpine buzzard (Buteo rufinus), as well as various sorts of falcons such as Falco pereginus and Falco naumanni, and other species of rare birds.
Konopishte monument of nature. There is a fascinating geo-morphological environment in the vicinity of the village of Konopishte, near Kavadarci: natural earth pillars (or pyramids) covering about 70 hectares, striking, rare forms of intense earth erosion. The site is situated on the right bank of the River Boshava.
Matka Canyon monument of nature. Some 15 kilometres south-west of Skopje is the magnificent Matka Canyon whose morphogenetic characteristics show to have been created by water forcing its way through the rocks, covering an area of about 5,000 hectares. Typical of this canyon are the karts forms: ten caves between 20 and 176 metres long and two abysses, whose depth is up to 35 metres. Of the 1,000 plants that are found there, some 20% are endemic or relicts. Two previously undiscovered species of spiders and five species of false scorpions have been discovered in this area. There are 119 daylight butterflies and 140 types of moths registered in the Matka Canyon. Of these 77 types are endemic to the Balkans, and 18 are new findings.
King Marko’s Citadel monument of nature. The site is situated in the central part of the Republic of Macedonia, in the immediate vicinity of the town of Prilep. It consists of a number of denudation forms that make up exquisite natural sculptures. According to the most recent research, the granites intruded some 300 millions years ago into older layers whose age has been assessed as 700 million years. The area of King Marko’s Citadel consists of a large number of imposing rocks in the form of peaks and pointed rocks, pillars and teeth, mushrooms, plates, balls, caves and cavities.
Kokino, a village located 1,030m above sea level, 30 km north-east from Kumanovo, where remains of a megalithic observatory more then 3,800 years old have been found. The exploration started in 2001/02 by the archaeologist Jovica Stankovski and the astronomer Gjore Cenev joined later on. Several markers (two major ones) have been established that helped ancient people observe the sky, determine the position and the movement of the Sun and the Moon and measure time. Ceramic objects, casting moulds and other artefacts, casting moulds and other artefacts by an unknown civilization have been found. According to NASA, Kokino is one of the oldest in the world, after Abu Simbel in Egypt, Stonehenge in Britain and Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
Macedonia’s churches and monasteries are among the country’s most precious treasures, where the spiritual and artistic heritage of the Byzantine Orthodox tradition is magnificently preserved. While Macedonian churches share the essential characteristics of all Byzantine churches across the Balkans, in terms of construction, design and artwork, they also have very unique elements. First among these are the incredibly detailed and precise wood carvings found in many churches, especially in western Macedonia, created by the well-trained masters of the centuries-old Macedonian School of ecclesiastical art. The singularity of Macedonia’s churches is also attested in the many frescoes and icons unusual for either their subject matter or style. Macedonian icons, acknowledged as being among the most important in the world, were recently displayed at a comprehensive exhibit by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Macedonia’s myriad churches bear witness to the country’s rich and varied past. Many reveal the influence of Serbian, Greek or Latin founders, while Oriental and even Evangelical touches can be seen in a few.