The shores of Lake Ohrid have been inhabited since prehistoric times. Archaeological findings speak of settlements from the Neolithic period 6000 years B.C. According to historical sources, the earliest known inhabitants of the Lake Ohrid region were the tribes known as Bryges (Briges) and Enhelians(eel people), the latter of which dominated for a long time. According to Herodotus and Apollodorus, they were not Illyrians, but their closest neighbors. Certain posterior documents note that the Desaretes inhabited the town of Lychinidos, as the capital of Desaretia, and its surrounding area. As a powerful settlement, whose name is unknown today, they lived there for several centuries in the 1st millennium B.C., in the vicinity of today’s international airport, a few kilometers to the north of Ohrid.
The first missionary to come to Lychinidos 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 Lychidos was part of the Byzantine Empire, the Slavs began crossing the Danube and penetrated into the Balkan Peninsula. A Slavic tribe called Brsjan settled in the region of Lychnidos. The name Ohrid was first mentioned in a protocol issued by the Assembly of Constantinople in 879. As the old town of Ohrid stands on the crest of a hill, presumably the name Ohrid was derived from the Slavonic words – “vo hrid” – meaning “on a hill.“
Clement and Naum, the two best-known disciples of the missionary brothers Cyril and Methodius, came to Ohrid after their mission in Moravia. Clement was the first one to come in 886 and Naum joined him 14 years later, in 900.
Clement spent 30 years among the Macedonian Slavs. The first Ohrid literary school was founded in his monastery church of St. Pantelejmon in Ohrid in 893. The 3,500 pupils who came out of this school spread the Slavonic script, culture, and art.
After Clement’s death in 916, the Ohrid literary school continued to be a source of manuscripts invaluable for Slavonic studies. This school began its work on Macedonian soil in the 9th century and was a loyal adherent to the Glagolithic alphabet.
Samuel’s Empire, which was the first state of the Macedonians Slavs, originated in the Ohrid region. In 1014 Byzantine Emperor Basil II defeated Samuel’s army, captured and blinded 14,000 of his soldiers, ruined the town, and banished its population.
In the 15th century, during the Turkish rule in Ohrid, many of the Christian churches were converted into mosques.
The exact date of Ohrid’s fall under the Turkish rule cannot be determined accurately. However, an inscription in the St. Ilija Church (in the village of Elesani in the Ohrid region), dating back to 1408, is considered to be an apparent evidence of the Turks’ presence. Yet another source implies that Ohrid fell under the Turks in 1395 and was ruled by Canarli Hairudin Pasha, who later became a vizier, the position of the supreme military commander, second in power after the sultan.
The only medieval feudal institution that continued its existence in the time of the Turkish rule was the Ohrid Archiepiscopate. During this period, the Archiepiscopate maintained its full internal autonomy, keeping its previous rights and privileges. With the support of the Turkish authorities, the Ohrid Archiepiscopate even managed to expand its jurisdiction to new territories.
In the first decades of the 15th century the jurisdiction of the Ohrid Archiepiscopate covered the eparchies of Sofia and Vidin. By the end of the 16th century the jurisdiction of the Archbishopric of Ohrid over went as far as the Serbian Church Patriarchy of Pec and the Orthodox communities in Dalmatia and Venice in mainland Italy.
According to a document, in the 17th century there were 300 churches, 33 of which were active, but at the beginning of the 19th century only three town churches were left in service. In the second half of the 17th century the Constantinople Patriarchate did not conceal its aspirations towards the Ohrid Archiepiscopate and the Phanariots (pro-Greek inclined party).
More intense church building in Ohrid and its surroundings occurred towards the end of the 18th century and particularly during the 19th century. The architecture also flourished in this period and some of the most beautiful buildings found in Ohrid were built in that time (the house of the Robev Brothers, which now hosts the National Museum, the house of the Kanevce family, and the house of Urania, which now functions as the Ethnological Department of the National Museum.
During World War II Ohrid was occupied by Bulgaria. In the postwar period, Ohrid developed into an important tourist centre. Modern hotels, car camping sites, and bed&breakfast facilities were built in order to accommodate the numerous tourists who came to discover the beauties of Ohrid.
In the 1975-88 period Ohrid was a genuine Mecca for tourists, not only in Macedonia, but also in the Balkans. In 1980 both the town and the lake were included on the list of UNESCO and protected as an exceptional cultural heritage site and natural beauty.