Prespa Lake – Prespa Region

Prespa Lakes region is the trans-boundary park of the Balkans, shared between Macedonia, Albania and Greece,  at the elevation of 850 meters, surrounded with mountain massifs. The Prespa Lake is ecosystem of great significance thanks to its biodiversity and endemic species in the Balkans and north-western corner of Greece, that hosts more than 1,500 species of plants, 40 species of mammals, 260 of migratory and non-migratory birds, 32 reptiles and amphibians, and 17 species of fish including a number of species found only here. The wetlands of Prespa are a bird-watchers paradise between the Resen field and Baba, Suva Gora and Galicica mountains. The surrounding mountains of Prespa area make it one of the last European homes of brown bears, wolves, chamois and wild boar whilst the lake host breeding colonies of Dalmatian and White Pelicans as well as pygmy cormorants.

Prespa Lake covers an area of 294 sq km, with a maximum depth of 54 meters. Prespa Lakes is positioned in a tectonic valley between the mountains of Baba in the east (2601m), Galichica (2288m) and Petrino in the west and Suva Gora Mountain (1857m) in the south. Galicica Mountains-National Park separates the Lake Megali Prespa from the Ohrid Lake which are connected to Ohrid Lake via underground karstic channels. Prespa lake is set at the altitude that is 150 meters higher than the altitude of Ohrid lake so the water from Prespa Lake keeps pouring into Ohrid lake. Famous Biljana’s springs in Ohrid are actually the place where Prespa lake comes out of mountain Galičica and falls into Ohrid lake. The mountains surrounding the Prespa lakes are often over 2000 meters high, and offer marvelous views to the lake blueness with scattered settlements on the shores where live extremely hospitable and diligent locals in old stone houses with mud parts. There are few fantastic authentic restaurants and accommodation facilities in traditional stone houses to host visitors keen to explore those immense beauties, attractions and lifestyle. Bike and hike tours in the Prespa region provide visitors the chance to enjoy landscapes filled with picturesque villages, marvelous lakes with waters so pure that they are almost transparent surrounded by majestic snowy mountain tops. The smell of herbs on the mountain meadows calm all the senses, already cleared by the fresh air and the spring waters.

The two Prespa Lakes – Golem Grad (Great Island, Macro Prespa on the Macedonian side of the Prespa Lake) and Mali Grad (Small Island, Mikri Prespa on the Albanian side of the Prespa Lake) are connected one with another by only a narrow strip of dry land and are the only lakes on the Balkan Peninsula to have islands. The five islands – Golem Grad, Mali Grad, Pirg, Agios Achillaeos and Vidrinec – are located in the magically beautiful Prespa Region – junction of three countries that share the lakes of Prespa today – Macedonia, Albania and Greece. The Mali grad Island belongs to the Albanian part of the Prespa Lake and hosts the Holy Virgin church erected in the second half of the 14th century. Its khtetor was the Serbian nobleman Novak Mrasorović who was vassal of the King Vukašin Mrnjavčević. In the interior of the Holy Virgin Church there are well preserved frescoes and inscriptions which help us date the church in the period around 1369. On the western facade is painted the composition of donors-khtetors which depicts the nobleman Novak, his wife Kali and their children.

The Golem Grad is picturesque non-populated and isolated island in the Prespa Lake, about 18 hectares big, 750 meters long and 450 meters wide which are covered with wild juniper and wild almond forests and European nettle tree which keep numerous ancient ruins from the Neolithic, Roman, Hellenic, Byzantine and Ottoman times. During its long history the Prespa area possessed a very important geo strategic position. At the time of the Roman Empire some very important roads such as the Via Egnatia had passed through Prespa region which had made it a popular trading center. Along this monumentally long Roman road many settlements and villages were built. Thanks to its good position and great importance, Prespa was made the capital during the reign of Tsar Samoil in the 10th century who built the Basilica of Agios Achillios – Saint Achilles and the magnificent residence on the island of same name with intention to be buried in its atrium. The Basilica of Agios Achilleios was built after 983 or 986 by Tsar Samuel of the Bulgars in order to house the relics of Saint Achilleios, bishop of Larissa, which the Bulgarian troops had brought after their conquest of the city. The Saint Achilles church was founded as an Episcopal church, housing the See of the Bulgarian Patriarch for a short time, after his transfer from Edessa. It was on the island of Agios Achilleos in Mikri Prespa where in the 11th century the family of Tsar Samuel surrendered to the Byzantine Emperor Basil II and the Bulgarian Empire ceased to exist. After the restoration of Byzantine rule to the area, from 1018 and on, the Saint Achilles church continued as a bishopric until the first decades of the 15th century when it was abandoned. This seemingly remote area was part of the Bulgarian Empire in the 10th century, when some of these churches were first built. But most belong to the period after 1018 when Emperor Basil II reconquered the region, whereupon it became a favorable stopping-point for travelers traversing the Balkans from the Adriatic Sea to Constantinople. The Church of Saint Peters is one of 7 churches which are well preserved on the Golem Grad Island in the Prespa Lake. It was built around 1360 during the reign of the lord Vukasin Mrnjavcevic.

One of the most famous cultural and historical monuments in all the Balkans from the Byzantine period is the Church of Saint George built and wonderfully fresco-painted in the 12th century in the Kurbinovo village. However there are many other churches. monasteries and hermitages of Prespa region interesting to visit too: the 11th century church of Agios Germanos with its beautiful frescoes, the recently restored 15th century church of Agios Nikolaos on the edge of Pili village, or the church of the Virgin of the Porphyra on the island of Agios Achillios, Agios Athanasios,… There are 130 archaeological localities registered in the Prespa region from various periods of the development of material culture, about 1000 archaeological exhibits, 500 coins and 450 exhibits of the ethnological inheritance. During the Medieval period there was a monastery complex on the island with the Churches of St Peter, St Demetrius and Vlaia.

Brsjaci – pl. Brsyaks – Brsjac tribe make one of five ancient Serb tribes of the Macedonian Slavs to which belonged the Holy King Jovan Vladimir Drvenarovic, the first Serbian Holy Martyr. The tribes of Brsjaks, Mijaks and Poljans were the old pre-Christian tribes that lived under commune lifestyle, celebrated Slava festivity and zadusnice – holy funeral services. The tribe of Brsjaks was so powerful in the 7th century that have created the Sklavinia Princedom and in the 10th century they had possessed its Empire. This is recorded by writer and historian Miloš Crnjanski, who determines the so-called Boristeni tribe actually the Brsjak tribe, mentioned by Agricola – the Tacitus father in-law. Those ancient Serb tribes appeared in Thessaloniki at the beginning of the 7th century, when it was recorded they have lived in the areas between Ohrid and Veles in present Macedonia. Sons of the Brsjac prince Nikola – David, Moses, Aron and Samuil were leaders of the uprising against Byzantium, and have created and established the first state of the Macedonian Slavs. „Samuilo – tsar of the Macedonian Slavs, 976-1014, son of the Brsiac prince Nikola, together with his brothers led uprising in Macedonia, against Byzantium which was ruled by the Tsar Basil II, and have created the first Macedonian state with the seat in Prespa and Ohrid. After defeat of Bulgaria in battles with Byzantium, he enlarged borders of his state up to the Sava and the Danube rivers in the northwest, and to the Black Sea in the east, including states of Zeta, Raska and the northern Bulgaria.

On the 13th June 2013 the Albanian part of the Prespa, covering an area of 15.100 ha was added to the list of Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, while the part of the Prespa Lake which belongs to the FYR of Macedonia (18,920 ha) has been on the Ramsar list since 1995. Prespa Lake is one of the three largest lakes on the Balkan Peninsula.

‘The villages of the Prespa region of Ljubojno, Brajčinovo and Dolno Dupe have been founded in the period between two world wars in the area of crossroad of Mediterannean, mountainous and continental climate, ,, where history existed even in the Roman Times, and of Emperor Samuil and the Byzantine Empire’… There are here numerous well-preserved houses of imposing size that today come with the elite parts of the Balkan capitals. Those houses were built of stone – the material abundant in the Baba Mountain, in which breasts they are set, and where the Lake is lining… The houses are of rectangular shape, long and wide, one-storey and with plenty of windows. The house interiors are divided into a number of rooms that testify on large family communities who used to live here, behind those walls…

Houses were erected from money that used to come from pecalba – hard seasonal work of individual family members as well as from cattle breeding and fruit growing which once was highly developed. Climate of the Prespa area is especially suitable to the sporadic orchards of apples, pears and cherries, especially to apples that remind on the former gigantic producer of Agroplod Resen which was the leader in production of fruits, juices and fruit products of the former Yugoslavia. Those houses are uniform in dimensions and forms, but also for their patterns of iron decoration on windows that besides the protective role, also provided aesthetics of a man of that time who lived and worked in those villages. Decorative elements on outside walls determine the harmony of constructive stone and bricks and make part of the tradition inherited from the Byzantine heritage or decorative elements on the facades that encircle every window or door portals like the cotton fences that end with edgings and the decorative tassel… They appear like every that particular window has curtains making kind of a stage for some play behind which is the real life of an individual performed, full of dramatic moment, tragedy, love, hopes and life expectations…. The walls of once large Prespa houses look like some historical stages, testifying on power and economic wealth of an idividual, which the future ideologies marked the historical events that came along his needs and which the inscribed marble plaque does not know and does not recognize. The lavish iron decoration of the balconies with only sporadic porch-balcony on the first floor appears on those gracious houses, there are also decorative locks in form of handhold or a human palm on the entrance doors and gates. Here is plenty of wild hops, as well as matured blueberries, a Ricinus communis tree, blooming Dahlia, fragrant rose… When one observes the Prespa Lake whose waters splash over the Baba Mountain, there is distant Golemo ostrvo – Golem grad or the Snake Island where monk Kalist spent full two years in full seclusion in the twenties of the last centuryThe white Pelican wings shine on the grey sky like a Silver, bathed in sun reflectionSource: Jasmina Ranđelović

Prespa region is the biggest and the most successful apple producer in the Balkans. The apples produced in this region are characterized by their high quality and they are specifically juicy. Like in almost all corners of the Balkans, red peppers are feature of the Prespa region, hanging in bundles out in the sun to dry and imbuing the autumnal neighborhood with the smells and colors of summer. Peppers contain a natural relaxant which helps to reduce anxiety or depression and to alleviate insomnia. The red peppers of the shores of Prespa Lake with their rich flesh and taste make the basis of much of the irresistible mouth-watering dishes of the region. The uniquely friendly residents of the Prespa region really understand a little secret about peppers – red, green, yellow, blazing and aromatic which need to be roasted or fried to truly reveal  their sumptuous flavor. The red peppers of Prespa region evoke the past times when grandmothers sat in front of the stove, patiently cleaning roasted peppers, the calluses on their hands softened by oil and their souls sweetened by redolent aroma…. It is strongly believed that today in Macedonia one can enjoy the unique flavor of the red peppers with thousand ways of cooking it !

Prespa Lake has also become attractive to visitors for its island tourism. The coast of the western part of the beautiful Prespa lake is full of cliffs, while in the eastern part dominate beautiful sandy beaches. The water of the Prespa lake has it’s highest temperature in August, 24,3 degrees C, while in winter is the coldest and sometimes may freeze. The color of the Prespa lake water is variable yellow-green and heavenly blue. There are number of walking and trekking visitors who take the gravel roads and mountain paths to explore abandoned villages, historical monuments or the rich flora and fauna of the Prespa Lakes area. Various water-based activities are available on Great Prespa Lake: fishermen take visitors on boat tours from the village of Psarades, while swimming, canoe, kayak and rowing can be enjoyed at the beach of Koula in the summer. Golem Grad Island of the Prespa Lake, which is the only island in Macedonia, is a rare natural phenomenon and a real natural treasure. The Prespa region is ecologically speaking the cleanest part of Macedonia, its nature seemingly untouched by human hands. Boat trips are organized around the island and land trips under the auspices of the Galichica National Park. The Prespa water temperature in summer ranges from 18 to 24° C. The white Dalmatian pelican, black raven, heron and gull all congregate near the lake so abundant with fish, which include varieties such as trout, carp, red finned carp, chub, barbell, and others. Brown Bears live in the mountains surrounding the Prespa Lake. The beauty of the Prespa Lakes landscape, picturesque sleepy villages and the rich cultural heritage mostly from the Byzantine and Ottoman eras provide an added attraction for visitors. With its irregular coastline, plethora of bays, extraordinary cleanliness of water, pristine nature, and setting between three national parks, Prespa Lakes are truly places one must visit.