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Macedonia - Cultural Tourism - Churches & Monasteries - Byzantine
St. Nikita

On the rising ground between the vilages of Gornjani, Banjani and Chucher the monastery of Nikita is situated.
The church and a chapel dedicated to St. Jovan the Baptists were erected by the Serbian King Milutin in 1307-1308. This church is well known for its frescoes - the work of the famous painters Michailo and Eutihie, who also painted the frescoes in the church St. Clement of Ohrid.
Whereas at St. Clement's ceratin monumental feeling characteristics of frescoing in earlier periods still predominates, here at St. Nicolaus, tendencies towards a general narrative quality are clearly expressed. The compositions are distinctly less elaborate but those of the figures have increased. Here the artists has freed himself from the Byzantine iconographical tradition and has chosen free motifs for characterization.


St. Markov Monastery

Markov Monastery is located south from the river Markova Susica in the valley of Markova Reka on 20 km from Skopje. Inside the monastery is the church St. Dimitrija with the impressing church bell. The gate door is made of massive wood. Right after on the right hand side are situated the monastery quarters and other supporting premises. Beside the quarters, there is also a wooden stove, tanks to brew schnapps, water well with very cold water, very old mill kept from the time when the wheat was melted on this method. The monastery is named after the popular heroic character of Krale Marko. The church St. Dimitrija was built in 1345 according to the inscription above the south door in the inner side of the church. The church was renewed by king Volkashin and completed by his son Marko (between 1366 and 1371 – 72).
At the beginning of the 19th century as the reformatory and literary Kiril Pejcinovic as abbot reside and worked at the monastery. The church is built out of carved stone and bricks that are made in interesting colors, specially the altar part, in the ten decorative parts. Towards the church from the southside in the latest period another room is added, and it was built from weak material. That room was used for baptizing. Between the quarters is the old dining room that has a shape of one-ford (ednokorabna?) church with apsida on the North side. The walls of the dining room were covered with fresco picturesque. The original iconostas of the church is fully preserved. He is comprised of wooden pillars with hats that are ornamented, which reminds of the stone iconostas of the church St. Panteleimon in village of Nerezi or the church St. Gorgi in Staro Nagorichane. Part of the old icons are preserved, even they were over painted during the 19th century.


St. Andrea Monastery

St. Andrea Monastery is located on Lake Matka, 17 km away from Skopje. This monastery was built in 1389 and is filled with frescos of a great artistic importance. Near Andrea is the St. Nikola Shishovski Monastery is situated on top of the cliff above Lake Matka, thus giving the visitor a spectacular view of the lake and its surrounding. While there is no information when this monastery was built, it is first mentioned in the 17th century. Unfortunately, the monastery was abandoned during the 18th century, only to be resettled the following century. It is interesting to point that there are three layers of frescos in St. Nikola's. Close to both Andrea and St. Nikola's is Matka Monastery from the 14th century. The monastery is located on the left side of river Treska, about 12 km from Skopje. The frescos of this monastery date from the 15th century, but they don't match those of Andrea.


St. Pantelejmon Monastery

Built in 1164 by Alexis Comnène (Aleksij Komnen), monastery hides within its walls a treat beyond comparison for anyone with even a passing interest in Byzantine art. Inside the small stone and brick building lays some truly glorious frescos, many of them dating back to the building of the monastery. Famous for breaking the rules of what was up until then an intensely strict style of religious painting, the frescos depict the usual Orthodox themes including the Lamentation of Christ, Dormition of Holy Mother of God and others, but what sets these paintings apart from everything that went before them is that the artists have breathed life into the figures. Before Pantelejmon, the rules never allowed any characters to show emotion, making such pictures as the extraordinary fresco of Mary holding her dead son in her arms, complete with an anguished face and tears in her eyes, utterly extraordinary. Surviving several earthquakes, the artwork inside St. Pantelejmon Monastery is generally regarded as one of the three main examples of Byzantine art in the world, opening the doors for Giotto and the Renaissance a century and a half later.


Treskavec Monastery

The Treskavec monastery is situated under the peak Zlatovrv, in a striking mountain landscape, from where you have a great view of the Pelagonia valley.
The monastery complex consists of the church "Assumption of the Holy Mother", monastery inns and the dining room.
It is thought that the monastery was built in the 13th century and later in the 14th century, King Milutin renovated it. The monastery inventory includes: a Kosmitos cross and the choir, worked in encrustation.


Vodocha St. Leontius Monastery

St. Leontius church is located in Vodocha village, not far from Strumica.
The mountain surrounding intensifies its spiritual beauty and makes this church different in every season of the year.
Parts of the church were rebuilt in the 11th and 12th centuries with some renovation performed in the 20th century. Frescoes from the 11th century still exist.
According to a Hylendar act, this monastery is considered a bishops residency in the Strumica region. It is claimed that in this monastery St. Clement held education and worship.


Veljusa – Monastery of the Most Holy Theotokos Eleusa

The bishop Manuel of Strumica made this monastery, dedicated to the Holy Mother of God (Holy Virgin) Eleusa of Tenderness, in 1080.
The monastery is important because of its architectural layout, 11th century frescoes, floor mosaic, and the marble iconostasis.


Lesnovo Monastery

Lesnovo village is located in the vicinity of Probishtip, 900-1000 meters above sea level. The Lesnovo environment is very interesting - the landscape is predominately rocks, naturally sculptured, among which the most impressive one is the so-called "Virgin Mary with a Child. The village monastery St. Gavril Lesnovski was constructed in 1347 by the ruler Oliver 1st. The monastery is known for its manuscript-writing school and the wood-carved iconostasis from 1811, a work of art performed by the Mijak craftsman. The monastery is the centre of the Christianity in this part of the country and has been visited by many during religious holiday services.


St. George Monastery – Nagorichani

Saint George church in Staro Nagorichane is believed that was built in 1313, although it has been ascertained that it was erected on the fundaments of an older sacral structure dating from the 11th century and built, according to the tradition, by the Byzantine Tsar Roman IV Diogenes (1067-1071).
The year 1313 was imprinted on an inscription over the western entrance door and another inscription located on the southwest wall ascertains that the frescoes were painted in 1317-18.
The architecture of the church is three-pole (three-pillar) with a shape of an elongated cross. Five domes rise over the basis – a large octahedron dome in the center and four smaller domes. The lower part of the walls was constructed of cut stone and the upper part by alternate layers of stone and brick giving a serene and impressive (effective) tone (chromaticity). The altar apsis is elegantly (elaborately) parted, hemispherical on the inside and pentahedral in the upper part on the outside.
What makes this church exceptional is the preserved original altar partition, which is the iconostasis, made of stone pillars, parapet plates and ornamented arch graph. This is a unique example of icons painted in fresco technique in our country. St. George and Mother of God Pelagonitisa have been painted in this technique on the left and right side of the Tsar’s (Lord’s) Gates.
However, an interminable importance of this cultural and sacred monument rests in the preserved frescoes painted by the renowned fresco-painters Evtichie and Mihailo. The frescoes have been painted in the paleologic (paleo-) style of the 14th century with outstanding expressiveness, but also a remarkable subtleness, delicate stylization and moderate expression. The portraits of the founders (patrons) of the church, King Milutin and his young wife Simonida, are also impressive. They have been portrayed in the lower part of the northern wall. There are plenty of depictions of saints, life scenes, the sufferings and miracles of Jesus Christ ("The Crucifixion"; "The Way to Golgotha"; "Ascending to the Cross"; "The Mocking of Christ", etc.) and illustrations of calendars, as well as portraits of local saints – St. Clement of Ohrid (Ohridski), St. Joachim of Osogovo (Osogovski), St. Prohor Pchinski, who according to the legends, lived in a cave near the church before it was built.


St. George – Kurbinovo

In the area of Lake Prespa, the most interesting Christian Orthodox temple is the Church of St. Georgi (George) in the village of Kurbinovo (uphill, few kilometers from the lake). Frescoes in this church were painted in 1191. That was the time when Byzantine Empire ruled territory of present Republic of Macedonia, the time after the reign of Tzar Samuil, the first Slavo-Macedonian Emperor, and the founder of the first medieval Slavo-Macedonian state. This is a very simple church by its shape and dimensions, yet very important from spiritual and cultural point of view.


Zrze Monastery

The monastery Zrze is located near the village Zrze, approx. 25km north-west of Prilep.
The numerous remnants of the ancient period-pillars, basilica remains, and other exponents speak of the rich cultural tradition, of this area.
Today, Zrze monastery complex consists of the church "St. Petar and Pavle", the inns and several accessory rooms. The church has been renovated several times, and the painting is preserved only in fragments. In the 14th century, the church walls were painted with painting of extraordinary artistic value.
Under the monastery are the monk cells, and their high number indicates the rich life of the monks, who belonged to the highest monastically order.


Holy Mother of God Peribleptos

The frescoes in the Holy Mother of God Peribleptos are a masterpiece of Byzantine art of what has been called the "Palaiologian Renaissance". These frescoes were the main reason for Ser Herbert Read to notice that the churches in Ohrid "provide unique proof that between Byzantine ecclesiastical art, Ravenna and Sicily, on the one hand, and the Italian Renaissance, on the other, there was no void", and to conclude that "Ohrid is a notable bridge in European art".
The frescoes in the Holy Mother of God Peribleptos are considered to be the first masterpiece of the young painters Michael Astrapas and Eutychios, from Thessaloniki in Greece. Unlike medieval fresco painters who were chiefly anonymous masters in the shadow of those who commissioned their work, Michael and Eutychios "have not believed in anonymity". Obviously conscious of their artistic possibilities and achievements they left several signatures on their works, not hidden or small, but large, decorative and very obvious. It is very easy to spot the name of Michael Astrapas on the sword of the Holy Warrior Saint Mercurius and the name of Eutychios on the cape of Holy Warrior Saint Procopius, both depicted on the columns in the church.
Their fresco paintings depicting the Great Feasts are on the highest parts of the church walls.
Below them is a cycle presenting the Passion of Christ, from the Last Supper to Lamentation and the Resurrection. Academician Cvetan Grozdanov PhD, former president of Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts, wrote the following about the Lamentation of Christ: "(It) is unique and moving with no comparisons in the art of that period, but in continuity with the famous composition depicting the same scene from Nerezi near Skopje. On this frescoes many mourners, shown very emotionally, descend on Christ's dead body. Those nearest Him embrace His hands and feet, the Virgin is fainting, some women are tearing their hair and throwing off their shawls. […] The angels are mourning together with people. On the left there is a group of women – professional wailers, certainly shown according to the painters' observation of folk custom".
The Apocryphal Life of the Virgin is illustrated on the lower level, starting on the southern and northern altar wall. This cycle include beautiful Joachim and Anna before the Golden Gate, Nativity of the Virgin… on the southern side, Old Men Standing Before the Arch-priest to Ask the Virgin's Hand in Marriage with "very good study of the heads of the old men", on the northern side… On the western side, scenes showing the death of the Virgin are depicted, with huge, marvelous Assumption of the Virgin as the central piece.
Among the other paintings by Michael Astrapas and Eutychios in the church are numerous portraits of the Saints as well as compositions Dream of Emperor Nebuchadnezzar, Unburnable Blackberry, Moses Receiving the Ten Commandments, Jacob's ladder…
Art of Michael Astrapas and Eutychios is often compared with art of Giotto, and frescoes in Holy Mother of God Peribleptos were created approximately a decade prior to Giotto's first mature masterpiece – the frescoes in the Arena Chapel in Padua. Art of Michael Astrapas and Eutychios stand the comparison.
Apart from their works the church chapels were fresco painted in 1364 and 1365. The latest fresco is the Last Judgment painted on the porch wall in the 16th century.
The "keeper" of the frescoes is a Macedonian lady who, if our memory is correct, got her PhD at University in Veliko Turnovo in Bulgaria on the subject of the frescoes in the Holy Mother of God Peribleptos. Her guidance to the church and the frescoes in it is very passionate and informative. The entrance to the church is not free, but the price of the ticket is symbolic.


St. Sophia

St. Sophia is one of the most impressive medieval buildings in Ohrid. It is a large church with compound foundations and a complex history. The church was the center of the Ohrid archiepiscopacy which once had jurisdiction over the regions of the Danube, Thessaloniki and Albania.
Believed to have been built or rebuilt on the grounds of an early Christian basilica between the years 1035-1056, the church is one of the best representatives of Macedonian religious architecture.
During the time when Macedonia was part of the Ottoman Empire, the church was turned into a mosque and the frescoes were covered with plaster, thus successfully preserving them for future generations.
After World War II, the church was restored and the frescoes that date from the Byzantine period (11th -14th centuries) were revealed and cleaned.
Since its builders blessed it with wonderful acoustics, the church of St. Sophia and its front garden are the main site for the annual Ohrid Summer Festival.


St. Naum

Set amidst lush verdure where the River Crn Drim tumbles into the lake, the monastery of St. Naum is a refuge of tranquility at the very southwestern corner of the Macedonian Republic. Situated 29 km (18 m) from the town of Ohrid and only 1 kilometer (0.6 m) from the Albanian border, the monastery brings the Macedonian experience to a dramatic culmination.
As with most Byzantine churches, St. Naum was chosen primarily for its location – on a high, rocky outcropping over the lake, above deep forests and life-giving springs of the river Crn Drim. The monastic complex and church of St. Naum were built originally at the turn of the tenth century by the monk that bearded the same name; Macedonians believe you can still hear the saint’s heartbeat by pressing an ear to his stone coffin inside the church.
The monastery has been renewed and enlarged several times over the centuries. While most of its iconostases and frescoes date from the 16th and 17th century, earlier etchings in the Byzantine Greek vernacular also remain. But numerous orthographical mistakes indicate that they were written by Slavic-speaking local monks. Other inscriptions in the church make up some of the oldest epigraphic evidence of Slavic literacy.
The icons of St. Naum are some of the best religious painting achievements in the Balkans. They date from the first half of the 18th century. The wood-carved iconostasis itself was made in 1711 by an unknown artisan.
A peculiar element of St. Naum is located not on the inside of the church but on the outside: the preponderance of multi-colored peacocks strutting around and luxuriating in the grass.


St. Pantelejmon – Plaoshnik

Located in Ohrid’s old town, Plaoshnik is a quite unique of a phenomenon: it was recently reconstructed with loving attention to detail in the style of a Byzantine church, right down to the red bricks and mortar.
An early Christian sacral building dating from the 5th century was discovered here; it was built over the remains of an older antique building.
Today, Plaoshnik is one of the most exhilarating Byzantine-style churches in Macedonia. Its floor is covered with mosaics of twenty wave-shaped tassels interspersed with the figures of flowers, birds and animals. The very fact of its reconstruction is but a mere proof of the strong affection Macedonians still feel for their Byzantine heritage.


St. John Kaneo Church

One of the most magnificent churches in all of Macedonia stands right above a small fishing settlement, on a cliff rising up from Lake Ohrid; St. Jovan Kaneo is a combination of Byzantine and Armenian architectural styles.
Built in the honor of St. John the Theologian, St. Kaneo with its sublime atmosphere and views of the placid lake below, remains an inspiring place for spiritual contemplation.
The church which was consecrated at the end of the 13th century was built on a rectangular stone base. Its exterior is decorated with ceramic decorative sculptures and stone carvings.
Though the fresco painters are unknown, the fragments that have been preserved are of exceptional quality; the Communion of the Apostles and the portraits of St. Clement, St. Erasmus and Constantine Kavasilas especially stand out.
Being as it is - an extraordinarily unique construction - St. Kaneo is indeed one of the most beautiful churches in Macedonia as well as in the whole Balkan region.


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