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The best monasteries in North Macedonia

From large lakeside complexes to tiny clifftop churches, North Macedonia is home to some of the best monasteries in Europe.

The monasteries of North Macedonia are well known for their intricate woodwork and delicate architecture and for some of their remote but spectacular locations. To ensure you don’t miss out on visiting at least one of these beautiful churches on your trip to the country, we’ve compiled a list of our favourites.

Sv Kliment at Plaošnik, Ohrid

Ohrid boasts many lovely churches and this one is no exception. Dedicated to saints Kliment (Clement) and Pantelejmon, it was completed in 2002. It stands beside the original site of Kliment’s very own monastery school, started in AD893. Kliment had built the original church on the ruins of the early 5th-century basilica at Plaošnik, and had even built his own tomb into the church, in which he was buried upon his death in AD916.

Sv Kliment at Plaošnik Ohrid North Macedonia by zefart shutterstock
The new Sv Kliment, completed in 2002, stands amid the ruins of the early 5th-century basilica at Plaošnik © zefart, Shutterstock

Almost 150 graves were recently found and suggest that the church was also a hospital during Kliment’s time.

Monastery of Sv Jovan Bigorski, near Debar

This fully working monastery stands a few hundred metres uphill of the Debar road some 25km southwest of Mavrovo Anovi. It was first established in 1020 when the miraculous icon of John the Baptist, after which the church is named, first appeared at the spot where it now stands.

Sv Jovan Bigorski North Macedonia by Pargovski Jove shutterstock
In its day, this church’s influence stretched over a large part of the region and into present-day Albania as far as Elbasan © Pargovski Jove, Shutterstock

The present-day structures of the church and the surrounding monastery were built, however, in the 18th and 19th centuries. The church closely resembles those of Mount Athos in Greece, characterised by two octagonal domes, the smaller of the two near the main entrance, and the larger residing over the area of worship.

Sveti Joakim Osogovski, Kriva Palanka

This probably takes number one position as the most visited monastery in North Macedonia.

Sveti Joakim Osogovski North Macedonia by Philip Briggs
Some of the original 12th-century walls and 14th-century frescoes still exist at this monastery © Philip Briggs

The location was first sought out as a monastery during the middle of the 12th century, and now houses two churches, the older one dedicated to the Virgin Mary (Sv Bogorodica), and the new church of the mid 19th century is dedicated to Sv Joakim Osogovski himself.

Sv Gavril Lesnovski, near Kratovo

This monastery south of Kratovo near the village of Lesnovo was built in 1341 by the feudal lord Tyrant Oliver, and is well worth visiting. It is one of only three to contain an iconostasis by the famous woodcarvers Makarije Frčkovski and the brothers Filipovski (the other two are in the monasteries of Sv Jovan Bigorski near Debar, and the Church of Sv Spas in Skopje; a fourth in Kruševo was burnt after the Ilinden Uprising).

Sv Gavril Lesnovski Monastery North Macedonia by Brank G Shutterstock
The mosaic floor of this monastery dates from the 11th century © BrankoG, Shutterstock

The detail of the carving is phenomenal. The church stands on the foundations of an earlier 11th-century church, whose mosaic floor is still the floor of the present church, and contains many outstanding frescoes from the time it was built.

Kališta Monastery, Kališta 

The small settlement and monastery complex of Kališta is located right on the shores of the lake 5km from Struga, next to the Hotel Biser. The monastery is the summer residence of Archbishop Naum, the highest church official in the Holy Synod of the Macedonian Orthodox Church.

Within the monastery complex is the cave Church of Sv Bogorodica (entry 120MKD), where frescoes date back as far as the 15th century. Access to the church is often closed, so ask for the key at the monastery.

Monastery of Zrze, near Zrze

Another interesting monastery, halfway between Prilep and Kičevo, is the Monastery of Zrze, near the village of the same name. Quite spectacular to see from the approach, it is set into the cliffside as if it hangs there only by the will of God.

The monks’ cells are built precariously into the cliff walls under the monastery, and the inns and church are built at the site of an earlier Christian basilica, whose foundations can still be seen, along with a number of marble pillars and other artefacts.

More information

Want to find out more about these beautiful churches? Check out our guide to North Macedonia: