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. 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), chondrostean (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.
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 Paeonian 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.
Pelister, national park. It is situated in the south-western part of the Republic of Macedonia and covers an area of 12,500 hectares. 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).
Mavrovo, national park. 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, karst 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.
Galicica,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. It was proclaimed a national park in 1958. It boasts a wide variety of flora: Galicica 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 Galicica 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 Galicica 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.
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 Tikves from the Gevgelija-Valandovo valley. A section of the Skopje-Salonika 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.
Konopiste, monument of nature. There is a fascinating geomorphological environment in the vicinity of the village of Konopiste, 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 Bosava.
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 karst 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 northeast 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 molds and other artifacts, casting molds and other artifacts 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.