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Macedonian Heritage Site To Face UNESCO Probe

Proposed large-scale developments in the Macedonian lakeside city of Ohrid could see the picturesque town lose its much-coveted UNESCO heritage status.

A spokeswoman for the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Petya Totcharova, told Balkan Insight recently that a commission would be sent to check government plans to build a university on Plaosnik Hill, which overlooks the city and is also the site of an important archaeological dig.

Totcharova said UNESCO inspectors would be seeking "to ensure that negative effects for the state of Ohrid are avoided."

She added that the UNESCO commission was "equally worried" about plans for a new development near the medieval monastery of St. Naum.

Losing its status as a World Heritage site would be a blow to the popular tourist destination, which is one of just 28 locations worldwide to have been listed by UNESCO in both its culture and nature categories.

WATCH: Ohrid's natural and cultural heritage

According to the organization's website, the "city and its historic-cultural region are located in a natural setting of exceptional beauty, while its architecture represents the best preserved and most complete ensemble of ancient urban architecture of the Slavic lands."

Besides being situated between a stunning lake and the nearby Galicica Mountain, which are home to many endemic species, Ohrid is believed to be one of the oldest human settlements in Europe.

It boasts the oldest Slav monastery (St. Panteleimon) and also has one of the most important collections of Byzantine-style icons in the world.

Given all the attractions it has for tourists, it is perhaps inevitable that Ohrid will attract ambitious developers, much to the chagrin of conservationists.

Late last year, Indian magnate Subrata Roy caused consternation when he let it be known he wished to build a 240-hectare, Dubai-style complex on Lake Ohrid's shores.

According to Totcharova, UNESCO inspectors will descend on the city in September or October this year.

Should they decide to revoke Ohrid's heritage credentials, it will only be the third site to have suffered such an ignominious fate.

In 2007, Oman's Arabian Oryx Sanctuary lost its natural heritage status after the government reduced its size to begin drilling for oil. Two years later, the Dresden Elbe Valley was also delisted thanks to the construction of the four-lane Waldschlossen Bridge, which was officially opened last week.

-- Coilin O'Connor

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