• Ema Muslli

Mali Grad - the island of St Mary

Updated: May 8, 2020

Mali Grad, with the village of Pustec on the shore to the left

The tiny island of Mali Grad tells a story of art, religion and the geological evolution of Lake Great Prespa. Located near the village of Pustec (Liqunas), it's a fantastic place to watch some of Prespa’s famous fauna in undisturbed tranquillity, and when I first visited I saw one of the most important birds of Prespa – the Dalmatian pelican.

Pelicans and cormorants together on the island

I was so fascinated by these enormous white birds that I sat and watched them flying around the island and fishing on the lake, alongside pygmy and common cormorants. Mali Grad is also a good place to see signs of otters and water snakes. And whilst not everyone loves reptiles, for those who are fascinated by snakes, you should definitely take a trip here. Worry not, they’re harmless!

The 14th century church of St Mary

Mali Grad is important in terms of culture too. In a natural rock hollow, on the southern part of the island, is the 14th century church of St Mary. Inside the church are beautiful murals, created in three different phases, with numerous inscriptions and the family portrait of Kesar Novak, a local nobleman. It is an important historic source, which explains the artistic taste of people from the time and shows how local artists arranged the religious icons in one nave, arched churches.

So whether you’re a scientist or interested in a bit of everything, Mali Grad is the perfect combination of nature and culture.


1. Mali Grad is a geological monument, 900m above sea level, 700-800m long and 180-200m wide. It is made of calcareous stone and represents the remnants from the sinking of the Prespa graben. (Qiriazi, Sala, 2006, 48-49)

2. Lake Great Prespa was formed as a result of tectonic dislocations and the effect over centuries of water on the calcareous rock. The territory is mainly made up of these calcareous rocks and terrigenous sediment. The oldest formations are the calcareous from the Mesozioce era, with the latest being the terrigenous, formed by the accumulation of sediments and erosion in the Cenozoice era (Eocene, Pliocene, Quaternary).

3. The church of St. Mary is small and is composed of two areas, the altar and the nave (see diagram below). These two areas are divided from each other by two wooden iconostases, the earliest of which dates from 1345, with the later from 1604. The church's wall paintings were made in three phases. The first murals were painted around the altar and belong to 1345. The second phase started in 1369 and includes the family portrait of Kesar Novak. The final phase was painted in the 17th century. (Source: Culture Institute of Korca 2013)

4. The island can be visited by taking a boat from Pustec village (also written on maps as Liqenas).

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