Bitola

Neo-classical buildings in Bitola

Bitola (Macedonian: Битола) is a grand old town that still bears the marks of its turn-of-the-century importance as a center for diplomacy – while also exemplifying the country’s time-honored cafe culture. Bitola is nicknamed “city of consuls” and is the second largest city in the Republic of Macedonia, with a population of nearly 100,000. Near the border with Greece, it straddles the Dragor River at the foot of Mount Pelister, in the Baba mountain range.

Understand

Bitola is quite nice, and it is favourite city for the Macedonians, since it has the most European atmosphere. It was a seat of consuls in the 19th century and with them they brought the European culture and influenced the local aristocracy, who started living in European fashon and building their houses in mixed neo-classical styles. Bitola is a nice place to visit since Pelister National Park is close, the ancient city of Heraklea is there, it has nice Ottoman architecture and 19th century romantic architecture, so some good examples of everything. It can all be done in a day including enjoying coffee on Shirok Sokak, but you have to put aside a separate day for Pelister National Park.

The friendly and helpful Tourist Information Office is on Ulice Sterio Georgiev, just a few metres from the clock tower (though it has at times been closed). There is a tourist map billboard on the city square (at the river end of Shirok Sokak), but this appears to be the only tourist information in the city out-of-season (October 2011).

History

There are important metal artifacts from the ancient period, from the necropolis of Crkvishte near the village of Beranci. Heraclea Lyncestis (Greek: Ηράκλεια Λυγκηστίς - City of Hercules upon the Land of the Lynx) was an important settlement from the Hellenistic period till the Middle Ages. It was founded by Philip II of Macedon by the middle of the 4th century BC, and named after the Greek demigod Heracles, whom Philip considered his ancestor. As an important strategic point it became a prosperous city. The Romans conquered this part of Macedon in 148 BC and destroyed the political power of the city. The prosperity continued mainly due to the Roman Via Egnatia road which passed near the city. Several monuments from the Roman times remain in Heraclea, including a portico, thermae (baths), an amphitheater and a number of basilicas. The theatre was once capable to house around 3,000 people.

In the early Byzantine period (4th to 6th centuries AD) Heraclea was an important episcopal centre. Some of its bishops have been noted in the acts of the Church Councils as bishop Evagrius of Heraclea in the Acts of the Sardica Council from 343 AD. A Small and a Great (Large) basilica, the bishop's residence, a Funeral basilica near the necropolis are some of the remains of this period. Three naves in the Great Basilica are covered with mosaics of very rich floral and figurative iconography; these well preserved mosaics are often regarded as fine examples of the early Christian art period. Other bishops from Heraclea are known between 4th and 6th century AD. The city was sacked by Ostrogothic forces, commanded by Theodoric the Great in 472 AD and, despite a large gift to him from the city's bishop, it was sacked again in 479 AD.

It was restored in the late 5th and early 6th century. In the late 6th century the city suffered successive attacks by Slavic tribes. It was finally taken over by the Slavs and lost its importance by the end of the century.

In the 6th and 7th century the region around Monastiri experienced a demographic shift as more and more Slavic tribes settled in the area. They also built a defence fortress around the settlement. Monastiri was conquered and remained part of the First Bulgarian Empire from late 8th to early 11th century. The spreading of Christianity was assisted by St. Clement of Ohrid and Naum of Preslav in the 9th and early 10th century. Many monasteries and churches were built in the city.

In the 10th century, Monastiri was under the rule of tsar Samuil of Bulgaria. He built a castle in the town, later used by his successor Gavril Radomir of Bulgaria. The town is mentioned in several medieval sources. John Skylitzes's 11th century chronicle mentions that Emperor Basil II burned Gavril's castles in Monastiri, when passing through and ravaging Pelagonia. The second chrysobull (1019) of Basil II mentioned that the Bishop of Monastiri depended on the Archbishopric of Ohrid. During the reign of Samuil, the city was seat of the Bitola[citation needed] Bishopric. In many medieval sources, especially Western, the name Pelagonia was synonymous with the Bitola Bishopric, and in some of them Monastiri was known under the name of Heraclea due to the church tradition, namely the turning of Heraclea Bishopric into Pelagonian Metropolitan's Diocese. In 1015, tsar Gavril Radomir was killed by his cousin Ivan Vladislav, who declared himself tsar and rebuilt the city fortress. To celebrate the occasion, a stone inscription written in the Cyrillic alphabet was set in the fortress where the Slavic name of the city is mentioned: Bitol.

Following battles with tsar Ivan Vladislav, Byzantine emperor Basil II recaptured Monastiri in 1015. The town is mentioned as an episcopal centre in 1019, in a record by Basil II. Two important uprisings against Byzantine rule took place in the Monastiri area in 1040 and 1072. After the Bulgarian state was restored in late 11th century, Bitola was incorporated under the rule of tsar Kaloyan of Bulgaria. It was conquered again by Byzantium at the end of the 13th century, but became part of Serbia in the first half of the 14th century, after the conquests of Stefan Dušan.

As a military, political and cultural center, Monastiri played a very important role in the life of the medieval society in the region, prior to the Ottoman conquest in mid-14th century. On the eve of the Ottoman conquest, Monastiri (Monastir in Ottoman Turkish) experienced a great boom, having well-established trading links all over the Balkan Peninsula, especially with big economic centers like Constantinople, Thessalonica, Ragusa and Tarnovo. Caravans of various goods moved to and from Monastir. During Turkish rule it developed as a trading centre and the Turkish travel writer Evlija Celebija who visited Bitola in the middle of the 17th c. wrote that were 900 shops, 40 cafes, a bedesten, 70 mosques, a number of medreses (theological school) and a law school. Near the beginning of the 19th c, a large number of Vlahs from the Janina region in Greece settled in the city. During the 19th century, the city was at its peak, being the second largest city in the European part of the Ottoman empire and an important trading centre, with over 2000 stores with goods from Vienna, Paris, Leipzig, and London. Twelve consulates were opened in the city, and the consuls brought Western influences with them. Towards the end of the 19th century, Mustafa Kemal "Ataturk", the father of the modern Turkish nation, studied in Bitola at the military academy. Abdul Pasha Kerim, governor of the city for six years (1896-1902), accomplished much during his short term. He finished the drainage system and built the docks on the Dragor river, the city park, the theatre, and the ball hall. Milton Manaki, who in 1905 brought the first camera to the Balkans and made the first movies there, also lived and worked in Bitola. After the Balkan wars in 1913, when Serbia occupied present-day Macedonia, Bitola lost its importance to Skopje, which was named the capital of the province.

Get in

Širok Sokak street

Even though Bitola and Florina in Greece are very close to each other, there is no direct connection between them. The 30 km journey costs about €50 by taxi [2011]. Greek taxi drivers are not permitted to pick up a return fare in Macedonia. A cheaper (but riskier) option would be to get a Greek taxi to the border, then walk 800m between the border posts, and get a Macedonian taxi from the border.

Note that not all taxi trivers are willing to go from Bitola to Greece (more details under Florina)

By train

By bus

Bus to/from Sofia, Bulgaria: Sofia -> Bitola 20:00->03:00, Bitola -> Sofia 20:00->05:30

Get around

Walking is the best way to get around Bitola as all the sites are in a line one after another: first the old bazaar, then the city square, then Shirok Sokak street, then the city park, and last the ancient city of Heraklea.

By taxi

Average cost €1 - 2.50.

By bus

Cheapest way to get somewhere in Bitola is by bus which costs flat rate of €0.30.

The most useful bus line is #1. Although there are two categories of buses #1, the differences are non important as they both stop at the railway station, near hospital and near the medical high school.

Other bus lines go to suburbs and nearby villages (Brusnicka, Bukovski, Dovledzik, Streliste, Dulie, Orizari, Dihovo, Nizhe Pole, Bistrica).

See

Clock Tower
Catholic Cathedral on Shirok Sokak Street

Do

Jeni Mosque

Events

Buy

Wide Alley (Macedonian: Sirok Sokak) or Marsal Tito is the street where you will find any kind of clothes, books, wines, antique items and jewelry, and decorations for home.

Eat

Bitola also has a good selection of bars, pubs and restaurants with fair prices.

Drink

Try local beers - Skopsko and Zlaten dab (Golden Oak), local brendy called "rakija" (Antika, Antika 5, Bovin). Macedonia is famous for its wines, and you should never leave the country without trying or buying. There are a lot of varietal wines such as Merlot, Pinot Noar, Riesling, but you should try the local ones red wine Vranec and white ones Traminec and Temjanika. Produced in the Republic of Macedonia, the Vranec wine T'ga za Jug is semi-dry and ruby-red in color. It has been described as being similar in taste to the Italian or Californian Barbera. You can have it in Special selection or Limited edition.

Pubs

Night Clubs

Bitola has good night life and offers good parties, except for minors; people under 18 are not permitted to enter the clubs.

Sleep

Learn

Cope

Consulates

Post

Go next

Mt Pelister, a part of the Baba mountain range that overlooks Bitola
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