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Bitola 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.
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Points of Interest in Bitola
- Old Bazaar – even though it is smaller than the one in Skopje, the bazaar in Bitola is cleaner and much more taken care of, so it is purported to be the most beautiful old bazaar in Macedonia, yet it lacks the hustle and bustle of the bazaar of Skopje, even feeling like a ghost town in parts (maybe the shop owners are on vacation in summer?). It has pleasant small squares with water fountains and many Ottoman monuments in and around it. A large portion of the old bazaar was demolished in the 1950s for the city square to be built. Fortunately the main monuments were left standing.
- Deboj Amam Turkish Bath built in the 17th century.
- Bezisten Built the 16th century, but later reconstructed in neo-baroque style and the city market.
- Jeni Mosque Built in 1558 by Kadi Mahmud Efendi, the diameter of the dome is 19 meters, and the minaret is 39 meters high. This mosque houses the city art gallery.
- Isak Beg Mosque - built in 1508 by judge Isak Celebi Ibni Asa, the diameter of the dome is 26 meters, and the minaret is 45 meters high.
- Clock Tower The clock tower is the pride of the people from Bitola. It was first built in 1664 but got its present appearance in the 19th century, and is 30 meters high.
- The Ajdar Kadi Mosque One of the most attractive monuments of the Islamic architecture in Bitola. It was built in 1561-1562, as the project of the famous architect Sinn Mimar, ordered by the Bitola kadija Ajdar-kadu. The mosque was abandoned and over time, it was heavily damaged, but, the recent restoration and conservation works, have restored, to a certain extent, the original appearance to the mosque.
- Shirok Sokak Street (official name Maršal Tito) A pedestrian street lined with nice colourful romantic and neo-classical buildings. It is divided into three parts and even though the first part has the best preserved buildings it is worth walking all the way to the end. The street is very lively and lined with cafes which are excellent for relaxing and people-watching, especially since the girls from Bitola are known as the most beautiful in Macedonia and they love to parade up and down the street dressed in their Sunday best. In the first section check out the Catholic Cathedral. Shirok Sokak ends with the old barracks, where the military academy where Atatürk studied was situated, and which today serves as the city museum. Opposite it stands the ball hall. Across the street as a continuance of Shirok Sokak the City Park stands, where the old Sokolana (physical education building) for the students of the former military academy is situated. For more nice houses walk in the streets left of Shirok Sokak, especially Duro Dakovik Street and see the building of the Bitola eparchy and visit:
- fountain - at the top end of Shirok Sokak, near the clock tower, there is a "son et lumiere" performance at 9PM.
- St. Bogorodica Church A small basilica church built in 1870. This church is a triple flight church with an octagonal cupola on the west side. Under the west entry (door) there is a magnificent iconostasis made by a master woodcarver from Mijak.
- The Consulates The consulates were probably the most beautiful houses in Bitola, and they are all situated in a half circle around the first section of Shirok Sokak, on the streets Leninova, Kiril and Metoi and 11 Oktomvri. On Leninova Street check out the Russian consulate and the old theological high school. On Kiril and Metodi Street are the British, the Serbian, the French, the Greek and the Austrian consulates (I don’t know where the Italian, the Bulgarian and American consulate stand). Most interesting is the British consulate, which was the first one to be built and is a combination of traditional architecture and neo-classical decorations.
- St. Dimitrie Church, 11 Oktomvri Street. Is the cathedral church of the city and the most beautiful example of the so-called “revival period” churches in Macedonia. Turks didn’t allow building of new churches during their occupation, but as the empire was weakening in the 18th century they started giving permissions for building of churches to keep the population happy. There were many rules to be followed, like the exterior had to be without decorations and the floor of the church had to be at least one metre below the ground so the church wouldn’t dominate the skyline of the city. It was built in 1830, as a three-naved basilica with galleries and five chapels. While they had to keep the exterior modest the interior is lavishly decorated with woodwork. The huge icon screen was made in 1845.
- Along the Dragor River Many nice buildings can be seen on a walk along the quay of Dragor river, including Josip Broz Tito High School and the building of the dean of Bitola University.
- Heraclea (Хераклеа Линкестис) (a comfortable 20-min walk south of the bus station; frequent signs confirm the way). Founded in the middle of the 4th century by Phillip II, the father of Alexander the Great, Heraclea Lyncestis ("the city of Hercules on the land of the lynx"; Lyncestis being an ancient moniker for Upper Macedonia, mountains of which are still home to a number of lynx), this is the only site in the country that is actually associated with the ancient Macedonians, although most of the ruins that can be seen today date back to the Roman and the early Christian period. Only a small portion of the city has been unearthed, including a theatre, two water fountains, a courthouse, baths, the bishop's palace and two basilicas (but, save for the theatre, you'll need a lot of imagination to visualize how these buildings looked like in their heyday, as all that is left are their foundations). What actually worth seeing on the site are the mosaics of the big basilica, made in the 5th century. The floor mosaic in the narthex is the most complete presentation of the world as they understood it back then. In the centre of a rectangular field there is a fountain out of which a grapevine comes (as a symbol of Christ's teachings) and peacocks and deer are gathered around (as symbol of eternal life), meaning if you accept the teaching of Christ you’ll have eternal life. On the left and on the right there are 5 trees rich with fruits with birds flying around (representing the garden of Eden and the afterlife), and a huge red dog called Kerber (Cerberus) is guarding the entrance. Below the trees, animals like deer are presented attacked and eaten by wild animals (presenting the suffering of the Christian soul in the earth life). The field is surrounded by water with medallions in which 28 water animals are presented. The mosaic has been made with little stones in 27 different colours (the only “richer” mosaic is found in Pompeii - a wall mosaic made of stones in 32 colours). There is a small museum (no extra fee) on the grounds with very few artifacts (more or less limited to a couple of ancient stone masks) and a nice scale model of the city at its peak. If you are already in Bitola, Heraclea is probably worth a visit, but if you have already been to much better known sites of antiquity around the Mediterranean basin, keep in mind that this place leaves much to be desired—but, hey, where else has such a romantic name? 100 den, photography permit is for 300 den extra. A leisurely stroll around the ruins will take 45–50 minutes at most. Most of the site is unaccessible for wheelchair users.
Popular events in Bitola in the near future
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 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.
- Internation Film Camera Festival - the festival is a member of the ECFF/European Coordination of the film festivals and has precious collaboration with it. The main part of the festival's programme belongs to “CAMERA 300” - Official Competition of Long Feature Films from the most recent European and world production, whose Directors of Photography contend for the Golden, Silver and Bronze "CAMERA 300", awarded by the festival's International Jury.
- Interfest - an international festival of classical music, held 2–12 October every year. In 2006, the festival celebrated its 14th anniversary. The 10-day festival gathers prominent musicians and renowned soloists from all European cultural centres.
- BitFest - a music festival with over 100 events takes place from the 2nd half of June to the end of August
Bitola also has a good selection of bars, pubs and restaurants with fair prices.
- Grne. Is recommended, near the clock tower, local specialties, grill.
- Kus Kus. Salads, French kitchen, local specialties.
- Pita Giro. Best Giro in Bitola.
- Pizza Bure. Has the most tasty pizzas in Bitola.
- Ravenna. Excellent Italian fare, on Shirok Sokak St, below the Catholic Cathedral
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.
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Bitola on Wikivoyage.