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Bitola

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Western Macedonia : Bitola
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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 to the Macedonians, since it has 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.

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[4] - City of Hercules upon the Land of the Lynx) is 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 a 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

Even though Bitola and Florina in Greece are very close to each other, there is no direct connection between them. One has to get a taxi, which could cost up to 15-20 Euros.


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

By train

There are couple of trains connecting Bitola and Skopje that stop in Prilep and Veles.

By bus

There are (more or less) a dozen buses between Bitola and Skopje (3 hours) that stop in Prilep and Veles, and a couple of buses connecting Bitola and Ohrid (1.5 hours) that stop in Resen.

bus to/from Sofia, Bulgaria: Sofia -> Bitola 20:00->03:00, Bitola -> Sofia 20:00->05:30 [1]

The bus and train stations are located south of the city centre, near the end of Bitola Park. From the bus station to the clock tower is approx 1.5Km, through the park.

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.

Friendly and helpful Tourist Information Office is on Ulice Sterio Georgiev, just a few metres from the clock tower.

See

  • 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 the most beautiful old bazaar in Macedonia. 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
  • 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.
Catholic Cathedral on Shirok Sokak Street
  • 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 Ataturk 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.
  • Heraklea Heraklea Linkestis was founded by the Macedonian King Phillip II in the middle of the 4th century BC, but most of the monuments that can be seen here are from 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. What the site is famous for 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 on the grounds with a few artifacts and a nice scale model of the city at its peak. Entrance to the museum is included in the ticket for the site.

Do

Events

  • 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.

Buy

Eat

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

  • Grne is recommended, near the clock tower, local specialities.

Drink

Sleep

  • Hotel Epinal, Tel: 389-224-777. This four star hotel is the finest and largest in all of Bitola. It is located near Shirok Sokak Street, and is the tallest building in Bitola.
  • Hotel de Niro - is located in the very heart of Bitola. It contains 6 double, 7 triple and 2 luxury equipped suits. The hotel is 10km from Pelister National Park and 80km from Ohrid. Every room is built in the old spirit and possesses all conveniences.
  • Hotel Tokin House, Marx i Engels 7. Tel: +389 75 447 496 Fax: +389 47 23 23 09, [2]. Very central - just 20m from Shirok Sokak Street, but very quiet. January 2007 prices: single for 25 EUR/night, double for 40 EUR/night, both including breakfast.
  • Chola Guest House, large peach colored building on 80 Stiv Naumov street,across the street from DVD Club "Dju". Very nice rooms with TV and free wifi. 13 EUR/night.Tel:+389 47 224 919; +389 75 522 555; web site: www.chola.mk
  • Villa Diamond, next to Sv Dimitri. Recently modernised. Nice double room with ensuite and breakfast €35 [June 2010]

Learn

  • St. Clement of Ohrid University - is one of four state universities in Macedonia. It is located mainly in Bitola, but has other institutes in Ohrid and Prilep. It was founded on 25 April 1979, but the name St. Clement of Ohrid was not given until late 1994. The current number of enrolled students exceeds 15,000.

Get out

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