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City of BITOLA

In the south west of Macedonia at a height of over 600 metres above sea level, lies a town that is more than 2400 years old. Founded by Philip II of Macedon it was originally named Heraclea Lyncestis, became known as Monastir as part of the Ottoman empire, was nicknamed the city of the consuls after the 12 European states that maintained consulates there until the outbreak of the first world war and the subsequent division of Macedonia, and today it is known as Bitola. Located 169 kilometres from the capital Skopje, 41 kilometres from Prilep, and 66 kilometres from Ohrid, it has over its long history been destroyed by an earthquake, grown to be a major cultural and business centre, destroyed by fire, languished and slipped into irrelevance, and then risen again.

The city was home to numerous churches and monasteries and was originally called Obitel, which is the origin of the name Bitola. Around 1382 the city came under Turkish rule and was a major trading centre for goods from Greece, Albania, and surrounding states. It became an important Islamic religious centre and home to more than 70 mosques.

In the twentieth century Bitola like Macedonia itself was the site of numerous wars, battles and revolutions. The Balkan Wars (1912-1913) saw the division of Macedonia amongst Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece. In the First World War (1914-1918) Bitola became a foothold in the military actions of the Macedonian Front. Bitola, known as a city of beauty, suffered enormous damage and destruction. Between the two world wars, Bitola as a frontier town of the Varder Macedonia, belonging to the kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes suffered economic, political and cultural decline. The Second World War brought its own terrible destruction with the bombardment of 3 November 1940, the genocide of over 3000 Jews in March 1943 and the death and internments of hundreds of its citizens in the fight against the Bulgarian fascists.

But true to its history Bitola rose again and is now a major administrative, economical, and cultural centre with a population of 100,000 people and home to the University of St. Clement of Ohrid, the Bitola Theatre, and Art Gallery.

The Pelagonija agricultural combine, the largest food producer in the country, is located there, as is the Strezevo water system, and three thermoelectric power stations producing nearly 80% of the country’s electricity, as well as a significant leather and textile industry. It is the second most important diplomatic centre in the country with the consulates of France, Turkey, Austria, Slovenia, United Kingdom. Russia, Romania, Greece and Italy located in the city.

Numerous cultural and religious monuments have survived its chequered history including:

The church of St. VMC (Veliko Macenik) Dimitrija, built in 1830 possesses a rare beauty that includes an iconostasis that skilfully represents exquisite elements of flora and fauna.

The Ajdar-kadi (Turkish Judge) mosque is one of the most outstanding representations of Islamic architecture. Built in the sixteenth century and designed by famous architect Sinn Mimar.

The Jeni mosque located in the city centre is adjacent to a 40 metre minaret. Today it is a permanent home to numerous art exhibitions.

The Isak mosque built by the famous kadi Isak Celebi is home to several ancient tombs with beautiful softly moulded sarcophagi.

The Bezisten (the ancient Turkish Market) dates from at least the sixteenth century and today has numerous shops selling a broad range of food products.

The Bitola Bazaar (Carsija) is one of the most interesting bazaars in Macedonia, and is host to many craft workshops and hand made garments.

The Bath Deboj (Turkish Bath) was heavily destroyed but has been renovated and repaired to its original splendour.

The Saat Kula (Clock Tower) was mentioned in the sixteenth century where legend tells of the Turkish authorities collecting 60,000 eggs to mix in with the mortar in order to make the walls stronger and more resistant! It is uncertain however if this is the same tower or a later one built on the same site.

Close to the town are the ruins of original city, Heraclea Lyncestis, which was built on the famous Roman road, the Via Egnatia, which linked Rome with Salonika via southern Italy and Albania.

On the outskirts of the city is Mt. Pelister, a national park rich in natural beauty and home to a well known ski resort and two small lakes known as Pelisterski Oci (Pelister Eyes).

Bitola is a town of exceptional historic significance, its rich and turbulent history parallels the story of Macedonia itself. Its beauty and location, the honesty and decency of its residents, their sense of decency and patriotism, their culture and fashion, their craftsmanship and art, and their fighting spirit have enabled them to renew and rebuild their city as a crucial element in the independent sovereign state of Macedonia.


© 2006  MacedonianLife.com