Bitola is a city in south-western part of the Republic of Macedonia. It is an important administrative, cultural, industrial, commercial and educational centre. It is located in the southern part of the Pelagonia valley, surrounded by the Baba and Nidže mountains, 15 km north of the Medžitlija-Niki border crossing with Greece. It is an important junction connecting the south of the Adriatic Sea with the Aegean Sea and Central Europe. It is known from the Ottoman period as the city of the consuls, as many European countries had consulates in Bitola. According to some sources Bitola is the second largest town in the country and by others the third.Bitola is also center of the Bitola municipality.
Bitola has had various names during its long and rich history. The present Macedonian name (Bitola) is taken from the old Slavic Obitel "monastery", as known when used under the former official name Manastir (from the Ottoman period). The name of the city in other languages is: Aromanian: Bituli, Greek: (Monastiri), Albanian: Manastiri and Turkish: Manastir, Bulgarian: , Serbian: Bitolj. During Ottoman rule the city was called Monastir and when Serbia gained the city after the First Balkan War (1913), it was renamed to Bitolj.
According to Adrian Room, the present name is derived from the old Slavic word Obitel (monastery), since the city was formerly noted for its monastery. The Slavic Obitel means "monastery" or literally abode. When the meaning of the name was no longer understood, it lost its prefix "o". Hence also the city’s alternative Turkish name Manastir. The name Bitola is mentioned in the Bitola inscription found in 1956 and related to the old city fortress built in 1015. This name was also mentioned in one of the treaties of Tsar Samuil of Bulgaria in 1014. William of Tyre (1139 - 1186) mentioned the town for the first time under the name Butella. In the 12th century, the Arab traveller Idrisi wrote: "It takes two days to travel from Ahrida (Ohrid) to Butili (Bitola) to the east. Butili is a wonderful, nice town".
On the other hand, two 19th century travelleres, Ami Boué and Von Hahn, advanced alternative theories. The former suggested that it derives from the Albanian word vittolja which means dove, on the basis that the place was inhabited by Albanian speaking populations before the Slavs, and that this is connected with the nearby mountain Peristeri, which means pigeon in Greek. The latter prefers to derive it from the Slavonic obitavati, (to inhabit) and considers it a translation of the name Monastir. This later name originated in the monastery of Bukova itself.
The city is dispersed along the banks of the Dragor river at an altitude of 2,019 ft (615 m) above sea level under Baba Mountain. Spreading on an area of 1,798 sq. km. and with a population of 122,173 (1991), Bitola is an important industrial, agricultural, commercial, educational, and cultural center. It represents an important junction that connects the South of the Adriatic Sea with the Aegean Sea and Central Europe.The second Macedonian university is located here. Bitola has one of the oldest and most prestigious theaters in the country.
Traditionally a strong trading center, Bitola is also known as the city of the consuls. At one time during the Ottoman rule, Bitola had consulates from twelve countries. During the same period, there were a number of prestigious schools in the city including a military academy that, among others, was attended by the famous Turkish reformer Kemal Ataturk. Bitola was also the headquarter of many cultural organizations that were established at that time.
Baba Mountain overlooks Bitola from the east. Its magnificent Pelister mountain (2601 m) is a national park with exquisite flora and fauna, and a well-known ski resort.
Many important events in Macedonian and Balkan history took place in Bitola.
THe Bitola area is very rich in monuments from the prehistoric period. Two important ones are Velushka Tumba, and Tumba Bara near the village of Porodin. From the Copper Age there are the settlements of Tumba near the village of Crnobuki, Shuplevec near the village of Suvodol and Visok Rid near the village of Bukri. The Bronze age is represented by the settlements of Tumba near the village of Kanino and the settlement with the same name near the village of Karamani.
There are important metal artefacts from the ancient period, from the necropolis of Crkvishte near the village of Beranci.
The Heraclea Lyncestis mosaicHeraclea Lyncestis is an important Greek settlement founded by Philip II of Macedon in the 4th century BC. It prospered and became one of the major cities in the Roman Balkans, after the Romans finally conquered this part of Macedonia in 148 BC. The famous Roman road Via Egnatia passed through this town. Several monuments from Roman times remain in Heraclea, including a portico, thermae (baths), a horseshoe-shaped theatre and a number of basilicas. One of the most important momuments is the large theatre with 3000 seats.
In the early Christian period (4th to 6th centuries AD) Heraclea was an episcopal centre. Excavations have confirmed that it was an important episcopal residence for a long time. For example, three naves in the Large Basilica are covered with mosaics among the richest of iconographic accomplishment. These well preserved mosaics represent the Christian universe and are masterpieces of early Christian art. The names of bishops from Heraklea are known from the 4th, 5th, and 6th century. The town was sacked by Theodoric in 472 and, despite a large gift to him from the city's bishop, again in 479.
It was restored in the late 5th and early 6th century. In the late 6th century, it was taken over by the Slavs and lost its importance by the end of the century.
Arrival of Slavs
In the 6th and 7th century the region around Bitola experienced a demographic shift as more and more Slavic tribes settled in the area. They also built a defence fortress around the settlement. Bitola 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, Bitola was under the rule of tsar Samuil of Bulgaria. He built a castle in the town, later used by his successor Gavril Radomir. 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 Bulgarian Archbishopric of Ohrid. During the reign of Samuil, the city was an important centre in the Bulgarian state and the seat of the Bitola Bishopric. In many mediaeval sources, especially Western, the name Pelagonia was synonimous with the Bitola Bishopric, and in some of them Bitola 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 conquered Bitola 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 Bitola 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, Bitola 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, Bitola experienced a great boom, having well-established trading links all over the Balkan Peninsula, especially with big economic centers like Constantinople, Thessaloniki, Ragusa and Tarnovo. Caravans of various goods moved to and from Bitola.
From late 14th century to 1912, Bitola was part of the Ottoman Empire. Strong battles took place near the city during the arrival of Turkish forces. Turkish rule was completely established after the death of Prince Marko in 1395. For several centuries, Turks were a majority in this city, while the villages were populated mostly with Macedonian Slavs. Evliya Çelebi says in his Book of Travels that the city had 70 mosques, several coffee-tea rooms, a bazaar (market) with iron gates and 900 shops. Bitola (then Monastir) become a sanjak centre in the Rumeli eyalet (Ottoman province). After the Expulsion of 1492, Spanish-speaking Jews arrived in waves from the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal), harassed and persecuted by the Inquisition.
After the Austr-Ottoman wars, together with the other Macedonian cities, the trade development and the overall thriving of the city was stifled. But in late 19th century, it again it became the second-biggest city in Macedonia after Salonica, and the main trade centre. The shops were filled with goods from Leipzig, Paris, Vienna, London and many of other European cities. The city is also known as "city of consuls", because 12 diplomatic consuls resided here during the period 1878–1913.
In 1864, Monastir became the center of a eyalet which included the towns of Monastir, Debar, Kicevo, Prilep, Elbasan, Korcha, Florina, Kastoria and Grevena. There is opposing ethnographic data from that period. According to the 1911 Ottoman census, Greeks were the largest Christian population in the vilayet, with 740,000 Greeks, 517,000 Bulgarians and 1,061,000 Muslims in the vilayets of Selanik (Thessaloniki) and Manastir. But the Ottoman register of Bedel-I Askeriye Tax of 1873 says the Monastir vilayet had about 150 000 Bulgarian men, 40 000 Muslim and only 700 Greek. Ottoman population data from 1901 counts 566 000 Slavs, 363 000 Turks and 260 000 Greeks in the Thessaloniki and Monastir vilayets.
In 1894, Bitola was connected with Thessaloniki by train. The first motion picture made in the Balkans was recorded by the Aromanian Manakis brothers in Bitola in 1903. In their honor, the annual Manaki Brothers International Film Camera Festival is held in Bitola. The Monastir congress of 1908 which defined the modern Albanian alphabet was held in Bitola.
Bitola region was a stronghold of the Ilinden Uprising, one of the brightest moments in the struggle for an independent Macedonian state. The uprising was started as decided in 1903 in Thessaloniki by the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (SMARO). Goce Delchev opposed the timing of the uprising, saying that the people were not ready. He was killed on 4 May 1903 near Banitza village (today in Greece). The uprising in Bitola region was planned in Smilevo village in May 1903. The battles were fought in the villages of Bistrica, Rakovo, Buf, Skocivir, Paralovo, Brod, Novaci, Smilevo, Gjavato, Capari and others. Smilevo was defended by 600 rebels led by Dame Gruev and Georgi Sugarev, but when they were defeated, villages were burned.
In 1912, Montenegro, Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece fought the Ottomans in the First Balkan War. According to the Treaty of Bucharest, 1913, the region of Macedonia was divided in 3 parts among Greeks, Serbs and Bulgarians. Bitola was to be in Bulgaria, according to a pre-war alliance agreement between Bulgaria and Serbia. But on 18 September 1912 the Serbian army entered the city and refused to hand it to Bulgaria. From that moment, the city started to loose its importance and the population started rapidly decreased, emigrating for Bulgaria and the New World.
World War I
During World War I Bitola was on the Thessaloniki front line. In 1915 Bulgarian forces took the city and the Serb forces were forced to either surrender or try a dangerous escape through the Albanian mountains. In 1916, Bitola was occupied by the Allied Powers which entered the city from the South fighting the Bulgarian army. Bitola was divided into French, Russian, Italian and Serbian regions, under the command of French general Sikr. Until Bulgaria's surrender in late autumn 1918, Bitola remained a frontline city and was almost every day bombarded by airplanes and battery and suffered almost total destruction.
Between two world wars
After the end of World War I (1918) Bitola was included in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, later called the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The artificial border with Greece, set just 14 kilometers from the town, produced very bad results on the town's economy and development. The city's decline continued throughout the period, together with the general decline in Serbian Macedonia, which remained one of the poorest regions in Yugoslavia.
World War II
During the World War II (1941-1945), the Germans and later Bulgarians took control of the city. But in September 1944, Bulgaria switched sides in the war and withdrew from Yugoslavia, and Bitola was occupied by Macedonian Pro-Titoist Partisans. On 4th November, the 7th Macedonian Liberation Brigade entered Bitola victoriously. After the end of the war, a Macedonian state was established for the first time in history, within Yugoslavia. This had cost about 25.000 human lives. In 1945, the first Gymnasium "Josip Broz Tito"(high school) using the Macedonian language was opened in Bitola.
The clock tower in BitolaSaat Kula clock tower. It is not known when the clock tower was built. Written sources from the 16th century mention a clock tower, but it is not clear if it is the same one. Some believe it was built at the same time as St. Dimitrija Church, in 1830. Legend says that the Ottoman authorities collected around 60 000 eggs from nearby villages and mixed them in the mortar to make the walls stronger.
The tower has rectangular base and is about 30 meters high. Near the top is a rectangular terrace with an iron fence. On each side of the fence is an iron console construction which holds the lamps for lighting the clock. The clock is on the highes of three levels. The original clock was replaced during World War II with a working one, given by the Nazis because the city had maintained German graves from World War I.
The massive tower is composed of walls, massive spiral stairs, wooden mezzanine constructions, pendentives (triangular pass from square to cupola) and cupola. During the construction of the tower, the façade was simultaneously decorated with simple stone plastic.
St. Dimitrija Church was built in 1830 with voluntary contributions of local merchants and craftsmen. It is plain on the outside, as all churches in the Ottoman Empire had to be, but of rare beauty inside, lavishly decorated with chandelliers, a carved bishop throne and an engraved iconostasis. According to some theories, the iconostasis is a work of the Miyak engravers. Its most impressive feature is the arc above the imperial quarters with modeled figures of Jesus and the apostles.
Other engraved wood items include the bishop’s throne made in the spirit of Miyak engravers, several icon frames and five more-recent pillars shaped like thrones. The frescos originate from two periods: the end of the 20th century, and the end of World War I to the present. The icons and frescos were created thanks to voluntary contributions of local businessmen and citizens. The authors of many of the icons had a vast knowledge of iconography schemes of the New Testament. The icons show a great sense for color, dominated by red, green and ochra shades. The abundance of golden ornaments is noticeable and points to the presence of late-Byzantine artwork and baroque style. The icon of St. Dimitrij is signed with the initials "D. A. Z.", showing that it was made by iconographer Dimitar Andonov the zograph in 1889. There are many other items, including the putiri made by local masters, a darohranilka of Russian origin, and several paintings of scenes from the New Testament, brought from Jerusalem by pilgrims.
The opening scenes of the film "The Peacemaker" were shot in the "St. Dimitrija" church in Bitola, as well as "Welcome to Sarajevo" scenes.
Ajdar-kadi (Turkish judge) mosque is 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 Mimar Sinan, ordered by the Bitola kadija Ajdar-kadi. Over time, it was abandoned and heavily damaged, but recent restoration and conservation has restored to some extent its original appearance.
Jeni mosque is located in the centre of the city. It has a square base, topped with a cupola. Near the mosque is a minaret, 40 m high. Today, the mosque's rooms house permanent and temporary art exhibitions.
Ishak mosque is the inheritance of the famous kadi Ishak Çelebi. In its spacious yard are several tombs, attractive because of the soft, molded shapes of the sarcophagi.
The bazaar (old market) is mentioned in a description of the city from the 16th and the 17th century. The present bezisten does not differ much in appearance from the original one. The bezisten had 86 shops and 4 large iron gates. The shops used to sell textiles, and today sell food products.
Bath Deboj is a Turkish bath (hamam). When it was constructed is not known. It was heavily destroyed, but after repairs it regained its original appearance: beautiful facade, two large cupolas and several minor ones.
Bitola-The National park PelisterBitola is the main economic and industrial center of south-western Macedonia. Many of the largest companies in Macedonia are based here. Bitola has a vast economic potential. The Pelagonija agricultural combine is the largest producer of food in the country. The Streževo water system is the largest in Macedonia and has the best technological facilities. The three thermoelectric power stations of REK Bitola produce nearly 80% of electricity in the state. The Frinko refrigerate factory is a leading electrical and metal company. Bitola also has significant capacity in the textile and food industries.
Bitola is becoming the second diplomatic center of Macedonia. Austria, Slovenia, France, Turkey, Italy, United Kingdom, Russia, Romania, Greece and other countries have opened consulates there.
St. Clement of Ohrid University of Bitola is the second university in the Republic of Macedonia. It was founded in 1979, as a result of dispersed processes that occurred in education in the 1970s, and increasing demand of highly skilled professionals outside the country's capital. Since 1994, it carries the name of the great Slavic educator St. Clement of Ohrid. The university has institutes in Bitola, Ohrid and Prilep, and headquarters in Bitola. With its additions in education and science, it has has established itself, and cooperates with University of St. Cyril and Methodius from Skopje and other universities in the Balkans and Europe. The following institutes and scientific organizations are part of the university:
- Technical Faculty – Bitola
- Economical Faculty – Prilep
- Faculty of Tourism and Leisure management – Ohrid
- Teachers Faculty – Bitola
- Faculty of biotechnological sciences – Bitola
- Medical college – Bitola
- Tobacco institute – Prilep
- Hydro-biological institute – Ohrid
- Slavic cultural institute – Prilep
- The city also has seven high schools and many primary schools.
Manaki Brothers International Film Camera festival
This festival is considered one of the oldest festivals of cinematography in the world. It is organized by organized by the Macedonian Film Professionals Association and sponsored by the government of the Republic of Macedonia, in honour of the Manaki brothers who made the first motion picture on the Balkan Peninsula in 1905.
Heraclea festival is annual summer event around the Heraclea Lyncestis antic amphitheatre. Many international performers have contributed in the festival in the past. Along with music, drama is an increasingly important. Many foreign and domestic artists predsent plays by Shakespeare, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Bertolt Brecht, Moličre and many others.
This is an international festival dedicated mainly to classical music. It also presents modern music, plays, art exhibitions and literature presentations. The festival gathers many international renowned musicians. In 2002, it celebrated its 10th anniversary.
Bitola Cultural Summer
This is an annual event with a long tradition. From 1 July to 10 August, Bitolans and visitors enjoy concerts, plays, ballet performances and many other events.
Monodrama Theatre Festival
Started in October 1999 by Bitola's Cultural Center with Macedonian participation only and had a non-competitive character. Today this festival has gained an international character and takes place in July.
An international festival dedicated to the Ilinden uprising, its main goal is to represent the folklore songs and dances of Macedonia and neighbouring countries. The festival is held each year in the beginning of august and has a tradition of over 30 years. Many folklore ensembles from Macedonia and abroad participate.
This festival of music was created by artists and musicians from Bitola and since then it is organized every year.
Small Bitola’s Monmartre
This is a children's art festival that has won many awards and nominations. Children from all over the world come to express their imagination through art that is later presented in the country and around the world.