Macedonia’s second city, 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-honoured cafe culture.
The many cafes lining the city’s pedestrian main street (the Shirok Sokak) provide endless see-and-be-seen opportunities for Bitola’s fashionable youth. The stately old architecture of Bitola hearkens back to more than a century ago when the town was a center for international diplomats to the Ottoman administration, supplanting Skopje and becoming known far and wide as the “city of the consuls.”
Even today, some of the faded elegance of that bygone time can be seen in the neoclassical facades of downtown buildings and the old gentlemen conversing in Bitola’s flowering park, all decked out in their finest Sunday suits and hats.
A city of 125,000 inhabitants, Bitola has all of the characteristics of modern life: cultural events, professional athletics, hotels and nightlife.
At the same time, its proud and patriotic people are committed to passing on the Macedonian cultural heritage. In addition to the famous Bitola Theater, the city has over 500 traditional songs dedicated to it.
First mentioned in documents dating back to the 4th century B.C.E., the town founded by Philip II of Macedon first bore the name of Heraclea Lyncestis. It was a bustling town during Roman times, and continued to grow until it was destroyed by an earthquake in the year 518 C.E.
Later in the same century, migrating Slavs swept into the Bitola region from the north. The settlement they created is the direct descendent of modern-day Bitola. During Byzantine times Bitola languished somewhat, eclipsed by powerful Ohrid to the west. It was only after the town came under Turkish rule in the 14th century that Bitola recovered its lost regional importance.
During the Ottoman Empire 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.
After the Ottoman Empire became more advanced, Bitola (under the name of Monastir) became a regional administrative center and was nicknamed “city of the consuls,” in reference to the 12 European states that maintained consulates there. Until the outbreak of the First World War and the subsequent division of Macedonia, Bitola’s influence extended southward. It was second in size and importance only to Thessalonica, and served as a diplomatic, commercial and cultural hub for the Macedonians.
Famous for its dazzling mosaics, ancient theatre and Roman baths, Heraclea is the most vividly preserved city from the Ancient Macedonian Empire surviving in the country.
Founded in the 4th century B.C.E. and conquered by the Romans two centuries later, it was built on the Via Egnatia and became one of the key stations on this trading route.
From the 4th-6th centuries C.E. Heraclea also had an Episcopal seat. The first excavations were done before the First World War, but only since then have the full glories of the ancient city been revealed. Beautiful Roman baths, the Episcopal church and baptistery, a Jewish temple, portico and a Roman theater now used for summer concerts and theater shows all survive in excellent condition.
Bitola Has an attitude of being a diplomatic city which is one more prove of its verified values. The glamour of that time is somehow still present in the town. The renovated Wide Street ( Shirok Sokak) has returned back some of the glamour.
The famous kids` art festival called Bitola`s Monmartr is held in the town for 30 years. The streets are too narrow for all the kids that comr every year in May from all around the world. The kids` laugh and temperament are giving life to Bitola and it grows with every new kid`s drawing.
The city authorities did not forget about Manaki brothers, so they established a film festival in the honour of the first film makers at the Balkans. Bitola is also a university center in Macedonia. There are 135 churches and 12 mosque in the town and its surrounding. The cathedral church of St. Dimitrija is one of the most beautiful Christian monuments in Macedonia.
The Jeni Mosque has been built on the base of a church existing long ago and it has been transformed in a museum which works every day.
There is a theater in Bitola and several cinemas.
So, Bitola was up with the changes that happened as the time was passing by. The architecture is strictly urban, not far from the architecture of the cities in Europe at a certain time. The Old Bazaar is the most important prove of the old crafts brought here from all around Europe as a kind of an exchange with other European nations and cultures.
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. Pelister and the previously mentioned Molika pine tree are also its characteristic signs. Pelister is 2.601 m high and it is a great natural resource in Macedonia. The mountain is rich with endemic plants, rare kinds of animals, clear mountain springs, fresh air and a place where people go to feel the untouched nature and some of them go skiing there winter.
The Big and Small Lake, the glacial mountain eyes, as people call these two lakes, make the mountain unique in its existence and the landscapes that can be seen are definitely unforgettable. The bottom of this mountain has many tourists` recreational centers, restaurants, kids camps, small ski centers and many walking paths which make the place suitable for almost everyone.
We advice You to visit Heraklea. The Capitol of the North Macedonian Region of Lynkestidos, situated in the immediate vicinity of present- day Bitola. Heraklea was one of the most important towns in Ancient Macedonia. Its foundation (mid 4 th century B.C. ) is related to Philip II.
The urban image of Heraclea and its development is in the Hellenic, Roman and Early Christian periods. The influence of Roma, Syria and Alexandria are also felt.
In addition to numerous and varied remains which have been discovered so far, today Heraklea is also renowned for its floor mosaics. These mosaics date back from the 4-th century. The motifs on the mosaics are different, vine peacocks, fountain with gushing water, stags, hinds and birds drinking from the spring of life. They all convey the Christian message of inviting the faithful to follow the teachings of Christ, represented symbolically by hunting scenes or representations of the Christian paradise.