Bitola and Environs
is the second biggest town in the Republic of Macedonia (100 000 inhabitants).
It is located in the country’s largest valley, the valley of Pelagonia
(Southwestern Macedonia) in the bottom of Baba Mountain (2601 m), 13 km from
the border with Greece. The town is spread along the banks of the Dragor river
at an altitude of 615 m above sea level.
Major roads pass through the town:
- from Albania and Ohrid to both Thessalonica
(Greece) and Southwestern Bulgaria;
- from Skopje and Northern Macedonia to Western
- Eurocorridor 8: Italy– Albania– Macedonia –
Bulgaria – Caucasian countries;
Bitola is an important industrial, agricultural, commercial, educational, and cultural center. It is an important junction that connects the Southern end of the Adriatic Sea with the Aegean Sea and
Central Europe. One of the oldest and most prestigious theaters in the country, a university, and the seat of the Prespa-Pelagonian bishop of Macedonian-Orthodox church are located here.
Traditionally a strong trading center, Bitola is also called the city of the consuls because at the time of the Ottoman rule, Bitola had consulates from twelve countries. Now ten countries have their Consulates General here. 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 Atatürk. Bitola also has the headquarters of many cultural organizations and institutions of almost every Balkan nation.
The peripheral geographic location of Bitola in the post-Ottoman period (after 1913) has reduced the town’s economic role and negatively affected the urban and spatial planning as well as caused a decrease of population.
In the past, the Pelagonia valley was a preferred area
for settlement due to its favorable geographic position and fertile lands. Many
prehistoric sites dating back to the Early Balkan Neolithic (6000 BC) are found
in the Bitola area. Two important ones are Velushka Tumba and Tumba Bara near
the village of Porodin. Philip II of Macedon (the father of Alexander the
Great) founded in the middle of the 4-th century B.C., Heraclea Lyncestis
which remained an important settlement from the Hellenistic period until the
Middle Age. It was named after Heracles, whom Philip II considered his
ancestor. As an important strategic point, it became a prosperous city. Romans
conquered this part of Macedonia in 148 B.C. and destroyed the political power
of the city. But prosperity continued due to the Roman Via Egnatia road which
passed across the city. Several monuments from the Roman times remain in
Heraclea, including a portico, a theatre (for 3,000 people), thermae (baths)
and a number of basilicas. In the Late Antique period Heraclea was an important
episcopal centre. Twice the Ostrogoths led by their king Theodorich in 472 A.D.
and again in 479 A.D. sacked it but it was restored in the late 5-th and the
early 6-th century A.D. Finally the Slavs in the late 6-th century conquered
Pelagonia and Heraclea’s urban history came to the end.
The new medieval town rising near
Heraclea’s ruins was conquered and remained part of the First Bulgarian Empire
from the 9-th to the early 11-th century A.D. when it was given its present
name. Baptizing of the local Slavs after 864 was assisted by St. Clement of
Ohrid and St. Naum of Preslav – now the town’s patrons. Many monasteries and
churches were built in that time . The Byzantine emperor Basil II captured
Bitola in 1015 but the town remained an Episcopal centre. Prior to the Ottoman
conquest in the late 14-th century, Bitola was occupied by Byzantine and the
Bulgarian empires and Serbian kingdoms and principalities. As a military political and cultural center, it played very important role in the life of the medieval society in the region having well-established trading links all over the Balkan Peninsula, especially with big economic centers like Constantinople, Thessalonica, Dubrovnik and Tarnovo. From 1395 to 1912, Bitola was part of the Ottoman Empire - a main trade centre, called in 19-th century "city of consuls", because of the 12 diplomatic consulates residing here in the period 1878–1913. Demographically the town was a picturesque mix of almost all Southern Balkan nations. In 1894 Bitola was connected to Thessalonica by train. The Manaki brothers recorded the first motion picture made in the Balkans here in 1903. In their honour, the annual Manaki Brothers International Film Camera Festival is held in Bitola.
For a period of 15 years after 1903, the Bitola region was a battlefield. First in 1903 the rebels of Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising led by the Internal Macedonian-Odrin Revolutionary Organization (IMORO) fought against Ottoman troops and paramilitary groups. Then in 1912 during the Balkan wars the Serbian army occupied the city and refused to hand it to Bulgaria. Bulgarian forces retrieved it in 1915 during WW I but the area turned into a front line against the Allies. Until 1918 Bitola remained a frontline city and was almost daily bombarded by airplanes and guns and suffered almost total destruction. After the end of WW I (1918) Bitola was included in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, later called the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. After the end of the WW II, Bitola remained part of the Macedonian Republic (established in 1944 within Socialist federation of Yugoslavia, independent after 1991).
Saat Kula (the 16-th century clock
tower), St. Dimitrija Church (1830), Ajdar-kadi mosque (1561-1562), Jeni and
Ishak mosques, the 16-th century Old bazaar, Turkish bath Deboj, Orthodox
bishop’s residence (1901), Shirok sokak (Broadway), buildings of foreign
consulates, the Museum and Gallery arranged in the edifice of the old Ottoman
military academy, Heraclea Lyncestis archaeological reserve, numerous religious
monuments (Christian, Islamic, Jewish) and military graveyards from the WW1.
Porodin Neolithic sites are also located here.
The town offers connections and
services required for a pleasant stay as well as nice shopping areas, crowded
streets with town cafes and attractive opportunities for nightlife and sports.
Baba Mountain overlooks Bitola from the east. Its magnificent part called
Pelister (2601 m) is a national park with exquisite flora and fauna, and a
well-known ski resort.
BHFS Projects in this Region: