city in North Macedonia
Europe > Balkans > North Macedonia > Western North Macedonia > Bitola

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 North Macedonia, with a population of over 70,000 in the city proper and nearly 100,000 in the larger Bitola Municipality. Near the border with Greece, it straddles the Dragor River at the foot of Baba Mountain in Pelister National Park.
Neo-classical buildings in Bitola
Bitola is quite nice, and it is favourite city for the Macedonians, since it has the 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 fashion 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.
The friendly and helpful Tourist Information Office is on Ulice Sterio Georgiev, just a few metres from the clock tower (though it has at times been closed). There is a tourist map billboard on the city square (at the river end of Shirok Sokak), but this appears to be the only tourist information in the city out-of-season (October 2011).
There are important metal artifacts from the ancient period, from the necropolis of Crkvishte near the village of Beranci. As Heraclea Lyncestis (Greek: Ηράκλεια Λυγκηστίς - City of Hercules upon the Land of the Lynx), it was 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 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.
Širok Sokak street
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 century 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 century, 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 an 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 North Macedonia, Bitola lost its importance to Skopje, which was named the capital of the province.
Get in
Map of Bitola
Even though Bitola and Florina in Greece are very close to each other, there is no direct connection between them. The 30 km journey costs about €50 by taxi (2011). Greek taxi drivers are not permitted to pick up a return fare in North Macedonia. A cheaper (but riskier) option would be to get a Greek taxi to the border, then walk 800 m between the border posts, and get a Macedonian taxi from the border. A taxi from Florina train station to the border is about €20, though could be bargained down to €15 (2017). Walking across the border on foot is no problem (2017).
Some taxi drivers are not willing to go from Bitola to Greece (more details under Florina).
By train
Train Station (south of the city centre, near the end of Bitola Park). There are couple of trains connecting Bitola and Skopje that stop in Prilep and Veles
By bus
Bus Station, Nikola Tesla (1.5 km south of the city centre, near the end of Bitola Park). There are 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 [dead link] to/from Sofia, Bulgaria: Sofia -> Bitola 20:00->03:00, Bitola -> Sofia 20:00->05:30
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.
By taxi
Average cost €1-2.50.
By bus
Cheapest way to get somewhere in Bitola is by bus which costs flat rate of €0.30.
The most useful bus line is #1. Although there are two categories of buses #1, the differences are non important as they both stop at the railway station, near hospital and near the medical high school.
Other bus lines go to suburbs and nearby villages (Brusnicka, Bukovski, Dovledzik, Streliste, Dulie, Orizari, Dihovo, Nizhe Pole, Bistrica).
Head of the Clock Tower and the Yeni Mosque minaret
Magnolia Square
Cathedral of the Sacred Heart on Širok Sokak
Bitola has been a major city in this region for most of its history, evidenced by ancient Macedonian and Roman ruins, a significant bazaar and other Ottoman monuments, multiple military cemeteries, a dozen consulates, and important churches. The city is known for having perhaps the most neoclassical architecture in North Macedonia, giving it a more European feel than elsewhere in the country.
Church of St Demetrius
Overview of Heraclea Lyncestis, with the portico and theatre in the distance
Heraclea Lyncestis (Хераклеа Линкестис), ☏ +389 47 235 329. Founded in the middle of the 4th century by Phillip II, father of Alexander the Great, Heraclea Lyncestis ("the city of Hercules on the land of the lynx"; Lyncestis being an ancient moniker for Upper Macedonia, mountains of which are still home to a number of lynx) is one of North Macedonia's most important archaeological sites. While it was founded by ancient Macedonians, most of the ruins that can be seen today date back to the Roman and early Christian periods. Only a relatively small portion of the city has been unearthed including a theatre, two water fountains, a courthouse, baths, a portico, the bishop's palace and two basilicas. One of the more significant features at the site 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 it was understood 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 Earthen 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 (no extra fee) on the grounds with a few artifacts (more or less limited to a couple of ancient stone masks) and a nice scale model of the city at its peak. A leisurely stroll around the ruins will take 45–50 minutes.100 den, photography permit is for 300 den extra. (updated Oct 2017)
A typical street of the Old Bazaar, on a Sunday
Gazi Haydar Kadi Mosque
Old Bazaar
Old Bazaar (Стара чаршија). Bitola's old bazaar is the city's historic commercial centre. It is situated north of the Dragor River, opposite the clock tower and Magnolia Square. In its narrow streets, it is home to examples of traditional Turkish architecture including important religious and cultural buildings. Bitola achieved its peak importance during Ottoman rule and had a large bazaar. While the size of the bazaar has declined over the years, it remains an active centre of commerce and life in Bitola. (updated Oct 2017)
French Military Cemetery
As a city with a great deal of history, Bitola is home to multiple cemeteries containing the final resting places of individuals from different religious communities or military groups.
Further afield
The Church of the Holy Transfiguration in Gopeš
The Church of St Peter sits atop the peak of Kajmakčalan
In addition to the City of Bitola, the Municipality of Bitola contains 65 villages. Malovište and Nižepole are two historic primarily Vlach villages on the slopes of Baba Mountain notable for their traditional village architecture. Kažani is another historic village and a recreational gateway to Pelister National Park.
Villages to the northeast of Bitola Municipality fall into Mogila Municipality.
Church of Saint George (Црква „Св. Ѓорѓи“), village of Vašarejca. Situated in the villages northeast of Bitola, within Mogila Municipality, is this church built from 1862 to 1883. Its high quality frescoes completely cover the interior. (updated Jun 2019)
Southeast of Bitola Municipality is Novaci Municipality, a heavily depopulated area. The country's largest thermo-electric plant is located in Novaci. The bulk of its places of interest are found in its share of the Mariovo region. The mountain peak of Kajmakčalan is also located here, as well as the Skočivar Gorge, which begins in the eponymous village and runs northwest to Tikveš.
Wide Alley (Macedonian: Sirok Sokak) or Marshal Tito is the street where you will find any kind of clothes, books, wines, antique items and jewelry, and decorations for home.
Bitola also has a good selection of bars, pubs and restaurants with fair prices.
Try local beers - Skopsko and Zlaten dab (Golden Oak), local brendy called "rakija" (Antika, Antika 5, Bovin). Macedonia is famous for its wines, and you should never leave the country without trying or buying. There are a lot of varietal wines such as Merlot, Pinot Noar, Riesling, but you should try the local ones red wine Vranec and white ones Traminec and Temjanika.
Produced in North Macedonia, the Vranec wine T'ga za Jug is semi-dry and ruby-red in color. It has been described as being similar in taste to the Italian or Californian Barbera. You can have it in Special selection or Limited edition.
Night clubs
Bitola has good night life and offers good parties, except for minors; people under 18 are not permitted to enter the clubs.
St. Clement of Ohrid University is one of four state universities in Macedonia. It is 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. It has more than 15,000 students.
Macedonia Post - Bitola (Next to Bank). Безистен б.б. ,+389 47 212 526 
Go next
Mt Pelister, a part of the Baba mountain range that overlooks Bitola
This city travel guide to Bitola is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.
Last edited on 31 July 2021, at 20:24
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