In the Republic of North Macedonia, there is a city full of history and archeology. In the past, it was very important for the Balkans, especially during the Ottoman Empire. During the Roman age, it was called Heraclea, and a few kilometers out of the downtown you can see the finds of that period. I had the chance to be in Bitola, this its name, a few time and I want to share my experience suggesting you what to see. It is a very interesting destination, like the country.
Bitola is a lovely city with institutional imprinting. I wrote the title of this post thinking about history. Because the city was well known for the presence of more than 100 Consuls. It happened during the Ottoman Empire when the place became the last capital of Ottoman Rumelia. This was from 1836 to 1867. It was the second European city of the empire after Thessaloniki.
Bitola, history, and attractions
This aspect is, of course, a small part of all the history of Bitola, started in the 4th century BC, with the name of Heraclea. So the “City of the Consuls” had a great past and now there are some prehistory objects and monuments to be admired. Despite some witnesses of the different periods, the city was built, destroyed, and rebuilt many times.
Actually going around for the streets it is possible to see many buildings made with European style. There was a covered bazaar, but the fire destroyed it in the 19th century. There is one more new and it is interesting to go there and to visit the shops with a combination of modernity and tradition.
It has also to be mentioned the local park, big, peaceful and full of statues of the most famous people of the area. Mainly they are related to the culture and the art, as poets, writers, painters, and so on. But I have to proceed with some order so I can explain better what I like the most and to suggest to you, my dear readers.
Let’s make a list: Shirok Sokak Street, Heraclea, the Clock Tower, and the local Museum. These are the main places that I visited and I liked, but I will write a few lines also about mosques and the most important churches in the city. In the end, there will be some notes about accommodations and restaurants.
The main street
When I arrived in Bitola I started a walk in front of the theatre. It is a modern building that host also the cultural center where are organized time to time expositions. From the small square, there is the entrance to the carsija, the old part of the town with the traditional shops. Here you can meet most of the local inhabitants. It is the center of Bitola’s life.
Going ahead on Shirok Sokak Street the visitor reaches the park. The pedestrian way is alive day and night. Because locals go to spend their free time, especially families with kids, during the day. In the night young people go to the discotheque located in the park.
Starting the exploration of this beautiful area of Bitola it is easy to notice the elegance of the neo-classical buildings. Most of them were used by Consuls in the past and they are quite well conserved. Today there are shops because it is the shopping street, offices and apartments. As usual downtown, there are a lot of bars and restaurants located on the pedestrian street and few hotels. I guess their number is increasing also because it is one of the cities preferred by tourists.
The Stara Čaršija of Bitola is a great example of how it is possible to restore and preserve the ancient buildings and set. The constructions are of course adapted to modern society’s needs. As well it is for trendy bars and shops. In general, it has to be said that the speed of Macedonia is slower than in western Europe. Even if there are well-prepared people who are working hard to improve the country.
On one side this is positive for the growth of the country. But on the other side, I guess it should be an example, they shouldn’t follow the Western European lifestyle. It’s not good for the community to develop the country too fast and with fewer values. This is only my point of view that has no relation with my travel experience in Bitola.
The Clock Tower
This monument is a landmark for Bitola. It was built in 1830, the same period as the Orthodox Church of St. Demetrius. The Clock Tower is now the way for inhabitants to check the right hour and of course it is an important monument for all visitors. Bitola is a vocation for tourists, maybe because it was considered in the past to be a cosmopolitan city. The tower is located in the center in the northern part of the main street and very close to Magnolia Square. In the same place where most of the local attractions are located.
In the beginning, there were bells. But in 1927 it was decided to substitute the people in charge of ringing the bells with a clock. Thanks to a German mechanism it was possible to ring the bells at different hours and show the people the exact time. In the years the mechanism was restored and improved. Now, since 1970, the Clock Tower is one of the 180 in the world to use that system.
A couple of kilometers far from the actual Bitola it is possible to see the remains of the Greek city of Heraclea Lyncestis, ruled by Romans. The ancient civilizations built the important center and new there are witnesses of the buildings and of the way of life at that time. The site is well kept and the archeologist worked hard to recover many elements. You can see the beautiful mosaics done during the Byzantine period when it was built a big and important basilica, discovered during the II World War.
To mention the basilica is necessary because the city founded by Philip II of Macedon in the IV century BC was chosen as an Episcopal seat. Some of the Heraclea bishops present in the early Christian era were part of synods in Serdica. Religion was a feature of the ancient center, abandoned in VI century AD after a big earthquake and an invasion made by the Slavic population.
Who has a passion for history can not miss the chance to visit the Bitola Museum dedicated to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He was the guy who made Turkey a modern and great country. The main elements are related to the history of the 1920s-1930s. So there are a lot of connections between Macedonia and the Ottoman Empire. Inside there are military finds, but also many ancient objects.
Do not worry, the recent history is just a part, even do very important, of the local museum. In fact, who visits it can explore all the history of the country, since the origins. Jewels, objects of daily life, costumes, and many other things can be found in the permanent and well-curated exposition. Archeology is the feature of some rooms, so I suggest going after a tour in Heraclea. They need to improve the lights to show better the collections, but it is a very good museum.
As I wrote at the beginning of the post in Bitola there are different Orthodox churches and mosques. They were built in different periods. Even if most of them are recent because of the different vicissitudes of the city, destroyed and rebuilt many times. I want to mention Isaak Kadi Mosque because it is one of the oldest religious structures still used in Bitola.
The mosque is entitled to an important Turkish person. He was part of a well-known family that left Anatolia to live in Bitola during the Ottoman Empire. The guy went to study in Istanbul and he got a lot of success, so to celebrate his position in society he decided at the beginning of the 16th century to build the mosque. Now it is considered a cultural monument of Macedonia. It is a few steps from carsija, where there was the old covered bazaar.
Where to eat and sleep
There is a famous and very nice hotel, called Epinal. It is located at the entrance of the main street. But it has a casino and I preferred to choose a more quiet accommodation 150 meters far from it. The Hotel Ambassador is a four-star structure located in a small street close to the theatre. It is quite modern in the setting and also it has contemporary equipment to give to the guests what they need.
The apartments are spacious and they offer a room, a separate lounge, and a very nice bathroom. It is not so big, but the kind of staff is going to assist the guests with every need. They have also a bar where they serve a huge breakfast in Macedonian style. That means to have a big quantity of salty and sweet food.
In the city, there are a lot of traditional restaurants around the center. So the best way is just to follow the instinct and enter the preferred ones. The prices are quite cheap, especially for “Western standards”. If you want anyway an elegant restaurant where to taste delicious local recipes presented in a very innovative way, you can reserve a table at Gradska Kafeana. It is the restaurant of the Hotel Epinal.
Bitola is the perfect Macedonian Consul to welcome the tourists.
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Luggage and house
At the end of the organization of the trip, you have to focus on the suitcase. If you travel light, choose a backpack, but in any case, never forget the cabin luggage. For any accessories you may need, I suggest you visit my Amazon page with a selection of items that I use for my trips. Also, AliExpress has discounted, curious, and helpful objects for travelers.
I also prepared a packing list for you. It is the one I use to avoid mistakes and to not forget things at home. You can personalize it. And if you want to get advice on how to pack to use properly all the space, check out this guide.
Before leaving your home for some days or weeks, you should consider housesitting. Why? Because a trusted person in your house will keep away thieves and she or he will take care of it. A house sitter can collect mail, water flowers, feed pets, clean, and so on.
My last tip
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