Bitola

Bitola is a great ancient town in the south of the large fertile Pelagonija lowland, in southwestern Macedonia, some 14 km from the border between Greece and Macedonia, which represents an important junction between the Adriatic Sea, the Aegean Sea and the Central Europe. Bitola was called Monastir or Manastir in the past. Bitola is known as the town of consuls, since there were seven consulates in Bitola, as well as the important site on the Via Egnatia, the former Roman trading route that connected Thessaloniki with the Adriatic Sea.

Bitola has been established during the reign of the Macedonian King Samuil, since when it bears the name derived from the Slavic word “obitelj” /family/ thanks to the large number of churches and monasteries. In the 10th century, Bitola was under the rule of the Bulgarian Tsar Samuil, but the Byzantine emperor Basil II recaptured Monastir (Bitola) in 1015. The town is mentioned as an episcopal centre in 1019 in the record issued by Emperor 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 the 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 it became part of Serbia in the first half of the 14th century, after the conquests of Stefan Dušan.

From 1382 to 1912, Manastir was part of the Ottoman Empire. Fierce battles took place near the city during the arrival of Turkish forces. During the Ottoman rule the city of Bitola was the last capital of the Ottoman Rumelia. During the Ottoman era Bitola was the trade and administrative center with developed trade of wool, wheat, wax and leather. After the conquest of Macedonia by the Turks the native Serbian population went over to Mohammedanism to save their possessions, and their descendants are now followers of the Prophet. During the Balkan War, According to the Treaty of Bucharest in 1913, the region of Macedonia was divided in 3 parts among Greeks, Serbs and Bulgarians. Bitola was to be in Bulgaria, according to a prewar alliance agreement between Bulgaria and Serbia, but the Serbian army entered the city and refused to hand it to Bulgaria. During the First War World, Bitola was divided into French, Russian, Italian and Serbian regions, under the command of the French general Maurice Sarrail. Until Bulgaria’s surrender in late autumn 1918, Bitola remained a front line city and was almost every day bombarded by airplanes and battery and suffered almost total destruction.

During the First WW Bitola was under the authority of the Central Powers and the Allied Powers. From autumn 1915 to autumn 1918 in the city passed numerous different armies (Bulgarian, German, French, Serbian, Russian, Italian), which were not always friendly behaved to the civilians. There was a lot of complaint about pillaging of property, especially in a time when there was no military action. Characteristic of the whole period of the war was the lack of basic foodstuffs, like flour, salt, petroleum, rice and so on. Bitola was turned into one of the largest medical military centers for the Serbian Army. The town of Bitola served as rescue of wounded Serbian solders, and from the middle of September to the end of December 1914 there arrived 4116 wounded soldiers, of which the largest number /3316/ arrived via Thessaloniki, while the rest arrived from Nis and Skopje. All the Serb solders were received in the Military hospital, and in its departments in the town. On the Serb Military graveyard in Bitola, near the Heraclea site, there are 1321 crosses of the killed solders from Serbia during the First Balkan War and the First World War. The small metal crosses feature tricolors without any name of the fallen solder, but only a number….

The Thessaloniki Front /Macedonia Front/ broke-through in 15 September 1918. Bulgaria capitulated on 29th September 1918, while the Ottoman Empire capitulated on 30th October 1918. The Austria-Hungary Empire capitulated on 31st October 1918, and Germany capitulated on 11 December 1918. After the Kajmakchalan Battle, on the 19th of November 1916 the Serbian army liberated Bitola from Bulgarians, which was the first part of the Serbian lands liberated in the First WW. The Serbian Army was transferred in spring 1916 to the Thessaloniki Front which spread in several hundred kilometers, after it recovered from the Albania Golgotha on the Corfu island. Already in 1916 the Serb Army conquered the Kajmakchalan peak on the Nidze Mountain during the fierce battles face in face and large casualties in fights with Bulgarians. The real end of the First WW was on 28th June 1919, when the Versailles Peace Treaty was signed. After the military catastrophe in the First WW, the Austria-Hungary Empire was disbanded, and on its territory several successor states were created: Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, and Poland, and some its parts were added to Italy and Romania.

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. During 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 freed by Macedonian pro-Titoist Partisans. On 4 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 modern history, within Yugoslavia.

Bitola is still rich in the numerous cultural monuments and various marks of its rich historical and cultural inheritance. The city of Bitola was known as “the City of Consuls” on account of the 12 diplomatic consuls who resided here from the time of the Berlin Congress of 1878 to 1913. When the Balkan wars terminated the Ottoman Empire and Bitola became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, later constituent Republic of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia. The old part of Bitola features well preserved architecture and bazaar-market and turn-of-the-century importance as a center for diplomacy within the Ottoman Empire – while also exemplifies the country’s time-honored cafe culture. The main street of Bitola – Shirok Sokak dominates with its specific individualism, charm and beauty, featuring monumental urban folklore buildings, and colorful oriental and western European architecture, that is the most popular meeting point of both locals and visitors. Bitola and its surrounding are very rich in cultural and historical monuments that testify on the rich cultural and spiritual activity : The Clock Tower, Bezistan /covered oriental market/, Isak Chelebi Mosque, Ieni Mosque /present day Art Gallery/, Jewish Synagogue, the Church of “St. Dimitria”, the Old Bazaar – Stara carsija, the Prison-tower, St. Bogorodica Church… as well as delicious Turkish sweets – lokum, produced under the traditional recipes and techniques…. Bitola is nicknamed “city of consuls” due to numerous colorful foreign consulates and is the second largest city in Macedonia with population of about 100000 inhabitants.

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