The oldest remnants of human life in the Pelagonia valley date back to the Neolithic period, with the oldest representative of the Velushina-Porod culture dating back to the late Neolithic.
The numerous material discoveries from the archaeological sites (Velushina, Porodin, Beranci) show cultural layers of the Eneolithic, Bronze and Iron Age periods, while findings from the ancient city Heraclea Lyncestis (erected by Philip II in 349 BC), create a continuity of life to the Macedonian-Hellenistic and Roman periods.
After a millennium of existence, in the 6th century A.D. the life in the ancient Macedonian city of Heraclea ceased. It was the time of mass settlement of the Slavic tribes on the Macedonian territory.
In the immediate vicinity of Heraclea settled the Macedonian-Slavic tribe “Berziti”, or “Brsjacs”, who began to create a new Slavic settlement, which the foreigners variously called, such as: Butela, Butelion while the local Slavic population named it Bitolj (Битољ), which later was transformed into today’s modern name – Bitola.
During the reign of Tsar Samuil (Цар Самуил), his son Gavril Radomir and nephew Jovan Vladislav, there was a royal residence in Bitola. In a military campaign, the Byzantine emperor Basil II ordered that it would be set on fire, but the city was not taken.
Bitola, like other medieval towns, had its fortress to protect the population from military attacks. The fort was severely damaged. In 1015 the Emperor Gavril Radomir was assassinated by his cousin Emperor Jovan Vladislav, who was proclaimed emperor and in 1015/16 ordered the rebuilding of the city’s fortress.
On this occasion, a prominent marble slab with a Slavic text was placed at the entrance of the fortress, where the city with its Slavic name was mentioned for the first time. It says that he erected a town here called Obitel, which means a monastery or family of monks. This plaque was found in Solak – Singur Caus Mosque, and today is exibited in the Bitola Museum.
After the brief reign of Emperor Jovan Vladislav, Bitola and the whole empire fell under Byzantine rule. In 1019 Bitola is mentioned as the seat of a bishop who was under the church administration of the Ohrid bishopric mentioned in the work of Jovan Skilica “The Brief History” and the famous “Gramota” of Emperor Basil II, where Bitola is represented as an important Slavic city.
In the 12th century, William of Tyre (Latin: Willelmus Tyrensis) as part of the First Crusade, mentions Bitola as a large and beautiful city. In the middle of the 13th century, the Arab traveler Idrizi gives similar information in his work “Geography”, writing that Bitola is an important and beautiful city with a beautiful location.
Theophylact of Ohrid (Теофилакт Охридски) during the first half of the 14th century, described Bitola as a developed settlement with a feudal system, and developed trade with the cities Dubrovnik, Venice, Thessaloniki and Constantinople.
In the Middle Ages, Bitola also served as a Christian center for the Pelagonija region and beyond.
With the Turkish Ottoman invasion of the Balkan Peninsula, Bitola fell under Ottoman rule in 1382/3.
A 17th century Turkish chronicler noted in his work “Amazing Events”:
“… while the Prilep Fortress was conquered peacefully, the one in Bitola was conquered by force …“
During the conquest of the city of Bitola the Turks met with great resistance by the local population, but after several days the city was conquered by the army led by Timurtash Bey.
After the occupation of the city, the Bitola Fortress was destroyed to the ground. With a special decree from the Sultan Murat I the city was handed over to the management of Evronos Bey. In this period, Turkish documents mention Bitola under the names of Manastir (Monastery), Toli Manastir, Toli, Manastir and Monastir.
Due to its important geographical position, Bitola has become an important military-political and administrative-cultural center in this part of the Balkans.
In the period that followed the city was experiencing major ethnic changes, the Turkish population became the predominant population for which religious institutions were built – mosques, religious schools (medreses), bezistens, tekkes, inns, hammams, sarai (lavish houses). etc.
In the XV century, in Bitola settled the Jewish population expelled from Spain and Portugal, and in the XVIII century, Vlach population came, which was forced to flee in front of Ali Pasha from Janina, an oppressor who burned down the great and prosperous city Moskopole in 1778.
This growth of the city enabled Bitola, after Thessaloniki, to become the most important economic and cultural center of Macedonia. The Ottoman government, through its distinctive Timar-Spahi system of government, burdened the peasant population. There were also numerous gangs of bandits who relentlessly terrorized the inhabitants of the Bitola villages.
As a result, the villagers fled and settled the city. With the displacement of the peasants in Bitola, which began in the 17th century, the city of Bitola will again become a predominantly ethnic Macedonian city. The Albanians also gradually settled Bitola.
In addition to the wealthy Turks, Vlachs, and Jews, there were also wealthy Macedonians with ties to Trieste, Vienna, Leipzig, Constantinople, as well as to the states of Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and others. These traders had their own magazines and warehouses in the Bitola Bazaars.
In the city special bazaars were established, where all kinds of goods were sold, such as Pekmez-bazaar, Lenski, Sheep-bazaar, Wood-bazaar, At (horse)-bazaar and others. It was similar with the neighborhoods which received the names: Bair-neighborhood, Bela-Cesma, Cifte-Furni, Arnaut, Gypsy, Jewish, Yeni-neighborhood and others. During the market days in the bazaar, many different languages were heard such as Macedonian, Vlach, Ladino (Hebrew), Turkish and others. Most of the population spoke two or three languages.
During this time, the Venetian envoy Lorenzo Bernardo left wonderful data on the city. He writes:
… Monasterio is a very populated place … As they say, there are 1,500 houses of which 200 are Jewish … there is no fortress … there is a seat of judges and judicial authorities, its abundant in grain and trading in wool, wax, skins … Abundant with water and fountains … it Has free-standing, beautiful mosques, caravan …“.
During this period, the citizens of Bitola, for their own needs, for all occasions, copied Western European fashion, clothing, contacts, manners, and also copied the exterior shine through architecture, bringing a new western-style lifestyle to the city. Then the number of inhabitants in Bitola increased significantly.
Thus, from a city of about 8,000 in 1807 to 46,000 in 1858, it was among the most developed cities not only in Macedonia but in the Balkans.
Since the 50’s of the 19th century Bitola as a center for European Turkey has aroused the interest of many Balkan and European countries to open their own consular offices and agencies. This has led Bitola to become an important military-economic – political and cultural center, to develop trade links with Europe, and to orient itself from an oriental into a European city, in architecture, lifestyle, behavior, clothing, and so on. This is the period when Bitola got the epithets “City of consuls”, “city of pianos“, etc.
In November 1851 Austria was the first to open its consulate, and later diplomats were sent from Russia, Greece, Serbia, Italy, Romania, the United Kingdom, France, so that for nine decades of the consular period, Bitola had more than a hundred consuls.
Bitola abounds in old architecture, dating back to the period of Romanticism, Neo-Renaissance and Neo-Baroque. Some of the monumental buildings are protected by law, such as Bezisten, Isak Mosque, Hajdar-kadi Mosque, Clock Tower, House of Army (Oficerski), Catholic Church, St. Dimitrij church, Holy Sunday and St. Mary, former Ottoman Bank, etc.
At the beginning of the XIX century (1835) Bitola became the center of Rumelian vilayet. It is a time when the military facilities such as the Red and White Barracks were built for the numerous military-administrative apparatus, and the military school that later became a military academy. In 1897, the famous Turkish statesman, the first Turkish president and father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal was enlisted into the school.
During the Ilinden Uprising, the Bitola Revolutionary District was mainly a support for the tumultuous events of the Ilinden epic. In 1908 Bitola is again the main stronghold of the revolutionary events of the Young Turkish Revolution.
During the Balkan Wars (1912 – 1913) Bitola was mainly a Turkish stronghold. After the defeat of the Turks and their expulsion, Macedonia was divided between Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece, which represents the most tragic moment in the history of the Macedonian people and for the city of Bitola within the Serbian kingdom.
For Bitola city and the surrounding region and their socio-economic development, the artificial border between Serbia and Greece had a catastrophic significance. This caused Bitola to lose its importance of the central economic, cultural and political center it had, during the Ottoman rule.
The deterioration of the international position and the outbreak of the First World War contributed to Bulgaria as a member of the Central Powers, to attack Serbia and to invade Macedonia. On 21.11.1915. the Bulgarian armies entered Bitola, the Serbian army was expelled. The Bulgarian army held Bitola until 18.11.1916, when Entante armies entered the city.
During the autumn 1916, the Allied forces (France, England, Italy, Russia and Serbia) invaded and reoccupied Bitola, while the Central Forces, withdraw along the western and northern heights of Baba Mountain – Pelister. For nearly two years, until the fall of 1918, the population of Bitola and its surroundings were held hostage between the two armies, resulting in massive destruction and a large number of military and civilian casualties.
For the suffering during the war, the city of Bitola was proclaimed a Hero City. This recognition was granted by the Marshal Louis Franchet d’Espèrey on September 15, 1923.
Bitola was part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in the period between the two world wars. The people again remained nationally disadvantaged, economically severely exploited and subject to assimilation and discrimination. After the capitulation of the Yugoslav army in April 1941, Bitola fell under a fascist occupation.
The Serbian occupation was replaced by the German-Bulgarian occupation. Just three days after the fascist occupation of Macedonia, at its session on 11.04.1941, the Local Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, led by Stevan Naumov-Stiv, decided to begin preparations for national liberation.
In April 1942 the first casualties in the armed struggle against the fascist occupiers fell. In March 1943, the fascist occupier deported over 3,000 Jews from Bitola to the Treblinka death camp in Poland.
On 04.11.1944 the city of Bitola was liberated, the citizens of Bitola welcomed their liberators that morning – the 7th Bitola Brigade and the Lerin-Kostur Brigade. After the end of the war, a Macedonian state was established for the first time in history, within Yugoslavia.
On February 6, 1945, the gymnasium “Josip Broz – Tito” was opened in Bitola, where for the first time in Macedonia begun teaching on Macedonian language.
Since 1991, after the constitution of Macedonia as an independent and sovereign state, Bitola city marked the beginning of a new phase of its development. The city has regained its luster, acquired the features of a modern European city, with numerous consular offices and has become a regional administrative center of the wider area in many aspects of social life.
Text: Municipality of Bitola website