Guide to SKOPJE

Feel the pulse of Sirok Sokak

There are at least a hundred reasons why you should visit Bitola and a hundred more that will make you come back again. All the peoples and tribes that passed through the Balkans left something here: a brother, a child, an ornament or a custom, and the city was always ready to accept and incorporate them in its ambiance. Walk down the winding narrow streets, hear the noises of the old bazaar and feel the pulse of Sirok Sokak. If the loud strikes of the clock tower bring you back to reality then Heraclea Lyncestis will take you back in history.

Bitola’s old bazaar was the heart of the city, a place where things were created and sold, where you could hear the beating of hammers, sound of machines and be blinded by glittering silver filigree in shop windows. Nowadays the iron doors are still here but they do not guard craft shops, but some new modern stores. Only a few craftsmen stand the test of time: a bell foundry, hat makers, blacksmiths, broom makers, candle makers, lokum makers and chickpeas sellers.

On your way to Sirok Sokak (broad alley) the first thing that catches the eye is the imposing Jeni Mosque. Deep in its foundations lies a church and high in the sky it is a mosque. It was built in 1558 and is one of the most impressive and valuable constructions in Bitola. In these five hundred years it has absorbed thousands of prayers, both Christian and Muslim. Inside the building, under the foundation of the mosque, there are remains of three Christian churches. Now it is a modern art gallery.

Saint Demetrius church is only 50 metres from the mosque. On the outside it looks like a simple stone structure and, although, it was meant to be a tall building, Turkish laws did not allow it. The only solution was to dig into the ground to build a tall building so as not to break the law. It was built in 4 months with contributions from citizens of Bitola. It seems simple on the outside but you will become aware of its true value once you step inside. Admittance ticket for foreign tourists costs 50 denars.

Saat Kula (clock tower) is the landmark that defines Bitola. It is 33 metres tall, dominating the surrounding area with its height and resounding strikes on the hour. There is no documentation concerning this building but legend says it was built during Turkish rule and 60.000 eggs, collected from households from and around Bitola, were used to build it.

Sirok Sokak (broad alley) is the most famous street and pride of Bitola. It begins at the clock tower and it is the longest pedestrian area in the Balkans. Its old town architecture is fascinating and almost all twelve foreign consulates are situated here. A visit to the cafés is a must do.

At the end of Sirok Sokak an impressive building meets the visitors. It houses the Institute for preservation of monuments of culture and Museum Bitola, but it is known as the old military barracks among locals. It was built in 1848 as a Military School – Idadija. In 1900 it grew into a Military Academy – Harabie, where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, received his education. In his honour there is an Ataturk Memorial Room in the museum. Museum Bitola is a treasure house for the most valuable cultural and historical items from the region. There is a permanent exhibition of thousands of items, a City Room, and a large number of various exhibitions that make visitors feel the spirit of past times. Institute and Museum Bitola is open every day from 8.00 – 16.00 hrs. Admittance ticket for domestic visitors is 50 denars and for foreign tourists it costs 100 denars.

A mystic, luxurious ancient pearl is how archeologists refer to the ancient town of Heraklea Lyncestis. It was founded by Philip II of Macedonia in the IV century BC. Each object, each stone or pedestal is shrouded in mystery. There are alternating buildings from Hellenic and Roman times, columns and mosaics. It is open for visitors from November till March from 9.00-16.00 hrs. Admittance ticket for domestic visitors is 50 denars and for foreign tourists it costs 100 denars.

The story about Bitola and its region does not end here. If you are tired from the city noise now is the right time to visit some of the stone villages under Pelister, see a monastery, ride a bike in the pinewood forest, get drunk by fresh Pelister air or enjoy clear Pelister water. You can finish this story on your own, the way you like it…

Emilija Misirlievska

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