St. Demetrius and Photos of Bitola’s Turkish Quarter
While Bitola was under Ottoman control, there was a law that new Christian churches could not be built higher than mosques, nor designed with any unnecessary flourishes. So the St. Demetrius was built low to the ground, with an utterly unremarkable facade. No passerby could possibly hold this squat, plain building in higher regard than Bitola’s fabulous mosques. But the law didn’t say anything about the interior of new churches…
Step inside the St. Demetrius, and you’ll forget all about the drab exterior. The hall is cavernous, far bigger than looks possible from the outside, and the towering wooden iconostasis placed in front of the sanctuary is unbelievable in both its scale and intricate detail. The church was impressive enough to earn a starring role in 1997’s The Peacemaker, starring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman.
The Ottomans didn’t exactly encourage Christianity, but they did allow its practice and even permitted the construction of new churches. As though to honor this tolerance by returning the favor, Bitola’s Turkish Quarter has been left intact. This is the city’s most historic neighborhood, defined by quiet, labyrinthine alleys, in which time seems to have stopped since the Turks took their leave.