By Christopher Deliso
Bitola, Macedonia’s lively southern second city, is bursting with cafés and bars, most centered around its central pedestrian thoroughfare, the Sirok Sokak, lined with neoclassical buildings and foreign flags hearkening back to Bitola’s heyday as the ‘city of consuls’ in the Ottoman Empire.
Today, however, most of the town’s cafés are more or less the same, modern and slick, trendy but with little spirit. Nevertheless, a few stand out, such as the three-year-old Café-Gallery Van, nestled in
The building that now houses the Café-Gallery Van was in
Vladimir Altiparmak seeks “to bring back the spirit and tradition of old
However the building was in such a bad state that
When the determined renovator got down to work, however, he found that he was fighting not only a decrepit house, but also nature itself- oddly enough, when Vladimir went to cut through a wall, he found a thriving tree growing right up through the center of it. “The wall was pregnant,” he laughs. A photo now hangs on the wall nearby, attesting to the discovery.
Along with such photos of ten years worth of renovations, the café’s décor also includes very old family photos, paintings, church icons and other assorted displays set around an appealing interior of Byzantine brickwork, small bar and cozy tables, with a view of the shopping street of the old bazaar right outside. It’s a relaxing place, perfect for a mid-morning coffee and conversation, and is also used for occasional performances and events.
Visiting the café and speaking with Vladimir, whose family roots are from the Bitola and Krusevo areas of southern Macedonia, also brings up some unusual details from Macedonian history; his great-uncle, Teohar Neshkov, briefly became ‘minister of finance’ in the short-lived Krusevo Republic, the outcome of the 1903 revolt against the Ottomans. However, after less than two weeks Krusevo was overrun, the republic was destroyed, “and [Teohar] was cooked in an oven by the Turks,” laments
However, it’s up to the owners of individual properties to make progress, as the city still does not have any plan for renovating with preservation of the old style in mind. And so, for now anyway, Café-Gallery Van stands out as the one place in the neighbourhood with a touch of singularity and culture. Nevertheless, the simple fact of its existence serves as an example of what the area, and
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Ulitsa Dalmatinska 29, Old Bazaar, Bitola