Bitola has one of the oldest and most prestigious theaters in the country.
Traditionally a strong trading center, Bitola is also known as the city of the consuls. At one time during the Ottoman rule, Bitola had consulates from twelve countries. During the same period, there were a number of prestigious schools in the city, including a military academy that, among others, was attended by the famous Turkish reformer Kemal Atatürk. Bitola was also the headquarters of many cultural organizations that were established at that time.
rom 1382 to 1912, Manastır (now Bitola) was part of the Ottoman Empire. Fierce battles took place near the city during the arrival of Turkish forces. Turkish rule was completely established after the death of Prince Marko in 1395. For several centuries, Turks were a majority in this city, while the villages were populated mostly with Slavs. Evliya Çelebi says in his Book of Travels that the city had 70 mosques, several coffee-tea rooms, a bazaar (market) with iron gates and 900 shops. Manastır became a sanjak centre in the Rumeli eyalet (Ottoman province).
After the Austro-Ottoman wars, the trade development and the overall thriving of the city was stifled. But in late 19th century, it again it became the second-biggest city in the wider southern Balkan region after Salonica. The city is also known as "city of consuls", because 12 diplomatic consuls resided here from 1878 to 1913.
In 1864, Manastır became the center of Monastir eyalet which included the sanjaks of Debre, Serfiçe, Elbasan, Manastır (Bitola), Görice and towns of Kırcaova, Pirlepe, Florina, Kesriye and Grevena.
There is opposing ethnographic data from that period, but it appears that no specific ethnic or religious group could claim an absolute majority of the population. According to the 1911 Ottoman census, Greeks were the largest Christian population in the vilayet, with 740,000 Greeks, 517,000 Bulgarians and 1,061,000 Muslims in the vilayets of Selanik (Thessaloniki) and Manastır. However, it should be noted that the basis of the Ottoman censuses was the millet system. People were assigned an ethnicity according to their religion. So all Sunni Muslims were categorised as Turks and all members of the Greek Orthodox church as Greeks, although their numbers included a vast majority of Aromanians and some Macedonian Slavs. The rest were divided between Bulgarian and Serb Orthodox churches. (Also see "Jewish community" below.) But the Ottoman register of Bedel-I Askeriye Tax of 1873 says the Manastır vilayet had about 150,000 Bulgarian men (heads of households), 40,000 Muslim and only 700 Greek. Ottoman population data from 1901 counts 566,000 Slavs, 363,000 Turks and 260,000 Greeks in the Thessaloniki and Manastır vilayets.
In 1894, Manastır was connected with Selanik by train. The first motion picture made in the Balkans was recorded by the Aromanian Manakis brothers in Manastır in 1903. In their honour, the annual Manaki Brothers International Film Camera Festival is held in modern Bitola. The Manastır congress of 1908 which defined the modern Albanian alphabet was held in the city.
The Bitola region was a stronghold of the Ilinden Uprising. The uprising was started as decided in 1903 in Thessaloniki by the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO). Gotse Delchev opposed the timing of the uprising, saying that the people were not ready. He was killed on 4 May 1903 near Banitza village (today in Greece). The uprising in the Bitola region was planned in Smilevo village in May 1903. The battles were fought in the villages of Bistrica, Rakovo, Buf, Skocivir, Paralovo, Brod, Novaci, Smilevo, Gjavato, Capari and others. Smilevo was defended by 600 rebels led by Dame Gruev and Georgi Sugarev, but when they were defeated, villages were burned.