"Gateway to Epirus" Ioannina by mikey_e
Ioannina Travel Guide: 167 reviews and 553 photos
When I was planning my trip through Greece, I decided that I wanted to see the real Greece - not cheap trinkets, overpriced tourist restaurants and garish nightclubs playing anything but Greek music, but places where Greek people went about their daily lives without really caring about the foreigners in their midst. That's one of the reasons I decided to come to Epirus (the westernmost region of the Peninsula) and specifically Ioannina. Of course, the other was to take a trip into Albania. Epirus was supposed to be filled with great relics, folk customs and ruins to evoke the visitor's imagination of the various kings and warriors, occupiers and liberators, who overran this part of Greece. It was also supposed to be one of the most beautiful regions in terms of rugged mountainous scenery. In truth, it exceeded my expectations on both accounts. The five hour bus ride from Thessaloniki to Ioannina, though boring for the first two hours, was magnificent on the last three. I'm not sure whether the Via Egnatia (the new one, that is) is a blessing or a curse, as larger and smoother highways may cause visitors to look more to their destination and less at the route.
Ionnanina wasn't really high on the list of places to see for any of the foreigners I met in Thessaloniki or Athens, but the guidebooks still pointed to a wealth of cultural heritage inside the city walls. If anything, I was surprised at the relative importance of Ottoman ruins and obscurity of ancient treasures. Epirus and the English expression "pyrrhic victory", as the great warrior Pyrrhis attacked the Italian peninsula and saved Epirus from foreign domination (thus winning) but his achievement drained his forces and ultimately cost him his life. Despite these grand beginnings, the true beauty of Ioannina was its Ottoman citadel, with the splendid mosques and madrassas, Islamic graveyards, old houses and libraries. This city is so isolated from the rest of Greece that it is hard to believe it was once a thriving tri-cultural centre, not unlike Córdoba, where Islamic, Jewish and Christian influences blended and rivalled one another. The sights impressed me greatly, even though it was 39 degrees in the shade and so hot in the sun that when my shirt finally dried it was encrusted with the salt I had lost through profuse sweating.
What struck me so profoundly, however, was the way that the city had managed to weave its ancient heritage into its modern life so thoroughly. Despite what you might first think, the city outside the citadel is no less historic than what lies within the walls of the fortress. When the Greek Orthodox rebelled (unsuccessfully) against Ottoman rule in the 17th century (I think) they were expelled from the Kastro and built their own city outside its wall. In that city live evolved and today it is hard not to marvel at the way historic buildings house restaurants, cafés, bakeries and silversmiths so easily as to lead one to believe that these were modern inventions. The popularity of the Lake as a vacation spot among Greek tourists helps encourage the upkeep of the town's historic character and I was glad that, even if I experienced the cheap thrills of a tourist resort setting, it was done is such a tasteful manner as to be lightyears ahead of the bawdy and shrill installations of Mallorca or Mykonos.
There is no way to go into southern Albania by bus from Ioannina. Instead, you must take the Kakavia bus from the... more travel advice
The Church of Saint Nicholas is on the way between the lakefront and the Old Bazaar or new part of the town. Its nothing... more travel advice
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