Ioannina, Epirus, Greece

Greece’s Ioannina – A crossroad of cultures, religions and tragic fates

The university town of Ioannina was not our first stop during our recent road trip through Greece‘s north-western region of Epirus, but it was undoubtedly a destination that made a vast impression on us. Bustling Ioannina with its stunning lakeside position, colorful history that spans over 1000 years, and cheerful student population is a place waiting to enchant your mind and soul. Ioannina is the perfect antidote to the crowded seaside resorts of the Ionian coast. Easily accessible and blessed with mild temperatures, the capital of Epirus is fun for solo travelers and families alike. Be careful, though! You might seriously want to relocate to Ioannina, after you try their locally made, out-of-this-world “baclava” pastry!

Lake Pamvotida, Ioannina, Greece

Lake Pamvotida, Ioannina, Greece

Street scene, Ioannina, Greece

Street scene, Ioannina, Greece

Street art, Ioannina, Greece

Street art, Ioannina, Greece

Street scene, Ioannina, Greece

Street scene, Ioannina, Greece

A very short history lesson 

My intention is not to tire you with too many historical facts. You might though want to make yourself a strong espresso, just in case you start getting drowsy midway. I am not a great fan of eras and chronologies either, but I have to admit that Ioannina’s history is nothing else but monotonous.

The administrative centre and biggest town of the region of Epirus was founded by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in the 6th century AD. In the beginning it was a rather small town, but this was about to change a few centuries later. In 1204, Constaninople was sacked by the Crusaders forcing many influential families to leave the capital of Byzantium and flee to Ioannina. These families brought with them power, money and skills. It didn’t take long for Ioannina to start flourishing, thanks also to its strategic position on the crossroad of the main trade routes between East and West.

Ioannina continued to be a commercial and cultural centre even after the city fell to the hands of the Ottoman Turks in 1430.  Its silver art became famous across Europe and remained in high demand for centuries. An interesting detail I was not aware of until my last visit, is that the famous Italian jewelry and luxury goods house of Bulgari has its roots in Ioannina. The Bulgari family was left with no other choice but to abandon Epirus in the 19th century, when the taxation imposed by the controversial Ottoman-Albanian ruler Ali Pasha, was too heavy a burden for them and other silversmiths. More on Ali Pasha’s flamboyant personality and tragic death in another post.

It should also be mentioned that Ioannina used to have a thriving Jewish community up until World War II, when its majority was deported by the Nazis to concentration camps. One of the many tragical turning points in Ioannina’s history.

Ioannina's Medieval Walls encircle the city's Kastro (Fortress)

Ioannina’s Medieval Walls encircle the city’s Kastro (Fortress)

Ioannina's charming Kastro (Fortress) on a stormy summer night

Ioannina’s charming Kastro (Fortress) on a stormy summer night

Aslan Pasha Mosque was built in 1618within Ioannina's fortress

Aslan Pasha Mosque was built in 1618 within Ioannina’s fortress

19th century silver belts made in Ioannina

19th century silver belts made in Ioannina

Ioannina's fortification during the Ottoman rule

Ioannina’s fortification during the Ottoman rule

Where to Stay

We stayed at Hotel Kastro, which is located inside the city’s old fortress. It used to be the home of an upper-class family, now tastily renovated and converted into a seven room property. It is conveniently situated next to the acropolis of Its Kale and the Byzantine Museum.  It is also a short stroll from Lake Pamvotis, restaurants, café and shops.

Should also be mentioned that the owners serve super rich breakfast including local pies, homemade jams and cakes, eggs etc. Food kept coming from the kitchen to a point that there was not anymore enough room in our table for everything. We could not believe our eyes, considering the rate they charge for their rooms. Highly recommended for solo travelers and families alike.

Hotel Kastro, Ioannina

Hotel Kastro, Ioannina

I intend to write more about Things to Do and Places to Eat in Ioannina later on.  I hope you liked what you saw and read so far about Ioannina.


30 thoughts on “Greece’s Ioannina – A crossroad of cultures, religions and tragic fates

      • Great to visit with you too Vasilis. With yours and other bloggers encouragement, not to mention my adult kids, you can see that I am on my next phase and tackling social media. Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram…and hopefully in a few weeks Twitter. Apparently old dogs can learn new tricks. 🙂

  1. We stayed in Ioannina for a few nights when we visited Greece. Such a lovely area & not one that many people seek when travelling there. So many head to the islands, which are stunning as well, but the northern mainland offers many wonderful surprises.

    • I couldn’t agree more, Lynn! Last time I was in Epirus was almost 30 years ago. I was a whining teenager then. 🙂 My father is from a small village close to Igoumenitsa. This whole journey was a “back-to-the-roots” kind of thing for me. Did you also visited the Zagorohoria area? Thank you so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment!

    • Thanks, Miia! Please let me know, whether you need any tips on places to visit, etc. I would love to help! It’s a pity we didn’t meet when you were at the Hietsun kirpputori. We were in Greece then.

      • Yes, I figured out you had probably escaped to Greece! Next time 🙂

        Actually one day I would like to do island hopping, maybe start somewhere in Turkey (around Bodrum maybe) and come all the way hmmm just to Crete or all the way to Athens, dunno. I have not worked on this plan at all, but I know ferries are not cheap at all….

  2. Interesting! I spent a summer travelling Peloponnese and then island hopping in my 20’s but that corner of Greece I never went to. After this post I think that is one thing I’ll have to rectify 😉 Looking forward to your next post!

    • Thank you! So far we have been traveling first to Athens to see my parents, and then off to the islands for a few more days. I am so glad this summer we decided to explore a different region of Greece. We had a great time, although I still have to listen to my parents whining about not being able to see their granddaughter this time. 😉

      • Well, I can sort of understand the grandparents too… but have to say that the Greek islands are lovely but there is more to Greece that would deserve more attention in my book! Ioannina seemed to be one of those places.

  3. I did, Vasilis! Nice to meet you. 🙂 You reminded me of an old, old love affair with Greece but I never made it to Ioannina, beautiful though it looks. I was always lured by the islands but I know that I have missed much. Who knows- maybe someday 🙂
    I should say that I arrived here via Jill’s scene.

    • VasilisM

      Thank you, Johanna! Well, you know what they say: old loves never die. 🙂
      When we travel to Greece, we usually visit the islands,like you used to do. This time we decided we want to see a different part of my home country, and what a rewarding experience it was.
      Do you have a favorite place in Greece?

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