If you are visiting the Greek town of Ioannina, make sure you spend a few hours strolling around the islet of Lake Pamvotis or “nisaki” as the locals call it. It is an oasis of calmness, less than 15 minutes by boat from the town’s bustling centre.
As soon as you step on “nisaki”, you will feel as if you made a small leap back in time. Since no cars are allowed on the islet, the only sounds you will hear are those of birds singing, children playing and neighbors chatting with each other while having coffee on the doorsteps of their homes.
The islet’s small settlement dates back to the 17th century and is dotted with traditionally built stone houses and centuries-old monasteries and churches. As you walk along the docks, you will see fishermen’s nets drying in the sun next to colorful boats and well-kept gardens full of flowers.
Being one of Ioannina’s main touristic destinations, “nisaki” has a few tavernas serving local delicacies like trout, eel, and frog’s legs. There are also rows of shops selling local handicrafts and sweets. Couldn’t help but wonder, could there possibly be enough customers for all those shops? Even though we were in the middle of the peak season, only a handful of people were around, adding to the nervousness of the owners. Most of them were not pushy, though.
“Nisaki” has also its share of legends and historical facts. It was on this very islet where the controversial local ruler, Albanian born Ali Pasha was brutally killed by the Ottoman army in 1822.
In an era when the Ottoman Empire was becoming increasingly vulnerable, the Sultan lost eventually his patience with Ali Pasha’s separatist movements and ordered his death. The monastery where he was executed is still standing, and it has been turned into a museum, dedicated to-take a wild guess!-Ali Pasha, the man who Lord Byron described as “remorseless tyrant, guilty of the most horrible cruelties, very brave, so good a general that they call him the Mahometan Buonaparte “. Allegedly, one of Ali Pasha’s favorite activities was roasting his enemies, slowly…
When I asked the museum guard, if she happens to know where Ali Pasha was decapitated, she told me that I was actually standing on the exact place where it happened: the third step as you go down the stairs from the second floor of the museum. (By the way, this kind of spooky information, you will only find on Traveller’s Tree)
His head was then taken to Constantinople, to be presented to the Sultan. There is a painting in the museum that depicts the scene at Istanbul. Apparently, the Sultan did not feel sick at the sight of the chopped head.
Ali Pasha’s headless body was buried in Ioannina. Many years later his beloved Greek wife Vasiliki was laid next to him. Ali Pasha had over 600 women in his harem, but Vasiliki was his favorite. After his death, Vasiliki was sent as a prisoner to Constaninople. She died from malaria in 1834 in the Greek town of Aitoliko.
Before leaving the island, it’s worth to pay a visit at the Monastery of Agios Nikolaos Philanthropinon. Its frescoes dating from the 13th century are an unforgettable experience. On the way out remember to put a few coins into the box, right next to the entrance.
For more on Ioannina, click also here.