Visit the castle town of Ioannina which is a uniquely preserved historic landmark. It is the oldest Byzantine fortress in Greece with significant influence over the history of the town which grew around it.
Don’t miss this marvellous monument, still inhabited in our days. Go through the big gate bearing Ali Pasha’s coat of arms and travel back in time when the castle was the largest administrative centre of Greece. Ali Pasha, that enigmatic symbol of Ottoman rule, lived here. His great love for lady Kyra – Vasiliki and his order to kill lady Kyra - Frosini, his son’s lover, still resonates as an integral part of the town’s history. During his rule the town of Ioannina developed into a major educational, political and cultural hub.
The imposing castle of Ioannina was built in 528 AD by the Emperor Justinian, to demonstrate the Byzantine Empire’s ambitious character and power. The castle is divided into four sections: the outer walls, the northwestern citadel, dominated by Aslan Mosque, the southeastern citadel Itch-Kale and finally the actual old castle town of Ioannina.
The walled-in-town covers an area of 20 acres; its perimeter is 2,000m and has a width of 10m.
The Castle’s buildings
The Byzantine rulers’ palace was built on the NE side of the citadel. On the hilltop, in a prominent position, see the Mosque of Aslan Pasha (1618) that is home to the Municipal Museum, the Fotis Rapakousis Museum, the medieval tower and the Mendrese (a seminary).
The SE side of the citadel is known as Itch-Kale (meaning interior fortress), where the palace of Ali Pasha was situated during the 19th century. Today you can pay a visit to the Byzantine Museum, see Fetiche Mosque (1795) built and renovated by Ali Pasha and make a stop by his first wife’s grave Fatima as well as his own. You can also drop by Agion Anargyron Church, the powder keg and the treasury where you can take a look at a Byzantine silversmithing collection. The well-preserved building with the chimneys once housed the kitchens of Itch-Kale. Make a stop here and enjoy a beverage in the traditional coffee house reviving the atmosphere of a bygone era.
Among the houses inside the castle you’ll run into the Soufari Seraglio; this two-storey building was once used by the Ioannina cavalry academy and was home to Pasha Kalos (near the castle’s walls). It also lodged the Ottoman library, the Jewish synagogue and the ruins of the Byzantine baths. Don’t miss the Bohemund Tower, built in 1082, during the Norman campaign in Epirus and the Thomas Tower located on your right hand side of the main entrance also dated back to the Byzantine Era.
The castle’s Museums
When you travel to Ioannina there are three very interesting museums you should remember to visit inside the castle.
First is the Byzantine Museum in the Itch-Kale Citadel, holding a substantial collection of coins, sculptures and other artefacts. Second is the Municipal Ethnographic Museum of Ioannina in the Aslan Pasha Mosque. You will have the opportunity to see the Ottoman barracks, the baths and the library, which contain many important historical documents, as well as local costumes, the Damascus steel sword belonging to the military commander and hero of the Greek War of Independence, Karaiskakis, and a collection devoted to the craft of local silversmiths.
Third is the Fotis Rapakousis Museum, found in the castle opposite the Aslan Pasha Mosque. This museum is mainly devoted to military history with remarkable exhibits from the pre-revolutionary period up to the Balkan Wars.