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The castle town of Ioannina

The southeast part of Ioannina is a beautiful fortified old town, and it’s the area’s historic landmark. This is the oldest Byzantine fortress in Greece, continuously inhabited until today.

Enter the castle’s big gate bearing the coat of arms of Ali Pasha (the area’s Ottoman ruler during the late 18th – early 19th c.); it was a period when Ioannina was the administrative centre of western and central continental Greece, then a part of the Ottoman Empire. Read about his great love for Kira Vasiliki, a Christian lady who became his wife, and the story about killing Kira Frosini, his son’s lover. During his rule, the town of Ioannina developed into a major educational, political and cultural hub.


The Fortress

The imposing fortress of Ioannina was built in 528 A.D. by the Emperor Justinian, as part of the Byzantine Empire’s ambitious plans to build town fortifications, which were later strengthened during the Ottoman occupation of the region.

The fortified area is divided into four sections: the outer walls, the northwestern citadel, dominated by Aslan Mosque, the southeastern citadel Itch-Kale, and the old walled town of Ioannina, which covers an area of 20 hectares.


The buildings

The NE citadel was the location of the Byzantine rulers’ palace. Aslan Pasha Mosque (1618) was later built on the highest elevation and today it houses the Municipal Ethnographic Museum, the medieval tower, the Fotis Rapakousis Museum, and Mendrese (a Muslim seminary).

The SE citadel is known as Itch-Kale (meaning interior fortress), where the palace of Ali Pasha was situated. Visit the Byzantine Museum, see Fetihe Mosque (1795), built and renovated by Ali Pasha, and the Pasha’s tomb as well as that of his first wife. See Agion Anargyron Church, the gunpowder keg and the treasury where you can take a look at the Byzantine collection of silver artefacts. The well-preserved building with the chimneys once housed the kitchens of Itch-Kale. Have a short break here and enjoy a beverage in the traditional café with the quaint atmosphere.

Among the houses, the impressive Soufari Sarai will catch your eye; this two-storey building once housed the Ioannina cavalry academy. Visit also the Ottoman library, the Jewish Synagogue, the ruins of the Byzantine Baths and the house of Kalos Pasha (by the town walls). Don’t miss Bohemund Tower, built in 1082, during the Norman campaign in Epirus, and Thomas Tower located on your right-hand side of the main entrance, which was built during the late Byzantine Period.


The Museums

Make a note of visiting the following museums:

- The Byzantine Museum in Itch-Kale Citadel, where you will find impressive collections of coins, sculptures and other artefacts.
- The Municipal Ethnographic Museum of Ioannina in the Aslan Pasha Mosque. You can visit the Ottoman baths and the library; among the exhibits there are historical records, local costumes, the Damascus steel sword that belonged to G. Karaiskakis, one of the military leaders and heroes of the Greek War of Independence, and items of great local craftsmanship in silver and gold.
- The Fotis Rapakousis Museum, opposite the Aslan Pasha Mosque. It is a military history museum with remarkable exhibits from the pre-revolutionary period (i.e. prior to 1821) up until the Balkan Wars (1912 – 1913).

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