Y’all must know by now that I love a good geographical break-down of locations before I share further info on all the places we visit in Greece—mainly because I used to suck in Geography as a student and I’m trying to make up for it as an adult!
In that spirit, let’s talk about Ioannina. It is the capital city of the regional unit that bears the same name and belongs to the region of Epirus in northwestern Greece, along with 3 more regional units: Arta, Thesprotia, and Preveza. Typically called Yannena, the popular campus city—home to the seat of the University of Ioannina and of several departments of the Τechnological Educational Institute of Epirus—is located 410 km/255 miles northwest of Athens and 260 km/162 miles southwest of Thessaloniki.
A brief history of Ioannina
Its foundation has traditionally been attributed to the Byzantine emperor Justinian the Great, dating back in the 6th century AD, but current archaeological research has provided evidence of even earlier, Hellenistic Period settlements. The exact time of Ioannina’s foundation is unknown but it is commonly identified with an unnamed “well-fortified” city, recorded by the Greek-Byzantine historian Procopius of Caesarea as having been built by Justinian for the inhabitants of ancient Èvrea (identified today as the town of Glykì in Thesprotia). Unfortunately, to this day, all speculation can’t be supported by concrete archaeological evidence. It is not until 879 AD that the name “Ioanniné” (in singular genitive functional case, meaning that the name class/gender was feminine and according to Procopius given after the daughter of Justinian’s famous general*, Flavius Belisarius) appears for the first time in the records of the Catholic ecumenical council in Constantinople (Contantinople IV/Η′ Οικουμενική Σύνοδος), which refer to the bishop of Ioanniné, Zacharias, also suffragan bishop of Nafpaktos.
*just one of several allegations about how the city was given its name
In the treaty for the partition of the Byzantine lands after the Fourth Crusade, Ioannina was promised to the Venetians. Several of the treaty provisions, however, were not carried out as the crusaders squabbled among themselves and the displaced Byzantine-Greek nobles, who established the byzantine successor states of the Despotate of Epirus (founded by Michael Angelus Comnenus Ducas, a.k.a. Michael I Comnenus Ducas), the Empire of Nicaea, and the Empire of Trebizond, were also rivalry to each other. Under Michael I, Ioannina was enlarged and fortified anew. Noble Byzantine families who fled Constantinople and other parts of the Byzantine Empire that fell to the crusaders, settled in and the city grew both in size and in economic and political influence. Clashes between Epirus and Nicaea began sometime after 1224 and by 1246 Epirus’s territory was significantly reduced. In the aftermath of the Battle of Pelagonia in 1259 much of the despotate came under Nicaean control, and Ioannina too was laid under siege. Michael II Comnenus Ducas (son of Michael Angelus) managed to recover several of its domains with the help of king Manfred of Sicily—who had formerly seized Dyrrhachium in western Albania and its environs—but soon afterwards, another byzantine victory in 1264 forced him to accept nominal suzerainty of Michael VIII Palaeologus, the Nicaean emperor who in 1261 restored the Byzantine Empire to the Greeks after 57 years of Latin occupation and founded the last and longest-lived dynasty of the empire’s ruling houses.Thereafter Epirus continued to be ruled by independent despots until 1318. Following the assassination of the last native ruler, Thomas I Comnenus Ducas (grandson of Michael II) in 1318 by his nephew Nicholas Orsini, the city refused to accept the latter and turned to the restored Byzantine Empire for assistance. On this occasion, emperor Andronicus II Palaeologus (son of Michael VIII) nominated the city of Ioannina a metropolitan bishopric, and in 1319 issued a decree conceding wide-ranging autonomy and various privileges and exemptions for Ioannina and its inhabitants. In the Epirus revolt of 1337–1338 against byzantine rule, the city remained loyal to emperor Andronicus. Soon afterwards Ioannina fell to the Serbian ruler Stephen Dushan and remained part of the Serbian Empire until 1356, when Dushan’s half-brother Simeon Uroš was evicted by Nicephorus II Orsini (nephew of Nicholas). An attempt of Nicephorus to restore the Despotate of Epirus was short-lived as he was killed in battle against Albanians. Unlike much of southern Epirus which was overrun and settled by the Albanians, Ioannina was not captured. It thus served as a place of refuge for many Greeks of the region of Thesprotia. In 1366-67 Simeon Uroš, having recovered Epirus and Thessaly, appointed his son-in-law Thomas Comnenus Palaeologus (a.k.a. Preljubović) as the new overlord of Ioannina. Thomas proved a deeply unpopular ruler, but he was able nonetheless to assert Serbian control over northern Epirus and repelled successive attacks from the Albanian lords of Αrta. He was assassinated in 1384, probably by members of the local nobility, and his widow, the Byzantine Maria Angelina Doukaina Palaeologina, married the Italian nobleman Esau Buondelmonti who ruled Ioannina until about 1411. Esau recalled those exiled under Thomas and restored the properties confiscated by him. In 1389, John Spata—the Albanian ruler of Aetolia, Acarnania, Acheloos in Thessaly, and Arta in Epirus—attacked the city, but was unsuccessful in cracking the defense set up by Esau. Despite the ongoing Ottoman expansion and the conflicts between Turks and Albanians in the vicinity of Ioannina, Esau managed to secure a period of peace, especially following his coming to terms with Spata and marrying his daughter Irene in 1396.
Following Esau’s death in 1411, his third wife (after Maria Angelina and Irene) Eudokia Balšić, attempted to maintain control of Ioannina in the name of her infant son, Giorgio. Eudokia was not popular with the local nobility so they promptly deposed her and her son just 20 days after his accession on February 26, 1411, and surrendered their city to Carlo I Tocco (also a nephew of Nicholas Orsini). He was the count palatine of Cephalonia and Zakynthos, who not only managed to repel Albanian attacks to Ioannina but also advanced into Arta, thereby reuniting the core of the old Epirus realm and receiving recognition from both the Ottomans and the Byzantine emperor. Ioannina became the summer residence of the entire Tocco house, and Carlo I died there in July 1429. His nephew Carlo II succeeded him in all his jurisdictions. His succession was opposed, however, by Carlo I’s illegitimate sons who appealed to the Ottoman sultan Murad II for help, to secure their hereditary rights. The sultan duly sent his forces under a Sinan Pasha, commander of Rumeli/Rumelia, and began negotiations with the anti-Latin faction in Ioannina, who after guaranteeing several privileges for the nobles, surrendered the city of Ioannina to Murad on October 9, 1430.
*there were several prominent military and government officers referred to as “Sinan Pasha” in Ottoman history. I researched vigorously for the name of the specific official at the time but I did not come upon any valid info. Even in the list of governors of the Rumelia Eyalet there’s a gap between 1422-1439. Several sources refer to said Vale of Rumeli/“Rumeli Valesi”, others name Hamza Bey, the admiral who determined the seige of Thessalonica in 1430, etc.
Ioannina as a major cultural centre
In the late 17th century Ioannina was a thriving city with an immense commercial and handicraft activity which facilitated a trade with important European commercial centers, like Venice and Livorno, where merchants from Ioannina established several commercial and banking houses. Financial prosperity was followed by remarkable cultural activity. Well known expatriates from Ioannina like Nikolaos Glykys, Nikolaos Sarros, and Dimitris Theodosiou established printing presses in Venice and were responsible for over 1,600 editions that circulated Ottoman-ruled Greece, channeled through Ioannina. The publications included significant historical, theological, scientific works and medical books. The Greek diaspora prioritized intellectual growth and funded many educational institutions back home:
- the “Epiphanios School” was founded in 1647 by a prominent Ioannite merchant from Venice, Epiphaneios Igoumenos.
- the philosophy, theology, and mathematics “School of E. Gioumas” was founded in 1676 by another Ioannite in Venice, Emmanuel Gioumas—the school is also known by its latter names “Balanèa School”, “Megáli Scholé”, or First School of Ioannina.
- the “Maroutséos/Maroutsèa School” was founded by the Maroutsis brothers in 1742, Ioannite merchants in Venice. Its first director, Eugenios Voulgaris, championed in the study of physics and chemistry, philosophy, and Greek.
- the Kaplaneios School was founded in 1797 by Zoes Kaplanes, an Ioannite expatriate in Russia, after the Maroutséos lost its funding and had to be shut down (due to Venice falling to the French). Its schoolmaster, Athanasios Psalidas established an important library of thousands of volumes in several languages, and laboratories for the study of experimental physics and chemistry.
In 1789 the city became the center of the territory ruled by Ali Pasha, an area that included southern parts of Albania, the entire northwestern part of Greece, and even parts of Euboea and the Peloponnese. The Ottoman-Albanian Ali Pasha was one of the most influential personalities of the region in the 18th and 19th centuries. Born in Tepelenë, he maintained diplomatic relations with the most important European leaders of the time and his court became a point of attraction for many “restless minds” who would later become major personalities of the Greek revolution like Georgios Karaiskakis, Odysseas Androutsos, Markos Botsaris and more.
The fortified old town of the city of Ioannina is also known as the Castle of Ioannina. Dr. Konstantinos Tsouris, an archaeologist and associate professor of Byzantine history of the university of Thrace, dates the Byzantine city walls and its northeastern citadel back to the 10th century, with several of its additions in the late 11th century, including the southeastern citadel, traditionally ascribed to the short-lived occupation of the city by the Normans under the leadership of Bohemond of Otranto, in 1082.
The main gate (to the west*) lies in an area called “Kourmanio” at the crossing of Averof, Karamanlis, and Ethnikis Antistaseos streets. It features a famous clock tower built in the late 18th century by Ali Pasha. According to the folk story, when Ali Pasha visited the old town of Paramythia in Thesprotia he was fascinated by the pendulum clock—which he intially thought was a simple church bell—that would strike hours in precision, donated to the town by a wealthy expatriate family from Venice, Italy. He decided to confiscate the clock and take it back to Ioannina and then ordered the construction of the tower that would be its new home. Unfortunately, his engineers failed him: between disassembling and reassembling the clock, something went wrong (some say it was purposedly sabotaged) and they never managed to make it work! After several failed attempts—while the issue became known—a delegation of locals from Paramythia visited the court to suggest that the clock was most likely disfunctional by divine intervention as it was dedicated to Saint Donatus, patron of Paramythia. Ali Pasha believed them and returned the clock.
A new opportunity to acquire the much wanted pendulum clock rose when Ali Pasha siezed Preveza. He confiscated the clock along with its reknowned bell—made by famous Venetian craftsmen—from Preveza’s clock tower that had been built by its Venetian proveditor, Alessandro Semitecolo. (Preveza’s bell and clock were restored much later, in 1865, with local funds.) The castle tower clock was meant to have several more adventures: in WWI the Italians (during a short, three-month seige of Ioannina in 1917) removed the pendulum and left the bell alone. In an attempt to protect it, local authorities later moved the bell itself inside the castle, to the southeastern citadel called “Its Kale” and in 1925 it was decided it would be used for the another famous clock, the Clock of Ioannina at the city centre (on the central square that is now known as “A. Papandreou Square”).
*there’s a second gate (very close to the main one, on the south side of the west bastion on Ethnikis Antistaseos street) and a third gate, at the south citadel of Its Kale
Sources: Wikipedia / typos-i.gr / www.archaiologia.gr
Ioannina Castle ~ official website: I.C. Touring
Other than a very popular destination itself, the city of Ioannina can also be used as a base camp (there are countless hotel/hostel/room options). From this very convenient “camp” you can daily drive out to dozens of locations and visit a significant portion of the entire region of Epirus while avoiding the cost of overnight-stays in all the different places—unless of course you want to! In terms of weather, I would say a-n-y season is absolutely fine but my favorite ones are late August-early September and spring time.
I have one more post—taking you around the city—coming up and then I’ll show you some of the fabulous routes one can take around the regional unit of Ioannina, along with Thesprotia and Preveza. Toodles!