I first visited Ioannina over twenty years ago. I still remember my surprise at its beauty, as I walked on the pier that was covered in plane trees.
I vividly remember that first trip on the boat to the little island in the lake, and I feel nostalgia for my walk around the old fortress walls. Throughout the many years since, I’ve visited often, and I’ve born witness to the significant changes the town has been through, its development and evolution, as well as the way its style and main features alter, while staying the same.
The town’s openness to visitors, its flexibility and the ease with which every need is met, the welcoming feeling the town emits from every corner, even if there’s still a long way to go in terms of infrastructure. After all, it’s the people who take care of difficult circumstances and make things better, and it’s the people who give life to a place and can turn a visit into a special experience.
Pargis square and Mrs Niki
Upon arriving to Ioannina this time, we decided to cross through its heart and head towards the network of pedestrian streets. It’s Saturday afternoon, and there’s a lot of traffic in town. We leave our car and walk to Pargis square. There, in front of Agios Georgios church, we feel the neighbourhood’s vibe, that attracts young crowds, university students from all over Greece. The beautiful cafés on the square are buzzing with activity, and we’re lucky it’s a sunny day. Across the square, for many decades, Mrs Niki has been running her coffee shop. We stop by for a Greek coffee, and even though we don’t order one, Mrs Niki also makes us her classic sandwich, with the fried meatballs.
Photo: Amalia Kovaiou
We stop by for a Greek coffee, and even though we don’t order one, Mrs Niki also makes us her classic sandwich, with the fried meatballs. /Photo: Amalia Kovaiou
Each time I’m in Ioannina I come here, as I believe that the traditional coffee shops in a place show you its true state. There are two old men playing cards, another one reading a local newspaper, while Giannis, Mrs Niki’s son, who recently became a grandfather and remains a jokester always, wants us to have a drink with him, on the house. We wish him well and take a rain check for the tsipouro (traditional pomace raki) that he offers.
Having taken care of our absolute must dos, we get another coffee to-go from Saint George and walk on the Sakka pedestrian road. It’s a vibrant street, bustling with life, with cafés, bars and shops, creating a lively corner in the heart of town.
The Regional Administration building
We let ourselves get lost in the narrow streets, looking at the nice shop windows, and end up in front of the imposing office building of the Region of Epirus. It’s the largest building in the area, its construction began in 1935, based on the plans by architect Eriketi Ioannidou. However, a few years later, in 1940, the building was bombed and after the war it was in half ruins for many years. It was completed in 1960, however in 1970 an extra floor was added, and if you stand in the square across from it you will be able to see how the architectural style changes.
From the clock to the Brigade and the Town hall
Still walking around town, we decide to walk to the lake. Walking is the best way to explore a place and get to know it. We walked in front of a landmark of Ioannina, the famous clock, built in 1905, by renowned architect, Periklis Melirrytos. It wasn’t originally in the place it is today, since in 1918, it was damaged during an artillery march. The clock was removed, and some years later, in 1925, it was placed in the location it is found today. Right next to it, there is the three-storey building of the 8th Brigade that was built in 1871 and played a vital role in one of the most important chapters of the town’s history. On the evening of February 20th, 1913, this is where the decision to surrender to the Greek army was made. This makes it one of the most important buildings in town.
Across the street from the Brigade, there’s another beautiful, imposing building, the town hall, built in 1928. Originally the building housed the National Bank branch, and then, in 1960, the ground floor was turned into the Zosimaia Library. The first floor was intended as the royal family’s residence, when they visited town. With the passage of time, the whole building came into the hands of the municipality, and now it houses the municipality offices, as well as they mayor’s office.
The engraved composition at the Bank of Greece
One of my favourite spots in town is in front of the Bank of Greece building, where a large-scale engraved composition by Paris Prekas, titled “Pyrrhus and Dodona” is located. We get lost in the narrow streets off Anexartisia street, that used to be the main commercial street in town during the Ottoman rule. As we walk around, we come across remnants of the past, as well as many shops and entertainment establishments.
Cycling by the lake
We explore the lake area the next day, starting at the hotel we’re staying in, Hotel du Lac, by the lake. It’s almost nine in the morning and from the hotel’s balcony we see the calm lake as a small boat crosses it. It stops somewhere in the middle of the lake, and the fishers start fishing. The water is almost still, some birds are flying over the lake, occasionally diving in its waters. I go to breakfast and immediately after, we take bikes from the hotel and start our lakeside ride. Some people are on their morning walk or run, others are walking their dogs. We notice the sculptures around the area and “The couple” by sculptor Papagiannis, placed “right across the castle’s terrible dungeons” stands out.
Within the castle’s walls
We get within the castle walls, that was created during the Byzantine times, and its interior fortress enclosures that were fully reconstructed by Ali Pasha. We walk around this autonomous and enchanting universe and it’s as if we’re watching a historic film with a town as the leading lady, on the verge between the East and the West. Part of the castle’s enclosure has been inhabited without stop for centuries. A vibrant, distinct area that houses hundreds of families and dozens of thriving businesses till this time.
Apart from the part that is inhabited, there are two places, real archaeological parks, that are waiting for you to explore them. Within the outer fortification enclosure, the two natural hills evolved, already from the Byzantine times, into acropolises. The south-eastern Acropolis is known as Its Kale, and the north-eastern as the Aslan Pasha Acropolis.
We return to the hotel to plan our next moves. Right across Hotel du Lac, the lake is constantly inviting us for a ride on its banks. This is where Kyra-Frosini drowned, this where Lorentzos Mavilis died when he was fighting for Greece. This town’s history book has many chapters. A short visit will give you a sense of the weight is carries, and also make you want to learn more about it. In any case, a trip to Ioannina is an experience in its own right. Enjoy it.
The castle town of Ioannina: An autonomous and enchanting universe