Castle/Old town, Ioannina
Ali Pasha, the pasha of Ioannina, known as an enlightened but also very cruel ruler.
Lord Byron describing him had mixed feelings, noting the splendor of Ali's court and the Greek cultural revival in Ioannina, which was "superior in wealth, refinement and learning to any other Greek town". But Byron also wrote:"His Highness is a remorseless tyrant, guilty of the most horrible cruelties, very brave, so good a general that they call him the Mahometan Bonaparte ... but as barbarous as he is successful, roasting rebels, etc, etc.."
Ali Pasha was using Greek almost as his official language, and over the gate of his castle in Iannina there was an inscription in Greek in which he claimed descent from King Pyrrhus of Epirus.
There are two mosques at the area of the castle, both nice examples of the Ottoman architecture. One of them, the Aslan pasha mosque, houses the Municipal Museum of Ioannina (Ticket costs 3 EUR). You can find there items used by people of Ioannina divided in 3 sections according to their religion: Greek (christian), Muslim and Jewish.
Strolling around the castle area you'll also find the Fethiye mosque, the tomb of Ali Pasha nearby and the Byzantine museum.
The castle of Ioanna is the oldest Byzantine castle and it used to be the biggest administrative centre through the entire country during Ali Pasha's era.
The Jewish Synagogue is also in the castle, the only existing monument of the once powerful Jewish community of Ioannina.
Aslan mosque is located at the North-West citadel of the castle, probably in the most beautiful spot of the city with great view to the lake and the island. I really like to see the top of it from far (pic 1). It was built in 1618 from Aslan Pasha after the crash of Dionisos’ rebellion in 1611. At that place was the church of Agios Ioannis Prodromos that was destroyed that year. In our days it houses the Municipal Museum (since 1933) where you can see items like jewelry, local costumes, silverware, some swords and guns, documents of the ottoman era etc. it open daily 9:00-20:00 (till 15:00 in winter)
All around the museum you can other buildings of the ottoman era like the baths (in cross shape!), the Sufari Seray (a 2 store building that was the military camp of Ali Pasha), the Turkish library was built at the beginning of the 19th century but unfortunately no books were founded.
The Fetih mosque (pic 2) was built in 1618 at the location of the church Archangel Michael. Right next to the mosque is the tomb of Ali Pasha and his wife Emine. There is only his body there because his head is buried in Istanbul with his children. The nice iron fence was stolen during the 2nd world war. The Fetih mosque and the tomb are not opened to the public.
The Byzantine Museum (pic 3) is located at the North-East citadel of the castle. The museum opened in 1995 but the building was built in 1960 and was the Royal Pavilion. The collection has items from Epirus, sculptures, old books etc There is also a 19th century building that house the silver items. It’s open daily 8:00-19:00 (Mondays 12:00-19:00). The entrance fee is 3 euros.
At the location of the Byzantine museum was the Seray of Ali Pasha. It was burnt oit in 1870. Right next to the Byzantine museum you can see the ruins from the harem of Ali Pasha.
If you go to the south citadel (pic 4) of the castle you can see the Voimoundos tower, the church of Agii Anargiri and the powder magazines of Ali Pasha. He was supposed to hide his gold and other treasures here.
The old town used to be here in the old town but the good thing is (and a surprise for the visitor) that there are still houses inside so it’s pretty cool going inside and leave the modern city behind you. The small alleys, the unique architecture of the old houses, the friendly smile of the locals are the first things you will notice here. My favorite café, Filistron is located here so I always like to stop there first and then I continue my way further inside to the Byzantine museum etc
The castle was build by the Byzantine emperor Justinian the Great in the 6th century but it was rebuilt by Ali Pasha the monarch of Epirus at the end of the 18th century..You can walk around the surrounded walls (it’s big, it will take a lot of time) but have in mind that since 1913 you could go inside only if a staircase was let down from inside because the lake and the water french were set on the walls. Inside is even more interesting with a full city hiding behind the walls of the castle. You can walk among the small alleys and notice that some of the leading to dead ends. That was made for purpose because in case of attack of the pirates they wanted to hold them back so be captured.
There are some interesting buildings inside the castle. There are a lot of gates but most of the visitors use the main gate. The tower you see there over the walls was holding the clock of the castle but it was destroyed in 1917 from Italians and replaced recently. The small alleys will lead you to the hill of the NorthWest citadel with the Aslan Pasha mosque that houses the municipal history museum, Check also the Turkish baths, the library etc
At the North East citadel of the castle is inner fortress Its Kale where was the headquarters of Ali Pasha. You can see the Fetihe mosque where the mausoleum of Ali Pasha is next to the mosque. Then you can visit the Byzantine museum which is opposite the mosque
The wall of the castle is big enough that you can walk on it in some parts! And yes, I consider this as an off the beaten path route! :)
For centuries, Ioanina, Tepelene, Berat, Gjirokaster and all that area lived under the same rule and had a mixed population speaking Greek and Albanian. Since southern Epire and Ioaninna are part of Greece (1913), this is not true anymore but the narrow cobbled streets have kept almost the same look that can be found in northern Epire, in Albania.
A hundred meters away from Aslan Pasha mosque, the madrassa was an Islamic school. It is now the Ioannina museum of Popular Art. We were short of time and did not visit it but I have read that it had interesting Epire artifacts. The building itself is a nice piece of architecture.
Fethiye dzami (Fethiye mosque) stands just outside the walls of the kastro. This small, square building with several domes covered with rough slates looks like the tekke we had seen in Berat, in Albania, only 130 km away, as the crow flies. It was actually built as the metropolitan church of the Taxiarches and later converted into a mosque. It is now a museum of Weaponry.
Aslan pasha dzami (Aslan pasha mosque) was built on the former location of the church of Agios Ioannis Prodromos (Saint John the Baptist) in 1618 by Commander Aslan Zulfikar, named the Good Pasha. The mosque was named after him to honor his memory. The mosque was converted into the Museum of the City of Ioannina in 1933.
Aslan pasha dzami (Aslan mosque) is the landmark of Ioannina and stands inside the kastro (castle). On the photo, the minaret stands in the background.
Famous Ali Pasha of Tepelene (now in Albania) was the Pasha of Epirus at the beginning of the 19th. He built the castle on the ruins of the Byzantine fort. He was famous for his ferocity and was nicknamed either Ali the Lion or Ali the ax as he used to kill enemies or prisoners with a blow of his ax. A nice guy!
The Synagogue is hardly a tourist site: it is closed to the public and pretty much the only thing you can see is its gates. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see the aspects of the three confessional communities that once lived together somewhat peacefully in Ioannina.
This is the building in which the Municipal Museum is housed, but I felt that I should create a separate page for the Mosque itself, given that there are important artefacts not connected to the Museum around the Mosque. In particular, you'll notice that there is a collection of Muslim funerary stelae, some of which are entirely intact. There is also an abandoned madrassa on the grounds where some of the guns used in the war for independence are on show.
Fetiye Cami or Victory Mosque was erected in 1611 by the Ottoman Turks to mark their victory over the Christians. In fact, it marked the expulsion of all Christian citizens from the Kastro of Ioannina - only Muslims and Jews were permitted to live within the castle walls. It also contains the tomb of Ali Pasha and, although you cannot enter the mosque, it is quite pretty from the outside.
The Its Kale or Inner Citadel of Ioannina is the inner most component of the Kastro and is found at the southeast corner. Its pretty hard to miss, although there are signs pointing toward it and the Byzantine Museum, contained inside its walls. The Its Kale contains the Fetiye Cami, some ruins and a café, but the main draw is the spectacular scenery, both inside the Citadel and of the Lake. This is definitely somewhere to come for a bit of picture taking!
It is obvious that Kastro (the Castle) included the most of the city activities, and this fact can give us a good idea of what we can find in there: houses, market-place, public buildings, baths, fountains, churches and mosques, barracks, schools, parks etc.
You need more than a whole day to enjoy Kastro, the old city of Ioannina, that keeps a lot of its traditional colour. Even today, the heart of the 350,000 people city beats in Kastro!
There is a special travelogue about it.
Anyone who is visiting Ioannina should wander in the old city, among of the houses and the old city walls.
Must also visit the traditional museum there and discover more for that historic place.