Ioannina – 'The Gem of Northern Greece'

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The Epirus region of Greece has a population of approximately 350 000 people. It is rugged and mountainous, largely made up of mountainous ridges. The region's highest spot is on Mount Smolikas at an altitude of 2.637 metres above sea level. Most of Epirus lies on the windward side of the Pindus Mountain. The winds from the Ionian Sea offer the region more rainfall than any other part of Greece.

 

Its rugged terrain makes agriculture difficult. Sheep and goat pastoralism have always been an important activity in the region and Epirus provides a large percentage of meat to the Greek market. Tobacco is grown around Ioannina, and there is some farming and fishing. Epirus is home to a number of the country's most famous dairy products. (Source – Wikipedia)

 

 

 

Ioannina is the picturesque capital of Epirus on Mainland Greece. The town is set along the shores of beautiful Lake Pamvotida giving it an air of calm and serenity. With the snow capped mountains as a backdrop in winter and the small island perched in the foreground it is simply picture perfect.  The town itself has beautiful character buildings overlooking the lake and there are tavernas, coffee shops and interesting hole-in-the-wall boutiques to captivate its visitors.

 

 

 

A walk along the promenade is most relaxing and there is a lot to see including the bronze Statue of Mikaeil Ioannis Meladakis (1889 – 1914), who was a Cretan chieftain (oplahygos) and Head of Volunteer Corps in Ioannina when it fell in the fight for the liberation of Epirus in 1914. He was martyred heroically during the Battle of Nikolitsa. (Source –photoioannina.blogspot.com )

 

 

The castle of Ioannina stands proudly guarding the old town within. Having being built in 528 A.D. it is the oldest Byzantine fortress in Greece. As only resident’s cars are allowed within the 10 metre thick castle wall the noise and bustle stays outside. Ottoman buildings of interest are the Aslan Pasha mosque, the Jewish Synagogue and Soufari Seraglio.

 

 

 

And then there is the food! The lake provides trout, eel and frog’s legs, all prepared with local herbs and spices collected off the surrounding mountains, to make the dishes a gastronomical delight. Ioannina’s desserts are also famous throughout Greece.

 

The sugar pie (sker bourek) and baklava are but a few of the specialities of this area that need to be tried! Also unique to Ioannina is an alcohol free liqueur made with fruit syrups, organic vinegar and herbs usually drunk with crushed ice. Whilst there, pop into one of the coffee shops in the town to sample the sherbet (sherbetia), a sweet wine flavoured with flowers and various fruit.

 

Ioannina is home to some of the most beautiful silversmith’s workmanship. The town’s numerous jewellery shops have a stunning display of wirework and cast silver earrings, chains, buckles, and ornaments crafted in both traditional and modern designs. There are also stores that have curios, souvenirs and mementos like coffee mugs, magnets, key rings and T-shirts.

 

 

 

The holocaust took its toll on the Jews of Ioannina. 1,870 Jews were deported by the Nazis on 25 March 1944, during the final months of German occupation. Almost all were murdered on or shortly after 11 April 1944, when the train carrying them reached Auschwitz.  Only 181 Ioannina Jews are known to have survived the war, including 112 who survived Auschwitz and 69 who went into hiding with Christian families or fled to the mountains to join the resistance. Approximately 164 of these survivors eventually returned to Ioannina.

 

Today the remaining Judaistic community has shrunk to about 50 people. The Kehila Kedosha Yashan Synagogue remains locked. A monument dedicated to the thousands of Greek Jews who perished during the Holocaust was constructed in the city in a 13th-century Jewish cemetery.

                                  

The monument designed by the municipality, with input from Trikala’s Jewish community, is in the shape of a tear flanked by railway tracks. In the center is an olive tree and to the side is a column with an inscription in three languages: Greek, Hebrew, and English. (Source – tabletmag.com)

 

                                        

                                       Photograph courtesy of tabletmag.com

 

In 2003 the memorial was vandalized by unknown anti-Semites. The Jewish cemetery too was repeatedly vandalized in 2009.  Citizens of the city formed an initiative for the protection of the cemetery. Interestingly, Ioannina boasts having the 1st Jewish Mayor in Greece.

 

 

Whether you decide to take a boat ride to the 'natural monument' island without a name in the middle of the lake, feed the bird life that dwells on the glass-smooth waters, find a special gift in the silversmith's shops or simply indulge in the culinary specialities of this region there is something for everyone. For those with artistic appreciation the numerous sculptures are  sure to delight.

 

 

 

Text and photography by Adelia Cook for MyKerkyra.com

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