Ioannina is one of the four prefectures of Epirus. The city of Ioannina, built on a hillside next to Lake Pamvotis, is the capital of the prefecture and of the administrative region of Epirus. The prefecture of Ioannina is mostly mountainous with its name-sake plateau and lake (ancient Pamvotis) occupying its central part, and the rivers Arachthos, Aoos, Voidomatis, Kalamas, Louros and Akeronas winding their way through it. The highest mountains of the prefecture are Smolikas (2,637 m.) and Grammos (2,520 m.). With its abundance of natural resources, spectacular scenery, comfortable accommodations and facilities for climbing, hiking, hang gliding, orienteering, biking, kayaking, rafting and rowing, Ioannina attracts many tourists, outdoors enthusiasts and sports lovers. Apart from modern entertainment in the city of Ioannina and other towns, the region features regular exhibitions of folk art and handicrafts, musical and drama performances, festivals and celebrations in a truly authentic atmosphere, along with numerous archaeological sites, historical monuments and museums.
According to the historian Procopius, the town of Ioannina was founded in 527 AD by the Roman emperor Justinian. It prospered as the region's cultural and intellectual centre in 1204 when Michael Komninos founded the Despotate of Epirus, before it fell to the Serbs in the 14th century and to the Turks in 1430. The modern era of Ioannina's long history began with its liberation by the Greek army on 12 February, 1913. Renowned for its fine embroidery and metalwork it continues to be the commercial and cultural centre of Epirus, linked by air with Athens and Thessaloniki and through an extensive road network with major Greek cities and regional towns and villages.
The history of Ioannina and indeed of Epirus can be traced in the city's museums. The Archaeological Museum of Ioannina contains exhibits of the most important finds in Epirus as well as ancient Greek and Roman reliefs, paintings and Byzantine artefacts. The Municipal Museum inside the 1618-built Aslan Pasa Mosque has beautiful historical, folklore and archaeological collections. The Byzantine Museum, built on the site of the seraglio of Ali Pasa, has many fine exhibits. The Folk Art Museum of the Society for Epirot Studies has many examples of local handicrafts on display.
No visit to Ioannina is complete without a boat trip to the small island in the middle of the lake, with its picturesque alleyways and its famous monasteries of Philanthropinon, Stratigopoulon, Eleousa, St. John the Baptist and St. Panteleimon.
Other attractions in Ioannina include the 19th century cathedral of St. Athanasios with its beautiful iconostasis. The tomb of St. George of Ioannina, who died a martyr in 1833, is located here. To the left of the Byzantine Museum is the Fetiche Pasa Mosque, with the tomb of Ali Pasa.
The castle, built on a small promontory jutting into the lake with wall sections dating from the 11th century, gives a vivid picture of Ioannina in days gone by. On its SE side, a second castle known as Its-Kale (i.e. inner fortress) is the site of the Byzantine Museum. One can also visit the ruins of 13th century Byzantine baths, the Soufari Sarai (the riding school of Ali Pasa) and close by, the Turkish library. The Synagogue is the only monument attesting to the once powerful Jewish community of Ioannina.
Not far from Ioannina (4 km.) is the Perama Cave, one of the most stunning caves in the Balkans, famous for its impressive stalagmites and stalactites.
In a narrow valley 22 km SE of Ioannina lies the archaeological site of Dodoni, perhaps the oldest in Greece, settled by the first Greek tribes around 2500 BC as indicated by Bronze Age finds. It was here that the first oracle was established. The Theatre, with a seating capacity of 17,000 now used for summer performances, the Vouleutirio, the Prytaneio and the Stadium complement the Sanctuary. SW of the ancient sanctuary lies the area of Lakka Souliou dotted with numerous Byzantine and post-Byzantine monuments.
Metsovo, at 64 km. NE of Ioannina, is renowned for its delicious smoked cheeses and strong red wine. Built amphitheatrically at an altitude of 1,160 m., it is one of the few places in the country where traditional costume is still worn and where the long traditions of woodcarving and weaving are kept alive.
Konitsa, the region's market town, lies at an altitude of 630 m. on the thickly wooded slopes of Mt. Trapezitsa 64 km. north of Ioannina. The Folklore Museum, the Mosque of Sultan Suleiman and a Venetian castle invite special interest. A base for hiking to the mountains of the Pindus range, the town affords direct access to the Aoos Gorge with the famous single-arch stone bridge, the longest of its kind in the Balkans. The Byzantine Stomiou Monastery provides a refuge for climbers making their way to Mt. Tymfi (Gamila) and the Drakolimni lake. The rivers Aoos and Voidomatis are ideal for kayaking and rafting, while the mountain slopes above Konitsa are ideal for hang gliding. Vasilitsa, a modern ski centre lies to the north at an altitude of 1,300 m. The mineral springs at Kavassila, Pixaria and Amarandos (at an altitude of 1,260 m.) are known throughout Greece for their therapeutic properties.
NW of Ioannina, Zagori, with its 46 picturesque villages, is the unspoiled natural habitat for many and rare species (bear, wolf, jackal, wild goat, etc.) including 20 types of reptiles, with a large part taken up by the Vikos Aoos National Forest, which is protected by international conventions. The stone architecture of the region is quite distinctive, with Vitsa and Monodendri standing out with their stone-paved streets and impressive mansions. Monodendri is the starting point for hikers attempting the 5-hour walk through the Vikos Gorge to the springs of the Voidomatis. The largest village in the district is Tsepelovo, site of the 1050-built Rogovo Monastery. In eastern Zagori, the most beautiful villages are Greveniti, with its abundant water and the nearby Votsa Monastery and picturesque Vovousa, with its stone bridge, a popular base for kayak enthusiasts.
In western Zagori, perhaps the best known villages are Mikro Papingo and Megalo Papingo, with their striking stone architecture and stone-paved alleyways.
The natural beauty of the oak-dominated region of Pogoni in the NW of the prefecture is renowned for its uniquely authentic saint's day celebrations. In Pogoni, one can visit the Kouvaras gorge near the village of Dolo, Pogoniani with its impressive Folk Art Museum and the renowned monasteries of Vissiani.
Tzoumerka, with villages perched high on rocky crags, is a paradise for river and mountain sports. The gorges of Arachthos and Kalarrytiko, the region's rare ecosystem, the monasteries of Plaka, Vyliza and Kapina, and the traditional villages of Syrrako and Kalarrytes welcome and impress visitors. The main town is Pramanta, with an interesting cave and the marvellous church of Aghia Paraskevi.
In Zitsa (24 km. NW of Ioannina), built on a hillside amongst vineyards famous for their sparkling white wine, hikers can follow the enchanting course of the Kalamas river.
In the east, bordering on the Grevena prefecture, lies Vallia Kalda the most important national forest in Greece. With 80 species of birds – including the golden eagle – and one of the last habitats in Europe for the brown bear, it is listed among the world's 12 most sensitive sites in need of immediate protection.