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Archaeological sites near Lefkada and Meganissi

ANCIENT GREEK AND ROMAN SITES IN THE IONIAN ISLANDS

The position of the Ionian Islands just off the west coast of Greece and facing the Italian peninsula across the Ionian Sea means that they have seen their fair share of historic events. Major figures of Ancient Greece and the Roman and Ottoman Empires trod, rode or sailed close by and some even believe that Odysseus’ palace was on Lefkada, rather than modern day Ithaca.

One of the defining moments in Roman history was played out in the waters just north of Lefkada: in 31BC Octavian fought the forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra in the momentous Battle of Actium. Octavian triumphed and Cleopatra and Mark Antony deserted their troops and fled to Egypt. Soon after, Octavian became Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, and a whole new chapter of Roman history began. 

The north-western Greek province of Epirus has a wealth of archaeological and historical sites to explore, all within easy reach of Corfu,Lefkada, Meganissi, Paxos and Antipaxos.

8km north of Preveza (just over the causeway linking Lefkada to the mainland) is the greatly impressive but relatively unknown archaeological site of Nikopolis, a former Roman fortress town founded by Emperor Augustus ostensibly to celebrate his victory in the Battle of Actium but also as a strategic military stronghold and trading hub that controlled everything passing through the area. The city occupied a site of around 375 acres and today there is a variety of fascinating remains to be seen, including an odeum, a theatre and large sections of the original walls.

Continuing a few kilometres north from Nikopolis one soon comes to the fascinating site of Cassope. Comprising an agora, a theatre, the prytaneion (seat of the local government) and many other remains, the city of Cassope was built in the 4th century BC and flourished for around 200 years before being largely destroyed by invading Roman forces. When Nikopolis was built, the remaining inhabitants abandoned their town and resettled in the region’s new capital.

Still heading north along the road to Ioannina (of which more later) for another 70km, one comes to the site of the ancient Oracle of Dodona, second in importance only to the famed Oracle of Delphi. Dodona was mentioned by Homer (in both the Odyssey and the Iliad), Herodotus and Euripides and was established at least by the 7th century BC. Its renown grew over the centuries and at around 300BC, King Pyrrhus (he of the Pyrrhic Victory) made it his religious capital, building numerous temples and a theatre and erecting walls around the Oracle.

Ioannina is the capital of the Epirus province and sits in a strategic position at around 500 metres above sea level, overlooking Lake Pamvotis to the east. Founded by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD, its fortunes fluctuated over the centuries but had several golden eras, not least when the town became the seat of the court of Ali Pasha, the Albanian governor of the Ottoman province of Rumelia. His sumptuous lifestyle strongly influenced the architecture in the town and attracted luminaries from all over Europe, including Lord Byron. When, in 1822, he affronted the Sultan one too many times, however, he was killed by Ottoman troops on the islet of Lake Pamvotis and his head sent back to the Sublime Porte. The islet, which is home to a museum in the old Monastery of Agios Panteleimon, can be visited by boat, while the town itself is well worth a trip, not only for its old centre, complete with 13th century castle, churches, mosques and an age-old Jewish synagogue, but also for the wonderful views across north-western Greece and the work of its renowned silversmiths, which bears evident Turkish influences.

All in all, there's lots to see and do for archaeology enthusiasts and history buffs staying on the Ionian Islands and happy to drive a little (never more than a couple of hours).

 

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