Prefecture of Ioannina
A great area is covered by thick forests composed by larches, pine-barrens,
oak trees, beeches, chestnuts, maples and firs, surrounded by astonishing
landscapes, shows an noteworthy variety for this relatively small region. One
can see imposing mountains and picturesque valleys, crossed by torrents, as
well as beautiful waterfalls and streams. Rocks as tall as towers and
breathtaking canyons appear at every turn of the road, canyons that get
steeper and deeper.
The National Park of Vikos - Aoos, located at the northwestern side of the Pindos mountain complex, includes the Vikos canyon, considered to be the biggest and deepest in Europe. The Aoos river valley, situated between the Smolikas and Timfi mountain complexes is also of exceptional beauty. The traditional houses of Zagori and Konitsa are perfectly and harmoniously incorporated in the stone morphology of the region; giving the visitor the impression that they have always been part of the landscape.
Following the small paths one can find wild flowers, numerous indigenous plants, a great variety of wide-leave trees and a rich animal life. Animals included mammals, such as the brown bear, the lynx, wild goat and fox as well as 80 different sorts of birds such as the golden eagle and the black woodpecker that have practically disappeared elsewhere. Close to Metsovo, around the borders of the region of Epirus with those of Western Macedonia, one can find the famous "Vallia Calda" and landscapes of exceptional beauty such as that of "Arkoudorema".
When it comes to the architecture, stone which one can find everywhere, is widely used for all types of constructions. A piece of this "love affair" with stone are the famous single-arch and multi-arched stone bridges of Zagori and Konitsa. They are samples of an unrepeatable traditional popular architecture that has blossomed in those areas during the 18th and the 19th century, when those bridges constituted the only means of passage for the inhabitants, the animals and the trade towards Thessaly and the rest of Greece.
The town has retained its charms while offering the visitor first class modern facilities. Konitsa is famous for its stone-masons and its buildings are a testimony to their skills. It is a fertile region which provides fresh ingredients for the town’s numerous restaurants. Konitsa is an excellent touring centre from which the visitor can explore this fascinating region. The traveler can hire a car, use local buses, or take an organized tour to visit the local historic monasteries. They can then climb to the Saint Barbara castle for a panoramic view of the area. On another day. After a walk around the cobbled streets of the old town, the visitor can go to the village of Bourazani. Here, there is the well-known Environmental Park and a lovely old restored watermill. After a good night’s sleep the traveler may spend the day mountain biking in the nearby mountains, or white -water rafting in the Vikos and Aoos Gorges. Or they may with to daydream beside the Alpine lakes of Smolikas Drakolimni and Timphy. Then they can relax in the mineral steam bath spas at Kavasiles and Amarantos. The visitor will find excellent food in Konitsa too, with local specialties including jam, honey, and fresh trout. Konitsa is an ideal place for any visitor, both adventure seekers and those who simply want to relax.
The most important mountains in the area are: the Grammos (2.520m), the Smolikas, the second highest mountain in Greece after Olympus and the Gamila which separates the county of Konitsa with the county of Zagori.
There many claims regarding the roots of the name "Konitsa":
(1) Historian P. Aravantinos claims that the name is derived from an ancient city located exactly in the same site. The town was called "Knossos". Over the time "Knossos" turned "Konissos" and then "Konissa" to today's "Konitsa".
(2) Writer Poukebil and others believe that the roots of the name are Slavic. "Koni" is the Slavic language means "horse" and "tsa" is the "location". Therefore "Koni+tsa" = "Konitsa" in other words "the place with the horses". Poukebil, who traveld in Epirus during the Ottoman Empire, believes that Konista is at the site where ancient city Antitania was located.
(3) A bit further up from the Chapel of Saint Barbara, one can find the ruins of a castle that was build by a wealthy person with the name "Konis". Some claim that the town was named after his name.
(4) The English traveler Lik (17th century) claims that the ancient town of "Eribia" was located bellow today's Konitsa because of the focloric song "At Eribia's Castle".
(5) Others believe that this was the site of the ancient town "Styvara".
One thing is certain. The strategically important and picturet location was host to many cities from the ancient times. All suffered barbaric attacks that led to their destruction and re-build.
Bellow the few ruins that are scattered in many places in Konista, one can discover a history of bloody wars, traditions that lasted centuries and archeological treasures of the good and the bad times.
The various roman and Byzantine items that were excavated in the area of Konista testify a cruel history.
Olympiad, the mother of Alexander the Great, was from the ancient town of "Molossida" which
was located in the area infront of Konista, where the rivers Voidomatis, Aoos and Sarantaporos join
together. Here, Pyrros, King of Epirus, build his castles. Latter on, the Egnatia Avenue that was
build by the Romans passed this area.
The older Christian Churches were transformed into Mosques. One of them is still standing near the stone-bridge at Aoos river.
Over time, Christians and Turks lived peacefully sharing the same customs.
It is said that the Turks of Konista respected the Christian religion and that at times of sickness they prayed in Christian ways. Konista was one of the most aristocratic towns during the Ottoman Empire. Even today we see in remains of the Turkish architecture in the aristocratic houses.
It is said that the well know animal trader of Athens, Hasekis, was from Konista along with other well known Turks including the mother of Ali-Pasa, Hamko. Her house still exists in upper Konitsa.
During the Ottoman Empire, Konista was governed by a "Kaimakami" (deputy-commander). It enjoyed prosperity and was a major trading place. It was well known for carpentry and leathers. Ali-Pasas paid special attention to the town since his mother was from there. During his times, Konista was the cross point for Europe, the Balkans and the eastern Ottoman Empire.
In the past, towards the end of the fall season (and currently at the last week of September), a big bazaar took place with the name of "pazaropoulo". Thousands of people from the surrounding areas as well as from areas further away, like Thessalia and Macedonia gathered. They traded hundreds of animals, handmade carpets, overcoats, agricultural goods and diary products. Even today one can find the beautiful carpets made in Samarina and Ntenstika.
The Greek Army freed Konitsa from the Ottoman Empire on February 24 1913, three days after the freeing of Ioannina. Konitsa, a natural fortress, had become the hiding place of Tzabit Pasas and his 2000 soldiers and 3-4 artillery equipment. Also of Bekir Agas from Grevena and Bouktar Agas with his 250-300 soldiers. Bibasis Achmet Beis with his army, Kirim, Izer and Tziafer Tsaousides and their armies, to a total of 4000 soldiers. At the end of 1917 Konitsa was taken over briefly by the Italians who withdrew few months latter in September.
In the old times, Konista was divided into the Ano (Top) Konitsa, where the wealthy used to live, and the Kato (Below) Konitsa where the farmers used to live. After the exchange of population with Turkey in 1922, a number of Greeks from Asia Minor moved to Kato Konitsa. They brought with them new ideas on farming that great benefited Konitsa.
During the Greek-Italian war (1940-41), many houses were destroyed by the Italians (burning of houses etc). The people of Konista and of the surrounding areas fought the Italian and German invaders with the same patriotic spirit that characterizes Greeks.
There are about 4000 people in the city of Konitsa. They work mostly in farming, agriculture and tourism. Konista's buildings--build with stones--and streets are typical of the Epirotic architecture. Walking towards the Ano Konista, a visitor can admire the beautiful villas that were build during the Ottoman occupation. The house of Chamko, mother of Ali Pasa, the villa of Xousein Bei. Most of the houses, churches and monuments are a jewelry to Konitsa. The church of "St. Kosmas the Aitolos" is located a few meters bellow the central square. Next to the church is the statue of Metropolitan Sebastianos (+1994). His grave is at the Monastery of Panagia (Virgin Mary) of Molybdoskepastos.
As we are looking at the city, on the right side of the city we can see the Aoos river. An old stone-made bridge is still in good condition. It is the largest single arch stone-made bridge that has survived in the Balkans. It was build by Zioga Frontzou, architect and stone-master. Work started in 1823 and finished in 1871. For the safety of the people, a little bell hangs bellow the bridge. If it is very windy, the bell rings to warn the pedestrians. Next the bridge starts the little route that takes visitors to the Monasteri of Stomio. One needs to walk 1-1.30 hours to reach the Monastery as no cars can go there.
From Athens, you can take the following "alternative" routes:
1. Take the Athens-Patra Highway up to the city of Rio, cross over with the ferry-boat to Antirio and continue driving north passing by Agrinio, Amfilochia, Arta on your way to Ioannina. Once you reach Ioannina, you continue for Kozani. The town of Konitsa is about 45 minutes from Ioannina towards Kozani. This is the fastest way by car.
2. From Athens you drive north on the highway towards the city of Lamia until the turn for Delfous. You exit the highway and continue driving in the beautiful "Sterea Ellada" as the state is called You will pass by Galaxidi, Itea, Naypakto until you reach the highway Patras-Ioannina. From here you continue driving north passing by Agrinio, Amfilochia, Arta on your way to Ioannina. Once you reach Ioannina, you continue for Kozani. The town of Konitsa is about 45 minutes from Ioannina towards Kozani. (similar with route 1)
3.From Athens drive north on the highway till near Lamia where you take the turn for Domoko. You will drive endless straight-roads in the middle of the Thessalikon Valley passing by the cities Karditsa, Trikala, Kalambaka and next to Meteora. You will cross the Pindos mountains driving through the breathtaking crossing of Katara. You will reach the town of Metsovo and futher down the city of Ioannina. Once you reach Ioannina, you continue for Kozani. The town of Konitsa is about 45 minutes from Ioannina towards Kozani.
The beautiful scenery make Konista the perfect place for the annual athletic games EVATHLOS
Other sources of information in Greek or English
Pictures from the area of Konitsa:
Top of Gamila mountain Photo Lampros Raptis
Aoos Bridge near Konitsa at night Photo Lampros Raptis
Photo Lampros Raptis
Near the Monasteri Stomiou Photo Lampros Raptis
Drakolimni Smolika mountain Photo Lampros Raptis
Maps of the area