Fall Journey Along Via Egnatia: Epirus & Macedonia
Letter from the Lecturer
I have the pleasure of being your historical guide for our tour in northern Greece. I am particularly pleased that we have the opportunity to see this underappreciated part of the Greek world. Relatively few foreign tourists visit Epirus and Macedonia compared to central and southern Greece, despite the fact that some of the most interesting Hellenistic, Roman, and Medieval sites in the country are located here.
Your visit will begin in Ioannina, the capital of Epirus. Epirus rose to prominence in the Late Classical (ca. 400-323 BC) and Hellenistic (ca. 323-146 BC) Periods, especially under the reign of Pyrrhos (ca. 318-272 BC). Most famous for his unsuccessful wars against the Romans in southern Italy (the origin of our phrase, “Pyrrhic victory”) and the Carthaginians in Sicily, Pyrrhos was nevertheless one of the most talented generals of the Hellenistic Period, and during his rule Epirus was a major regional power. During Roman times, the interior of Epirus was eclipsed by new cities on the coast (like Nikopolis). Renewed vitality in the region was marked by the founding of Ioannina in the 11th century AD. Beautifully set on the shores of Lake Pambotis, Ioannina is also in a strategic location, disputed by western European crusaders, Byzantine Greeks, Serbs, and Turks during the Middle Ages. After Constantinople fell to Latin armies during the Fourth Crusade (AD 1204), the Despotate of Epeiros became a stronghold of Byzantine culture.
The second half of our trip focuses on Macedonia. Ancient Macedonia was, initially, a large and populous but relatively weak kingdom on the northern fringes of the Greek world. Aigai (Verghina) was its capital, an impressive royal residence surrounded by characteristic tumulus (mound) burials, including the spectacular “Royal Tombs”, which may include the burial of Philip II. Under the leadership of Philip II, Macedonia became the most powerful state in the Balkans during the mid-4th century BC. Philip united and mobilised the kingdom, conquering first the petty kingdoms of the Thracians, and then the Greek city-states. As part of Philip’s reforms, he founded a new capital city, Pella, which was much larger than Aigai. It was built on a grid plan, with large insulae (apartment blocks with retail spaces), beautiful mosaics, and state-of-the art infrastructure (including extensive plumbing and large baths). Pella was only rediscovered in the mid-20th century after lying abandoned for centuries, and it is very well preserved; walking its streets provides a real impression of life in a Hellenistic city. Thessaloniki was the most important Roman and Byzantine city in northern Greece, and most of its ruins date to those eras. Although the Roman and Byzantine monuments are scattered through a vibrant modern metropolis, Thessaloniki, like the other great ancient cities of the Mediterranean, provides a glimpse of Roman power and ingenuity.
The final day of the tour includes visits to Kavalla, Philippi, and Thasos. Thasos, a fertile island in the north Aegean, was originally inhabited by Thracians. Its conquest by colonists from Paros was immortalised by one of the earliest Greek poets, Archilochos, who took part in the invasion himself (latter half of the 7th century BC). Remains from the Classical period (ca. 480-323 BC) are prominent on the island, including the urban architecture of ancient Thasos (including city walls, an agora, a harbour, a sanctuary of Poseidon, and a theatre). Philippi, by contrast, preserves mainly Late Roman and Medieval architecture. Since the site has not been over-built by modern construction, it again provides an excellent experience of an ancient city, including a Roman forum and theatre. Of particular interest are the well-preserved fountains, baths, and latrines representing the amenities of life in a Late Roman city. Philippi is perhaps best known, however, for its churches (especially since it housed the oldest Christian community in Europe and its citizens were the recipients of Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians). Kavalla showcases a still later period, with Byzantine walls, a wonderfully preserved and beautifully constructed Ottoman aqueduct, and the Imaret (alms-house) of Mehmet Ali. With its picturesque Old Citadel overlooking the harbour, Kavalla has always struck me as one of the prettiest and most pleasant towns in Greece, and a fitting place to wind down our tour.
In closing, I hope that you have found this letter a helpful introduction to your travels, and look forward to talking with you this September in Greece.
Dr. Shawn Ross
School of Humanities
University of New South Wales
Sydney NSW 2052
1 September - 8 September 2013 (8 days)
Price of tour (without flight): € 1850
Single supplement € 460 (Max. number of participants: 22)
Lecturer: Dr. Shawn Ross
Time period focus: Classical, Byzantine, Ottoman
Itinerary in Brief
Day 1: Arrival at Ioannina (Overnight: Ioannina)
Day 2: Nekromanteion-Kassope (Overnight: Ioannina)
Day 3: Ioannina (Overnight: Ioannina)
Day 4: Dodona-Orraon (Overnight: Thessaloniki)
Day 5: Verghina-Pella (Overnight: Thessaloniki)
Day 6: Dion-Thessaloniki (Overnight: Thessaloniki)
Day 7: Kavala-Philippi-Thasos (Overnight: Thessaloniki)
Day 8: Thessaloniki (flight home)
Day 1: Arrival at Ioannina
We arrive at Ioannina airport where we are met by our tour manager and our transport. We settle in our hotel in the town of Ioannina where we meet our lecturer Dr. Shawn Ross for a welcoming dinner.
Overnight: Ioannina (Dinner)
Day 2: Nekromanteion-Kassope
We visit the famous Nekromanteion, theOracle of the Dead of the Ancient Greek world. It is located where the three rivers of Ades, as the Underworld was named, crossed: Acheron (“without joy”), Kokytos (“mourning”) and Pyriflegethon (“hell fire”). It was considered to be the spot from where the dead descended to the Underworld. Worshipers went there to meet the souls of the dead, whose spirits were deemed to have the ability to foresee the future, according to Homer. We also visit the lovely ancient town of Kassope, laid out in the 4th century BC on a grid and capital of ancient Cassopaea that flourished in the 3rd century B.C., when large public buildings were erected, until the 2nd century B.C. when it was destroyed by the Romans. The site showcases Late Classical city planning and architecture, including a regular street system, an odeion (a small covered theatre), a prytaneion (a meeting house for the city council), and a travellers’ hostel. Kassope’s remains illustrate many aspects of cultural and political life in Classical and Hellenistic Greek cities.
Overnight: Ioannina (Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner)
Day 3: Ioannina
We spend the day in the charming city of Ioannina, which is situated on the lake Pambotis. In the late classical period, Ioannina became a prosperous town and cultural center and continued to be one centuries later under Ottoman rule. Much of the historical architecture of the city dates to this period: the city walls, the Turkish library, the synagogue, and the palace and tomb of Ali Pasha, the notorious Albanian ruler of the Western Rumelian province of the Ottoman Empire in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Less visible is the fact that from the mid-17th to mid-19th centuries Ioannina was a wealthy commercial city and centre of the “Greek Enlightenment”, a literary and intellectual movement seeking to promote education and revive Greek culture in the face of Ottoman rule. After visiting the new archaeological museum and the Byzantine Epirus museum, we have lunch at a traditional taverna by the lake. We have the afternoon and evening free to stroll around the picturesque city or perhaps take a boat to the little island in the lake to visit the Ali Pasha museum were we can visit his “onda” (home) and see the actual holes in the floor from the bullets that killed him, as well as artifacts and traditional clothes.
Overnight: Ioannina (Breakfast - Lunch)
Day 4: Dodona-Orraon
We visit the Oracle of “Mother Godess” at Dodona. According to mythology, two doves flew from EgyptianThebes: onelanded in Libya, where the temple of Ammon Zeus was built and the second came to Dodona. It was also a sanctuary of Zeus. It was during the Hellenistic period that Dodona became an important town, marked by the rebuilding of the Temple of Zeus. From the time of Homer, this sanctuary was considered the oldest oracle in Greece, a place where priests divined the future from the rustling of the leaves on a sacred oak tree.Later on we make a quick visit to the ancient town of Orraon, with its fantastic views. Ancient Orraon was founded and fortified between 385 and 370 BC, The private, stone-built houses of Orraon are exceptionally well preserved, sometimes even up to the upper storey, where the windows, and the door jambs and frames can be seen. After our visit we get on the new highway “Egnatia Odos” towards Thessaloniki.
Overnight: Thessaloniki (Breakfast-Lunch)
Day 5: Verghina-Pella
In the morning we visit Verghina, the first capital of the Macedonian kingdom (ancient Aigai). It was the royal burial site; until their discovery in 1977, the tombs were covered by a tumulus 13 m high and 110 m across. The remarkable painted tombs, the facades of the tombs and their paintings stand out and can be seen at close hand, either on site or in the excellent museum along with magnificent treasures. Of particular note are the tombs of the royal dynasty, most notably King Philip II and a young prince who is identified as Alexander IV. We continue to Pella, the second Macedonian capital. Both Philip II and Alexander the Great were born in Pella. There are courtyard houses and a palace, where we can also see the exceptional pebble mosaics. There is also a new museum on site with exciting displays. We return to Thessaloniki, where we will experience the city by night for those who feel like it.
Overnight: Thessaloniki (Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner with live music)
Day 6: Dion-Thessaloniki
We visit the impressive site of Dion, which was the most important religious centre of the ancient Macedonians, dedicated to Zeus. Alexander the Great offered there magnificent sacrifices before embarking for his Asian campaign. The city of Dion was later colonized by the Romans. Situated on a lush plain below Mt. Olympos, Dion was a major sanctuary, with temples to Demeter, Asklepios, Isis, and other gods, testament to increasing religious syncretism of the Hellenistic period. More of the distinctive Macedonian burials can be seen in its vicinity. Around noon, we head to Kalamaria, a picturesque sea-sidesuburb of Thessalonica, to have a fresh sea-food lunch. For those who are up for it, the afternoon is fully dedicated to the modern capital of Northern Greece, Thessaloniki. As a major provincial capital, Thessaloniki had important imperial (e.g., the Arch of Galerius), civic (the Roman Forum), and religious (the churches of Aghios Dimitrios and Aghia Sofia) monuments. Perhaps most impressive is the Rotunda – a large, domed, circular building constructed by the emperor Galerius in the 4th century AD as a mausoleum and later converted to a church – the Rotunda is an innovative example ofLate Roman architecture. We also visit the impressive Byzantine Museum and the Macedonian section of the archaeological museum.
Overnight: Thessaloniki (Breakfast-Lunch)
Day 7: Kavala-Philippi-Thasos
We continue our drive east on Via Egnatia to visit the Ottoman old town of Kavala, which dates back to the 16th century, as well as the local museum. In classical times, the name of the town, founded as a colony of Thasos, was Neapolis. During the Byzantine period – probably during the 8th-9th centuries AD – the city was re-named Christoupolis, reflecting the spread of the new faith after St. Paul’s visit in 49-50 AD. We then continue to Philippi, another ancient colony of Thasos and the place where Apostle Paul founded the first Christian group in Europe. We will walk in the original Via Egnatia, which was one of the greatest highways of the Roman Empire.The establishment of the new religion and the city's proximity to Constantinople, the Roman Empire's new capital, brought new splendor. Three magnificent basilicas and the Octagon complex, the cathedral dedicated to Saint Paul, were erected in the city center between the 4th and 6th centuries AD. From there we will take the boat and visit the island of Thasos, after a 45-minute sail. There we can stroll in the picturesque villages, visit the magnificent Temple of Dionysos, the well-preserved Hellenistic Theatre with its spectacular views out to sea, and the Ancient Agora, the bustling marketplace of ancient and Roman Thasos. We will also visit the local archaeological museum, which is considered one of the most important peripheral museums in Greece, with exhibits from the 7th century B.C. until the 7th century AD. After eating by the sea and enjoying the excellent view, we will take the boat back to Kavala and then drive back to Thessaloniki.
Overnight: Thessaloniki (Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner)
Day 8: Departure
Our transport takes us to Thessaloniki airport where we board our flights home.
Please contact us to help you book your connecting flight to Ioannina.
One of our major goals at Mythscapes is to offer the best available accommodation at every single destination. Below is a list with the hotels that you will be staying in during the tour:
Ioannina: Our hotel at Ioannina will be the Grand Serai, the only 5 star Hotel located in the centre of the city. The hotel’s guestrooms offer an oasis of calm with space and silence, providing the utmost in luxury.They are all perfectly equipped to fulfil the needs of demanding travelers.
Another exceptional 5 star hotel will be waiting for us in Thessaloniki.The Mediterranean Palace is close to one of the most picturesque areas of the city called “Ladadika” and it has a magnificent view of the Thermaikos Bay.
Three days full board. Half board the rest of days (see itinerary), full road transportation, tickets to museums and archaeological sites.
You will also be provided with a folder with material about the sites that we are going to visit, carefully selected by our lecturer. Also, for those who really want the full scholarly experience, you will receive a comprehensive reading list via email before departure . Naturally, reading or knowing this material is by no means a prerequisite in order to enjoy the tour. We are just happy accommodate the needs of even the most demanding of our travellers.
• Τickets to Athens or Ioannina from abroad, return tickets from Thessaloniki or Athens.
• Entrance fees or tickets to optional venues or events that our lecturer might suggest.
AIR TRANSPORT: Regarding your arrival to Ioannina (first day of tour) and departure from Thessaloniki (last day of tour), you have two options:
1) You can either come to Ioannina by plane, by arranging the corresponding flight on your own or by asking us to do it for you. We will pick you up at Ioannina airport and drive you to your hotel. The same goes for your returning flight from Thessaloniki (last day of tour).