Mediterranean Studies Association

Congress Post Tour - Greece and Albania, May 29- June 2

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Please note: THE 2011 MSA POST TOUR INCLUDES:

FERRY FROM CORFU TO IGOUMENITSA.
FERRY FROM SARANDA, ALBANIA TO CORFU
LAND TRAVEL BY DELUXE COACH ON GREEK MAINLAND AND IN ALBANIA
FOUR NIGHTS OF LODGING: METEORA, GJIROKASTRA, 2 NIGHTS IN SARANDA
BREAKFAST EACH MORNING
DINNER IN GJIROKASTRA AND SARANDA
PROFESSIONAL GUIDE SERVICE IN ALBANIA BY AURON TARN OF AURON EXPEDITIONS

TOUR DOES NOT INCLUDE ADMISSION TO HISTORICAL SITES OR MUSEUMS

 

SUNDAY MAY 29 - DEPART CORFU BY FERRY FOR IGOUMENITSA,GREECE

Take coach from Igoumenitsa to Meteora. Sunday afternoon and Monday morning visit the monasteries of Meteora.
Overnight in Meteora. Dinner at local restaurant.

 

 

The Greek word Meteora means "suspended in the air", and our words meteorite and meteorology come from the same root. The conglomerate rock at Meteora, Greece, has eroded into fantastic peaks upon which medieval monks built monasteries, several of which are still active.

The isolated monasteries of Meteora helped keep alive Greek Orthodox religious traditions and Hellenic culture during the turbulent Middle Ages and Ottoman Turk occupation of Greece (1453-1829). In 1988, UNESCO declared Meteora to be a World Heritage Site.

Although it is unknown when Metéora was established, as early as the 11th century AD hermit monks were believed to be living among the caves and cutouts in the rocks. By the late 11th or early 12th century a rudimentary monastic community had formed centered around the church of Theotokos (mother of God), which still stands today. The hermit monks, seeking a retreat from the expanding Turkish occupation, found the inaccessible rock pillars of Meteora to be an ideal refuge.

Although more than 20 monasteries were built, beginning in the 14th century, only six remain today. These six are: 'Great Meteoron (or Transfiguration), Varlaam, St. Stephen, Holy Trinity, St. Nicholas Anapausas and Rousanou. There is a common belief that St. Athanasios (founder of the first monastery) did not scale the rock, but was carried there by an eagle. Access to the monasteries was originally extremely difficult, requiring either long ladders lashed together or large nets used to haul up both goods and people. In the words of UNESCO, "The net in which intrepid pilgrims were hoisted up vertically alongside the 373-meter cliff where the Varlaam monastery dominates the valley symbolizes the fragility of a traditional way of life that is threatened with extinction." In the 1920s steps were cut into the rock, making the complex accessible via a bridge from the nearby plateau. During World War II the site was bombed and many art treasures were stolen. Only six of the monasteries remain today. Of the six monasteries, five are inhabited by monks, one by nuns. Each monastery has fewer than 10 inhabitants and attract numerous tourists every year. The monasteries are now some of the most popular tourist sites in the world and serve primarily as museums.

 

Day 2 - Ioannina

Founded by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD, Ioannina flourished following the Fourth Crusade, when many wealthy Byzantine families fled there following the sack of Constantinople. In 1430 it surrendered to the Ottomans and until 1868, it was the administrative center of the Pashalik of Yanina. From the 16th - 19th centuries, the city was a major center of the Modern Greek Enlightenment and joined Greece in 1913 following the Balkan Wars. The city's formal name, Ioannina, means "Town of John" in Greek.

 

 

 

It is unknown when exactly the city was founded, but an unnamed new, "well-fortified" city, is recorded by the historian Procopius as having been built by Justinian I (527–565) for the inhabitants of ancient Euroia and is usually identified with Ioannina. The city was conquered in 1082 by the Normans who repaired the existing city walls in an effort to repel the Emperor Alexius I Comnenus (1081–1118) who nonetheless recovered the city in 1108.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1430 the Ottoman Turks granted privileges to the town in exchange for its surrender. In 1611 the city suffered a serious setback as a result of a peasant revolt. The revolt ended in the abolition of all privileges granted to the Christian inhabitants, who were driven away from the castle area.



Despite that blow, the city managed to recover. Its inhabitants continued their commercial and handicraft activities which allowed them to trade with important European commercial centers, such as Venice and Livorno, where merchants from Ioannina established commercial and banking houses. At the same time these merchants and entrepreneurs maintained close economic and intellectual relations with their birthplace and founded charity and education establishments. These merchants were to be major national benefactors. The great economic prosperity of the city was followed by remarkable cultural activity. During the 17th and 18th centuries, many important schools were established. These schools took over the long tradition of the Byzantine era, giving a significant boost for the Greek Enlightenment. During the 18th century, every author of the Greek world was either from Ionian or was a graduate of one of the city's schools.

In 1789 the city became the center of the territory ruled by Ali Pasha, an area that included northwestern Greece, Thessaly and parts of Euboea and the Peloponnese. The Muslim-Albanian lord Ali Pasha was one of the most influential personalities of the region in the 18th and 19th century. Although Ali Pasha committed a number of atrocities against the Greek population of Ioannina, his rule coincides with the greatest ever economic and intellectual era of the city. Ali Pasha began to alarm the Ottoman government, and in 1821, he was declared guilty of treason and Ioannina was besieged by Turkish troops and Ali Pasha was killed the following year.

In 1869, a great part of Ioannina was destroyed by fire. The communities of people from Ioannina living abroad were active in financing the construction of most of the city's churches, schools and buildings of charitable establishments. The first bank of the Ottoman Empire, the Ottoman Bank, opened its first branch in Greece in Ioannina which shows the power of the city in world trade in the 19th century.

Ioannina was incorporated into the Greek state on 21 February 1913 after the Balkan Wars.

The castle area ιs in the center of the town and the maze-like layout of the castle's streets, (many of which lead to dead ends) were allegedly designed to confound pirates who breached the castle walls; they would get lost within the fortress, and thus be captured before escaping with their bounty.

Within the castle in the centre of Ioannina city, the mosque of Aslan Pasha houses the Municipal Ethnographic Museum, which includes works of folk art, as well as weapons and swords from the period of the Ottoman occupation of the area.

Following our visit, we will head to the Albanian boarder where will be met by an Albanian coach and transported to Gjirokasta where we will spend the evening and have dinner.



Day 3 - Gjirokastra


Gjirokastra is in southern Albania in the historical region of Epirus. Its old town is inscribed on the World Heritage List as "a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town.

Gjirokastra is the birthplace of former Albanian communist leader Enver Hoxha and the writer Ismail Kadare.

The city's name first appeared in historical records under its Medieval Greek name of Argyrocastron .The name comes from Greek ("Αrgyro"), meaning, "silver" and " ("Kastro"), meaning castle, thus "Silver castle". The Albanian name is Gjirokastra.

The earliest recorded inhabitants were Greeks, the city's walls date from the 3rd century AD and the high stonewalls of the Citadel were built from the 6th to the 12th century.

The city became a major commercial center and was part of the Byzantine Despotate of Epirus. From 1386–1418 it was the regional capital and in 1417 became part of the Ottoman Empire. It was captured in 1811 by the Albanian-born Ali Pasha, who created a semi-autonomous fiefdom in the southwestern Balkans.

With its large Greek population, the city was claimed by Greece during the First Balkan War of 1912–1913, following the retreat of the Ottomans. However, it was awarded to Albania under the terms of the Treaty of London of 1913. The Greek military returned in 1914, and captured Gjirokastra and Saranda and were annexed to Greece.

The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 restored the pre-war status quo and the city was returned to Albanian control.

In April 1939, Gjirokastra was occupied and annexed by Italy with the rest of Albania but the city returned to Albanian control in 1944.

The postwar Communist regime developed the city as an industrial and commercial center. Gjirokastra suffered severe economic problems following the end of communist rule in 1991.


The city is built on the slope surrounding the citadel, located on a dominating plateau. The majority of the existing buildings date from 17th and 18th centuries. Typical houses consist of a tall stone block structures, which can be five stories high. Many houses in Gjirokastra have a distinctive local style that has earned the city the nickname "City of Stone", because most of the old houses have roofs covered with stones. The city gained the status of "museum town" and a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are more than 200 homes preserved as "cultural monuments" in Gjirokastra.

The Gjirokastra Castle dominates the town and overlooks the strategically important route along the river valley. Additions were built in the 19th century by Ali Pasha. The northern part of the castle was eventually turned into a prison and housed political prisoners during the communist regime.

The Gjirokastra Mosque was built in 1757. In 1945, the city still had 13 functional mosques. Of the 13 mosques, only the Gjirokastra Mosque has survived, the remaining 12 were destroyed or closed during the Cultural Revolution of the communist government in 1967.

DAY 3 - AFTERNOON


Tepelenë is located on the left bank of the Vjosë River, two miles downstream from its confluence with the Drino. It is strategically situated with a ruined citadel 300 meters above the river. Ali Pasha was born at the nearby village of Beçisht. Tepelene was visited by Lord Byron in 1809, which inspired him to write the poem "Mother Albania" depicting the natural beauty of Albania and the loyalty and fierceness of its warriors.

The Byzantines built a tower, which was enhanced by the Ottomans in the 15th century and by Ali Pasha in the early 19th century. In 1920, an earthquake destroyed the town, which was completely rebuilt.




ALI PASA 1744-1822

Ali was born into a powerful clan in the village Beçisht near the Albanian town of Tepelenë in 1740. He became a famous brigand leader and attracted the attention of the Turkish authorities. In 1768 he married the daughter of the wealthy pasha of Delvina, and continued to serve the Ottoman’s. In 1787 he was awarded the pashaluk of Trikala for his services during the Austro-Turkish War (1787–1791). In 1788 he seized control of Ioannina, and enlisted most of the local Brigands under his control. Ioannina would be his power base for the next 33 years. He took advantage of a weak Ottoman central government to expand his territory until he had gained control of most of Albania, western Greece and the Peloponnese.


 

 

The poet George Gordon (Lord) Byron visited Ali's court in Ioánnina in 1809 and recorded the encounter in his work Childe Harold. He had mixed feelings about the despot, noting the splendor of Ali's court and the Greek cultural revival that he had encouraged in Ioánnina, which Byron described as being "superior in wealth, refinement and learning" to any other Greek town. In a letter to his mother Byron deplored Ali's cruelty: "His Highness is a remorseless tyrant, guilty of the most horrible cruelties."

 

 

 

 

 

Although Ali Pasha's native language was Albanian he used Greek as his official language since the population of the region he controlled was predominantly Greek speaking.

Ali Pasha was a bold critic of the Sultan Mahmud II, who took action against him by ordering his deposition. Ali Pasha refused to resign his official post, and put up a fierce resistance to the Sultan's force of some 20,000 Turkish troops with his small but formidable army.

After two years of fighting, he was shot through the floor of his room and his head was cut off and sent to the Sultan. Ali Pasha of Tepelena died on February 5, 1822 at the age of 80. He was buried with full honors in a mausoleum next to one of the two main mosques of Ioannina, which still stands. The former monastery in which Ali Pasha was killed is a popular tourist attraction. The holes made by the bullets can still be seen, and the monastery has a museum dedicated to him, which includes a number of his personal possessions.

 

DAY 4 - SARANDA AND BUTRINT. OVERNIGHT IN SARANDA DAYS 3 AND 4.

The town of Saranda (which is only 7.5 mile from Corfu) has the most attractive waterfront in Albania. The town is named for an early Christian monastery Ayii Saranda which was dedicated to 40 Saints (Saranda means 40 in Greek). Most of Saranda’s attractions are a little out of town like the mesmerizing ancient archaeological site of Butrint (19 miles).

 

DAY 4 - Late morning departure for Butrint and lunch.



BUTRINT

Linked to the Mediterranean Sea, Butrint was settled in a prime location for the establishment of a commercial center.

The settlement quickly became an important stop along the merchant trade routes, and by the fourth century B.C. became one of the major maritime and commercial centers of the Ancient World. Throughout its history, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Venetians have inhabited this location. The present archeological site, therefore, contains structures and remnants that represent each period of the city's development. It was not until the beginning of the twentieth century that systematic excavations were carried out.

Today, the rediscovered city of Butrint stands within Albania's cultural landscape as a unique treasure. The city is a microcosm of almost 3,000 years of Mediterranean history—its sixth century, B.C. fortification evokes the city's military power, and its third century, B.C. amphitheatre symbolizes the rich culture of the once thriving ancient city.

Further, on the walls of the decaying temple dedicated to Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, are the only examples of writing ever discovered in Butrint.

As a result of continued political instability in this region and the threat of coastal development that would encroach on the unique ruins and artifacts of this ancient settlement, Butrint was included on the World Heritage List in 1992.



DAY 5 - TAKE NOON FERRY FROM SARANDA TO CORFU.

 

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