Ioannina has a tremendous wealth of religious monuments to show, with Byzantine churches, monasteries, convents and chapels attracting the faithful from all over Greece and elsewhere, since the area has been a crossroads of religions over the years and boasts a wealth of religious sites.
In the city of Ioannina and more specifically on the Island in Lake Pamvotida, are seven separate Temples that were built between the 13th and 17th century by prominent families in Epirus after the fall of Constantinople, transforming the area into one of the most important monastic centres of the age. The first monastery founded was the Monastery of Agios Nikolaos of Philanthropenoi. Of the stunning frescoes in the main katholikon, of particular interest is the fresco of the seven sages of ancient Greece in the south exonarthex (porch).
Popular destinations are the Monasteries of Ntourachani and Kastritsas in the Ioannina basin region, which have managed to remain steadfastly unchanged over time.
The Monastery of Tsoukas, dedicated to the Birth of the Virgin, is located on the hill of the same name at an altitude of 760 meters at Elliniko in the Municipality of North Tzoumerka and attracts thousands of the faithful each year. History shows that the monastery was founded in 1190 by the Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelus, only to be destroyed in 1736 and rebuilt again in 1779.
The Monastery of Theotokos Kipina, built almost in the middle of a huge rock on the northeast side of the wild gorge through which the Kalarrytikos River flows. Access to the monastery is by a small path carved out of the rock, which continues over a small wooden suspension bridge leading to the outer buildings of the main monastery.
The Monastery of Panagia Stomiou is set in one of the most astonishing locations in the country, the Aoos River Gorge. The monastery took its name from the location, the stomio (the mouth) of the narrow gorge where it stands. The monastery is dedicated to the Yperagia Theotokos (the Most Holy Virgin Mary) and was originally constructed in 1590 on the other side of the river, but was moved to its present site in 1774, because the holy icon was discovered to have been miraculously transported there. The monastery holds the relics of Vasilios the Great, Agios Ioannis Chrysostomos, the Venerable Osios Alypios of Kionito, and other saints. All that was saved from its almost total destruction by German troops in 1943 was the church itself. The monastery was restored by the monk Paisios the Athonite, who came from Konitsa and stayed at the monastery for a while. The cell in which he lived during his 4-year residence there is still kept as it was.
Near the village of Molyvdoskepasto in the region of Konitsa, some 27 km from Ioannina on the border with Albania, lies a walled monastery dedicated to the Koimisis tis Theotokou (the Dormition of the Virgin). Celebrations in its honour are held on August 15 each year. The name of the village ‘Molyvdoskepasto’ (literally ‘lead-covered’) comes from the fact that the roof of the monastery was once made of lead tiles. It is believed that it was probably founded by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine Pogonatos in the year 1521. According to the traditional tales, the emperor was arrogant enough to bathe in the spring next to the ancient temple. When he came out of the water his skin turned black. He later showed so much repentance for his actions that his colour was restored. In gratitude, he built the church with its lead-tiled roof. The church contains beautifully-crafted wood carvings from the 16th century as well as old icons.
Those interested in touring religious sites will certainly enjoy visiting the Monastery of Paliouri in Zitsa, the Holy Evaggelistria Monastery of Ano Pedina in Zagori, the Monastery of Sosinou in Parakalamos, which has recently been renovated, and the Panagia Monastery in Metsovo. The latter is a walled monastery where notable features include the two-storey cells, guest quarters, the tiled courtyards on various levels, a wooden bell-tower, wall frescoes dating back to 1754, and the beautifully-carved 18th century wooden iconostasis with its characteristic icon of the Panagia (Virgin Mary) dated 1728. At the monastery, there is also the famous ‘Gkina’ watermill, which was recently restored to working order and a definite monument to hydropower.