Castle to Castle – Parga

Castle to Castle – Parga

The Ionian islands of Greece were part of the Venetian Republic for more than four hundred years. Venice conquered the islands one by one – Corfu in 1383, Zakynthos about a century later, Kefalonia and Ithaca around 1500 and finally Lefkada in 1718. The Venetians and Ottomans fought over the territory for many centuries, but unlike the rest of Greece, the Ionian islands escaped the Ottoman rule. Corfu, as the bulwark against the Ottoman empire became one of the most fortified places in Europe.

Napoleon conquered the thousand-year-old Republic of Venice in 1797, and the islands became a part of France. The British, however, captured the southern Ionian islands in 1809-10 and besieged the northern islands that were under French rule. In 1815 the islands were turned into the United States of the Ionian Islands under British rule.

During our journey, we had passed the Venetian castle of Santa Maura in Lefkada. Then we had visited the Vonitsa castle in the Ambracian gulf. As we continued our sailing trip past Preveza and into the open sea, we could sail from one castle to the next – we would find some of the finest Venetians castles in Parga and Corfu.

We had a great upwind sail north from Preveza, until the wind died. We motored for a while and reached a nice anchorage called Two Rock Bay, on the Greek mainland opposite the island of Paxos. It’s a beautiful place with some great snorkeling – definitely worth its own blog post – and we stopped there for a couple of nights. Then we continued to Parga.

A little chapel built in a crevice of a rock wall
Sailboats on the Ionian coast

The Greek coastline is very rugged and monumental around here. The limestone cliffs fall vertically into the turquoise sea, and you can see tiny white beaches and caves everywhere. The shores are unapproachable in most places, with big rocks like pointy teeth. There are very few protected anchorages, but outside the town of Parga there’s a big bay with a large anchorage and a long, sandy beach. We arrived there early in the afternoon on August the 25th, and found plenty of space to anchor. By evening the whole bay was full of boats, paragliding chutes, speedboats towing water skiers and all sorts of inflatable objects full of bouncing and screaming tourists. It was a very lively anchorage!

We launched our dinghy, rounded the cape of Parga with the castle on top, and visited the pretty town. The colourful houses seem to be piled on top of each other on the steep hill below the castle. A stone wall borders the water front, and outside small fishing boats swing in their moorings. You can swim to the small island of Panagia, with a small white chapel. We didn’t find a dedicated landing spot for our dinghy, so we just pulled it up on the beach and slipped into the hustle and bustle of the town

There was quite a lot more hustle and bustle than we were used to, having spent a rather quiet spring and summer because of the corona restrictions. It actually felt a little scary to walk among the hoards of tourists on the narrow streets, where waiters and shopkeepers were competing for customers. After a pizza dinner, we were happy to return to the peace and quiet of our boat, albeit in the middle of a crowded anchorage.

The next day we climbed up to the castle hill. Here, just like in Vonitsa, we found no information about the history of the place – just the meandering stone walls, towers and loopholes, and buildings resembling gunpowder cellars or dungeons. Spread across the grass here and there were bronze cannons. There’s so much more ancient history to be found everywhere in Greece for anyone to pay much attention to these fairly recent structures. Coming from a country with very little in the way of built history, it feels strange, but at least we could have the stronghold almost entirely to ourselves. And the views over the town, the anchorage, and the Ionian sea were spectacular!

I did some research on my own, and learned that the castle was originally built by the Normans in the 11th century. Back in those days these Viking settlers of Normandy seemed to be all over the Mediterranean, occupying much of southern Italy and Sicily (in this blog post you can read about our visit to a Norman city of Cefalú in Sicily) and spreading with them military innovations and Romanesque architecture, among other things. The Ottomans tried to capture the area from the 15th century onwards, and that’s when the castle was rebuilt by the Venetians – several times, actually, since they had to fight the Ottomans many times during the centuries. The British sold Parga with its citadel to Ali Pasha, an independent Ottoman ruler, in 1819. He built a harem and a Turkish bath within the castle walls.

From Parga we sailed northwards, to Corfu. More about that next time!

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