In their history, Western Greece and Epirus in particular have often gone in different directions from the rest of the country. The early Greek-speaking communities here shared a common culture with the rest of Greece, worshiping many of the same gods. However, many non-Greeks also settled here and influenced day-to-day life. This, coupled with the region's remoteness, meant that the people here did not participate in the grand classical civilization. Social organization remained more tribal, led by small-time kings. The greatest of the Epirote kings, Pyrrhus (318-272 B.C.), was constantly waging war. The term "Pyrrhic victory" refers to his victories (over the Romans south of Rome), which came at great cost. Epirus itself was reduced to a Roman province after 168 B.C. Ioannina, its capital, is said to have been founded by the emperor Justinian around A.D. 527.
During the Middle Ages, Western Greece constantly fell prey to invaders. When the Crusaders conquered Constantinople in 1204, some Greeks decided to set up a new state with Ioannina as the capital, the so-called Despotate of Epirus. It never amounted to much and soon fell under outside control. In 1431 it was taken over by the Turks, who eventually controlled most of Greece (although the Venetians and various other western Europeans gained possession of parts of Western Greece).
Near the end of this 350-year phase, Epirus experienced its most dramatic historic moment. In 1788, Ali Pasha, the "Lion of Ioannina," established his own relatively independent domain with Ioannina its capital. Born in Albania, he rose to prominence fighting on behalf of the Ottoman sultan in Constantinople. An international celebrity in his day, visited by Byron among others, he was a cruel despot who boasted of killing 30,000 people, often in the most brutal fashion. The Ottomans tolerated Ali Pasha as long as they could, but in 1822 they sent a large force to capture him. He hid in a monastery on the islet off Ioannina but was tracked down, killed, and beheaded.
When the Greeks rose up against the Turks in the 1820s, the southern part of Western Greece, centered around Messolonghi, took an active role, but the bulk of Epirus did not join in. Arta, in the southwest, was freed from Turkish rule in 1881, but Epirus did not formally join Greece until after the Second Balkan War of 1913.
Epirus became a battleground twice more, against the invading Italians and Germans in World War II and then in the Greek civil war. Since then, it has enjoyed peace and quiet prosperity.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.