In this article we will speak about two fascinating historical places of Epirus which are at hand to visit if you are on holiday in Lefkada: Ancient Cassope and Zalongo. The island of Lefkada in fact is certainly in a very strategic position if you wish to discover the region of Epirus, an area of Greece still not well known to international tourists but definitely worth more than a visit.
Undoubtely Epirus offers beautiful wild natural attractions and suggestive historical places such as for example the spirngs of Acherons and Nikopolis. Moreover, this area features many picturesque traditional villages and some lovely little towns overlooking the sea such as Parga or Sivota. The capital of Epirus, Ioannina, it’s a place full of history and nice things to see. The Lake, the Castle with the Mausoleum of Ali Pasha, the Silver Museum and much more.
Among the Epirus destinations that you can reach in less than 40 minutes drive from Lefkada Town a special mention goes to the archeological site of Ancient Cassope and the Monument of Zalongo. Two suggestive places where you can learn about ancient and more recent history of this area of Greece.
The archaeological site of Cassope is set 600 meters above sea level on one of the hills of the Zalongo Massif. The site is in a remarkable panoramic position. Therefore Ancient Cassope offers great views of the Ionian Sea coast, Lefkada and the Ambracian Gulf.
Cassope, the capital of Cassopaea, was founded between the 4th and 5th century B.C. Its founders, wanted to protect the fertile valley to the south from the exploitation of the Eleian colonists. The city flourished in the 3rd century B.C. During this period its citizens built large public buildings. In the same years the town even had its own coin. However, the prosperity of Cassope ended in 168-167 B.C.. In fact, in this year the Romans attacked and destroyed a big part of Cassope.
Finally in 31 B.C its remaining inhabitants were forced to go to and leave to the nearby Nicopolis. Leaving the city by force and abandoning its buildings is the reason why some of Ancient Cassope public and private buildings are impressively good preserved today.
The Archaeological site of Cassope
The first trial excavation of Ancient Cassope took place in 1926 by G. Miliadis. Between 1951 and 1955 S. Dakaris excavated again the place. Then the excavation works continued in 1977, with the collaboration of W. Hoepfner and L. Schwander of the German Archaeological Institute.
Nowdays it is still possible to admire the ruins of the most important monuments and buildings of old Cassope. The archaeological site is one of the best remaining examples of a town built on a rectoangular grid, according to the so-called Hippodamian plan.
So let’s take a look at what you will see if you decide to pay a visit to the Archaeological site of Cassope.
The Walls of Ancient Cassope
Originally the town had a circuit wall of about 3Km. The walls were from 3 to 5 metres depth and could arrive to a maximum height of 10 metres. Some parts or the original wall belt are still in place today.
The Agorà, the Prytaneion and the West Stoas
Agorà in greek means market and like any town in Greece also in old Cassope you can find this. The Prytaneion, was the government building and you can see its ruins on the west side of the Agorà. The Prytaneion had a central court, with doric columns. Around the court there were six rooms. On the east side of the Prytaneion you can also see what remains of the west stoa. The stoa in ancient greek towns was a covered walkway or portico. The west stoa of Cassope had 13 doric columns. Finally, in front of the structure, there was an open space (temenos) with bases and altars. The whole complex was destroyed by the Romans in 167 B.C.
Indeed this was a very big public building, probably a hostel of the Hellenic period. Its dimensions were 33×30,3 metres. It featured a patio and was set on two floors, with 18 bedrooms on the ground floor and 13 on the upper floor. It consisted of an atrium, a rectangular central courtyard. Around this there were four galleries with octagonal columns and doric capitals.
The Macedonian Tomb
This Mausoleum carries the name of “Vasilospito”. It is an underground tomb, with a vault, in Macedonian style. It is certain that it belonged to some noble Cassopiopeans. Another view says that this is probably the Memorial of the founder of the city.
The Grand Theatre
The Theatre of Cassope lies on the slopes of a hill in the north western sector of Ancient Cassope.
This monument is still impressing today’s visitors. Infact it gradually reveals itself as one approaches the west side of the town. Even if it was a bit apart from the administrative and commercial center of the ancient city, this was for sure the most magnificent public building of the town. It fits perfectly into the natural environment with spectacular views to the Ambracian Gulf, the Preveza peninsula, the Ionian Sea and the island of Lefkada as well as the Acarnanian Mountains. The construction of the theatre dates back to the 3rd century BC. According to some author in the theatre could stay nearly 6.000 people.
Other ruins that you can admire in Ancient Cassope are: the Odeon, or little theatre, the Sancuary of Aphrodite, the Necropolis and the House a Cassope with its courtyard.
The Monument of Zalongo
Behind the site of Ancient Cassope, at 700 meters altitude on Mount Zalongo, stands the Monument of Zalongo. The sculptor, painter and architect George Zongolopoulos built it. The construction of the sculpture took six years, from 1954 to 1960. Indeed it is an impressive monument. In fact the sculpture, of concrete and limestone, is about 15 meters high and about 18 metres in lenght. It represents six female figures of decreasing size holding their hands. The monument wants to commemorate the sacrifice of the Souliotes women and the so-called Dance of Zalongo.
The Dance of Zalongo
At the beginning of the 19 century a big part of the Epirus reagion was under the rule of the turkish and very cruel Ali Pasha. Only the Soulios population had retained a certain degree of autonomy and lived in various areas, usually in the mountains. However in 1803 Ali Pasha decided that it was time to submit completely also this population. Therefore he issued orders to kill all the Soulios men while forcing the women and children into slavery. A part of the Suolios population found shelter in the mountains of the Zalongo Massif. Under siege a group of about 60 women decided that it was better to die than become slaves of the turkish. Together with their children they committed a sort of mass suicide trhowing themselves from the Zalongo cliff.
According to historians the women “held hands and started a dance, which was driven by an unusual heroism, with the fear of death emphasizing its rhythm … At the end, exhausted, the women make a permeating and long cry with its echoes extinguished in the depths of a terrifying cliff, where they all fall together with their children.”
The news about this sad and dramatic event, where women were dancing and singing before dying, spread everywhere across Europe. In 1827 the French artist Ary Scheffer painted Les Femmes souliotes (“The Souliot Women”) which has become an icon of this greek tragedy.
Also greek artists celebrated the act of bravery of the Soulites women. The composer Spyros Peresiadis wrote the music and Ioannis Sakellaridis wrote the lyrics for a song to celebrate the sacrifice of these brave women. The song, Χορός του Ζαλόγγου (the Dance of Zalongo ) is now part of the greek folk music tradition.
How to reach Ancient Cassope and Zalongo
While on holiday in Lefkada many tourists decide to spend most of their time close to their accomodation to enjoy the advantages of the beautiful beaches of the island. Other like to go and discover its traditional villages or to take advantage of other sighseeing opportunities such as a daily boat cruise, a visit to Lefkada Town or to Karya.
If you are among those traveller who wish to discover also Lefkada surrounding areas then Epirus is a fantastic option! In this area Ancient Cassope and Zalongo are quite easy to reach!
What you need to do is to first exit from the Island of Lefkada and proceed in the direction of Agios Nikolaos. After this village turn left towards Preveza. Once you pass the immersed tunnel you keep going straight on.
When you reach the area of Kanali, after about 10km, you will find an exit on your right indicating both Ancient Cassope and Zalongo. Drive on this road following also indications for Kamarina. Once you arrive here you will find directions to access the Archaeological site of Cassope. Kamarina is also the closest village to the Monument of Zalongo. You can access the monument from Saint Dimitrios Monastery (590 meters altitude). From here there is a coble lane of about 400 steps which leads to the pick.
Please feel free to get in contact with us if you would like to experience a private guided tour in these two destinations.
You can call us on 0030 26450 26912 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org . Alternatively you can come and visit us in our brand new office in Lefkada Town.