History of Parga

In the past, Parga was known successively as Parageiros, Paragaia and Ypargos, from which its present name is derived. It was first conquered by the Normans, who built the original fortress, in the fourteenth century and later by the Venetians, the French, the English and the Turks. During the time of Venetian rule, the town enjoyed considerable benefits and flourished, acting as a link between Ottoman-occupied Greece and Venice.

Parga has been inhabited since the Byzantine era. The first time Parga was mentioned by its present name was in 1387 by Ioannis Katakouzinos who refers to Nea Parga, which was built after the inhabitants fled to escape the raids by the Albanian tribes from Pogoniani. The town’s population increased with an influx of inhabitants from the region of Vagentia (opposite Corfu) in around 1370. During the same period, the town’s inhabitants came to an agreement with the Normans and in 1401, with the help of the latter, they built the first of the town's fortresses.

During the Middle Ages, the area suffered many attacks and raids by pirates and looters. The situation became more stable between the late sixteenth century and the late eighteenth century. In 1401, Parga fell under Venetian control following a treaty between the two towns, and remained as such until 1797. During the Venetian period, Parga was further fortified by the construction of the castle and became the region’s commercial centre (the Dogana - the Customs House of the time - still stands at Valtos) acquiring special privileges whilst remaining self-governed and growing economically. At the same time, the Venetians ordered the planting of olive trees, which meant that a significant proportion of people from Parga worked producing olives and oil. In Parga, as in Preveza, there were olive oil presses and soap manufacturers.

During the same period, an important educational movement developed with renowned teachers including Brother Filotheos, Anastasios Mospiniotis, Andreas Idromenos, Christoforos Perraikos and Agapios Leonardos. Fleeing from Turkish Rule, a number of Souliots passed through Parga to reach to Ionian Islands.

In 1797, Parga passed from Venetian to French rule, and in 1814 to English. In the early nineteenth century, the English governor of the Ionian Islands, Thomas Maitland, signed a treaty with Ali Pasha, selling the town to the Ottoman ruler, which meant it lost the privileges enjoyed in previous centuries. The people of Parga reacted against this treaty, as they lost a significant portion of their property, and many fled to Corfu to avoid being enslaved (1819). Collective memory has preserved their lament and flight to Corfu as an important and tragic event in the history of the town.

Parga during the War of Independence

The Souliots got supplies of food and arms from the port of Parga for use in their struggle against the Ottomans, and later fled to the castle of Parga when forced to abandon their own town temporarily. Once Souli fell, they fled to Parga and, from there, left with the Pargans when the English sold Parga to Ali Pasha.

With the Paris treaty of 5 November 1815 and the restoration of peace in Europe, the Ionian Islands formed an independent Ionian State under the exclusive protection of Great Britain, known as the United States of the Ionian Islands. At the time, the Pargans, who had maintained a close relationship with the Ionian Islands, were also under the rule of the English. After the liberation of Corfu in 1814, people from Britain, such as Thomas Maitland, came to the region hoping to support Ali Pasha, and thus to decrease the influence of the Russians in the region. They sold Parga to Ali Pasha who, even after years of besieging the town, had not managed to conquer it. As a result, the Ottoman ruler succeeded – through a costly exchange with the British – in something he had not been able to achieve through years of violence (he had even constructed the castle at Anthousa, which stood higher than Parga, in order to keep the latter constantly besieged and under control.

Even this total uprooting and flight to Corfu did not make the Pargans and Souliots lose heart, and they continued to offer their valuable services to the Greek Revolution. Some of them, such as Markos Botsaris and Kitsos Tzavelas, are recognised as national heroes.

On 23 February 1913, Parga was integrated into the Greek state. Many Pargans returned to their homes after liberation.

German Occupation

On 12 August 1943, neighbouring Ammoudia was attacked and looted by the Germans, forcing its inhabitants to abandon the village and head for Parga.

The castle

Before the construction of the sturdy castle of Parga, which remains standing today, the inhabitants of Parga tried to fortify the town, which is exposed to the sea, in order to be able to ward off invasions. The first fortifications were constructed with the help of the Normans. In 1452, Hatzi Bey seized the fortress, but in 1454 it was retaken by the town’s residents. Hayreddin Barbarossa demolished the existing fortifications and town in 1537.

The castle was rebuilt with the help of the Venetians, but before it was completed it was razed to the ground again by the Turks. In 1792, the Venetians built another incredibly strong fort, for the third and final time. This remained impregnable until 1819, in spite of many attacks, primarily by Ali Pasha of Ioannina who besieged them from high up in the castle of Agia Anthousa.

Parga Castle – Detail from a painting by Francesco Hayez

The Venetians created an excellent defence plan which, together with the town's natural fortification, made it an invincible fortress. Outside the castle walls, there were eight towers in various positions which completed the defence. Four hundred houses were squeezed into the limited space of the citadel in a way which meant they occupied as little space as possible and were safe from enemy fire from the sea.

The water tanks of the castle and the houses were fed with water from the “Kremasma” spring. For its supplies, the castle used the two bays: Valtos and Pogonia. Parga castle was unconquerable throughout the whole time Ali Pasha was in command, and offered great relief to the Souliots, who were fighting against him. Free besieged Pargans and Souliots held heroic battles and preserved their freedom for centuries from this castle.

It is possible to get to the castle of Parga from the port via the town’s narrow streets and steps, and there is also a paved road leading to the coast at Valtos.

When Parga was sold to the Turks in 1819, Ali Pasha strengthened it still further and installed his harem, the hamam, at the top of the town, radically changing the layout of the castle.

The winged lion of Agios Markos can be seen on the wall of the arched gate at the entrance of the castle, alongside the name “ANTONIO BERVASS 1764”, the emblems of Ali Pasha, two-headed eagles and inscriptions. The castle had arched corridors, arms stores, supply tunnels, strong bastions with gun ports, small arms loopholes, hidden passages to the sea, barracks, prison cells, store rooms and two forts as the final line of defence. Together, these formed an excellent defence plan which, along with the town's natural fortifications, made it an invincible fortress.

The castle is now available for the public to visit. The two main buildings in the centre of the castle have been restored to hold theatrical performances, exhibitions and other public events. The Castle has a cafe for refreshments and is open to visitors from early morning until late at night.