The castle from the waterfront.
History/Description: As Parasdissos notes, the red bricks at the base of some of the walls indicate that a Byzantine castle stood on the site. (He also claims that Robert Guiscard died here of the plague in 1085, along with many of his soldiers [3, p.74]). In 1294 Vonitsa, together with Angelokastro (on the mainland), Eulochos (or Vrochori, that is modern Agrinio), and Naupaktos, formed part of the dowry of Thamar (daughter of the Despot of Epirus) when she married Philip, prince of Taranto. It was inherited by Duchess Fransisca in 1429 on the death of Carlo I Tocco [18, p.395]. With the death of Carlo II Tocco in 1448, his governor surrendered the castle to the Venetians. Afterwards (according to a variety of secondary sources), the Turks took it in 1479, the Venetians under Morosini were back in 1684, the Turks in 1714, and the Venetians again, in 1717. By 1800 the French were in possession, but Ali Pasha drove them out and according to Paradissos, built three more forts E. of Vonitsa towards Levkas. When in 1824 the American Philhellene George Jarvis was in the area, Vonitsa was apparently held by 15 Turkish troops and their officer [23, p192-93]. The town was captured by Greek forces in 1821, but the area was not formally ceded to Greece until 1829.
High walls and steep slopes guard the castle on the N., W. and S. sides; the eastern side has a complex of 3 gates - approaching the first gate with the walls on your left, you then take a left turn to the end of the enclosure before turning right through the second, ruined gate. Here the walls are again on your left, and one of the more recent bastions flanks the third gate. This takes you into the main enclosure, where a citadel and artillery fortification is built around the ruined house at the top. The small Church of Agia Sofia is downhill from the citadel, and walls exending downhill from there (to the S.W.) used to enclose a settlement which the Venetians called Recinto.[18, p.74].
An observer in 1830 observed 'excellent' Greek army barracks in the castle, and noted that 'without any pretensions to regularity or science, it may have been considered strong, while yet heavy battering trains were unknown'.[24, p.87] He also found springs at the summit and higher slopes of the castle, and estimated that the nearest high ground from which it could be bombarded was over two miles distant and difficult of access. The nearby harbour of San Marcos has deep water and is a good anchorage (the lagoon to the N. of the castle is too shallow for all but the lightest craft). That Byzantine, Frank, Ottoman and the tyrant Ali Pasha all coveted it over the years is therefore no surprise.
From the citadel there are good views, especially across the Gulf to the N. and towards Prevesa and the channel to the open sea to the E. I was not able to ascertain if Arta is visible from Vonitsa.
There are some signs of Italian influence in the town's churches: there is a winged lion plaque above the church door in the centre of town, with the date of 173(7?), and De Jongh [8, p.354] noted an iconostatis in the Basilica of the Apostles which shows Italianate rather than Byzantine features.
Vonitsa is a modest resort with an attractive seafront, and the castle is set above the town, five minutes walk up a new path which leaves from the W. end of the seafront, before the car park. In 2006 there was some EU funded restoration in progress.
View after entering the first gate. The next gate is to the left, but shielded by a wall.
The gap where the second gate stood - the third is beyond the large bastion.
The second wall overlooks the first wall and enclosure.
The citadel, Vonitsa castle. This side is loopholed to cover the path up from the final gate; the other sides have embrasures for artillery to cover the port and landward sides.
The house inside the citadel.
Looking E. along the S. wall of the castle.
Plaque above the church door in Vonitsa. Lion of St Mark, but holding a cross, not a book, a tower, a date (1767 I think) and some other characters.
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These pages created and maintained by the author. Last updated Oct 2006