The northwestern coast of Greece is an ecological treasure and at the center is the city of Preveza. The uniquely shaped Ambracian Gulf fills in the area between the mountains around it and there is a land bridge that separates it from the sea like a gate keeper. The gulf resembles a large lake and the city of Preveza is situated right at the center of the land bridge that acts as the its gate. The two pieces of land at the entry to the Gulf just barely miss each other, so an underwater road tunnel connects them and makes travel quicker. The tunnel is a rarity in Greece and allows the cars to safely pass by under the boats entering the gulf or going back out to sea. Surrounding it there are mountains, which are not ever far away in a mountainous country like Greece, as well as mighty rivers like the Arachthos Potamos that contribute to water flow into the gulf. But the city itself and the close surrounding areas are generally flat, characterized by vast fields of crops and olive groves. Surrounded by water on three sides and just a narrow piece of land on its fourth side, Preveza is intricately connected to the sea.
People have inhabited this area since antiquity, most notably the Cassopeans tribe. Their king Pyrrhus founded major cities in the area around 290 BC, which from then on became vulnerable to conquest and invasion. The appeal of the fertile and scenic land spread across the Mediterranean evoked conflict as to who should have claim over it. As a result, this part of Greece was subject to violent battles, mostly at sea. One battle in particular erupted on September 2, 31 BC, between some of history’s most memorable figures. Known as the battle of Actium, it symbolized Rome’s grand reign and power struggles in the Mediterranean world and saw soon-to-be Roman emperor Octavian defeat the forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra in the waters off of the coast of the Preveza region. The battle was not in response to a conflict with any Greek tribes, but rather the result of the tumultuous relationships and inner workings of the Roman elite. Octavian would later change his name to Augustus and through his newfound glory and triumphs, would go on to contribute to the area by establishing towns and schools of philosophy.
One such town is called Nicopolis, which translates to ‘city of victory’ and pays homage to Augustus’ naval success. The area still bears the same name today, along with a collection of ruins including Roman theaters, stadiums, the foundations of homes, and a museum. As Nicopolis is just outside the city of Preveza, the Roman influence was sure to be felt all throughout the area. Some people still share a romantic story which says that Cleopatra’s fragrant perfumes can still be sensed rising from the sea. Today, a small village sits beside the ruins, surrounded by fields and olive groves. It is a significant cultural and archeological site combining many aspects of civilization in the Mediterranean, and it is only a fifteen-minute drive north of Preveza.
The tangible history is still present within Preveza, as castles and fortresses protect its harbors and liven its town center. Representing more modern history, other monuments and structures scattered throughout Preveza focus on the connection to the sea and the frivolous projects of foreign invaders. One such project was the Pantocrator Castle, built by the Ottoman ruler Ali Pasha in 1807 on the southern banks of Preveza’s peninsula. It is open to the public but seemingly wild and not maintained. Built in the shape of a pentagon with its pointed side aiming at the sea, the castle is now a collection of ruined and vine-covered walls, with a humble church built in the center of the grounds. On Preveza’s inner harbor facing the Ambracian Gulf, there is the city’s major port and social and economic center. Along the length of the city is a seaside promenade, adorned with monuments dedicated to the sailors of the region and one even sculpted in the form of the alluring mythical creature, the mermaid.
While the anthropological influence can be seen in structures and monuments, the ecological profile of Preveza may be even more impressive. Officially named the Amvrakikos Wetlands National Park, the inner ecosystems of the Ambracian Gulf are comprised of lagoons, swamplands, and other ecosystems making it a fertile haven for many fish and bird species. In total, there are 296 bird species that are legally protected in the area, many of which are also labeled as endangered species. For context, that means that 65% of all observed bird species in Greece can be found in the lands and lagoons surrounding Preveza. The plant life is just as diverse, thanks to the seventeen recognized natural habitats situated within the national park. The Amvrakikos National Park was formally established in 2008, and set forth under law the protection and preservation of these diverse and lush ecosystems, plant and animal species, and natural resources. Totaling four-hundred square meters, the national park is a valued site not just in Greece but in southern Europe. The ecological richness is what attracted settlers to inhabit the area since antiquity, leaving their mark on one of the largest settlements of its time.
And as the environment ebbed and flowed, so did the people that lived there. Thousands of years after its initial inhabitation, Preveza still retains the badge of being a major city. Although now not as busy and industrialized as its regional neighbors, Preveza offers something more than man-made conveniences. Here you will find diversity and natural treasures that contributed to the history and identity of the area. The landscape is unique and cannot be found elsewhere in Greece, an exclusivity that appeals to our innate wonder and captivation by our natural world. Preveza serves as a reminder that Greece has more to offer than just its islands, and that as you travel throughout the country you will find that the view outside can change pleasantly, quickly and amazingly!