Every Greek knows the legend of the bridge of Arta. Fewer know that this city in southern Epirus is studded with historic monuments from many eras. You’ll see sections of ancient wall, Byzantine and post-Byzantine churches and a well-preserved mediaeval castle with a clock tower, which all add colour to this friendly town. But if it’s stunning nature you’re after, you’ve come to the right spot.
Arta’s location in the region of Epirus
makes it easy to explore the stony slopes of Tzoumerka, the new man-made lake at Pournari and the remarkable wetlands and fishing villages on the rim of the ‘closed’ Ambracian Gulf. The whole region is blessed with forests and with rivers, waterfalls and lakes – the ideal nature holiday setting. This side of Greece will surprise and delight you, but first find out the story behind that famous bridge.
What to do in Arta
The bridge and the legend
It is one of the most famous attractions in the region: Look closely at the elegant arched span of this celebrated bridge. There are many like it around Epirus and they all display the stone mason’s art, a long tradition and a singular grasp of architecture. But this is the only one connected with the dark folk tale of the unfortunate builder who had to use his wife as a ‘foundation stone’ in order to keep the arch from collapsing.
Its construction was completed during the Despotate of Epirus (c 14th century). The story has inspired numerous plays, operas and folklore studies. According to the great Greek poet Kostis Palamas, ‘It is a folk masterpiece, like a verse from a Homeric hymn and it’s there to be mined by poetry and music, for as long as they exist.’ Now, it’s your turn to be inspired.
Watery stories from the Ambracian Gulf
With a drive or boat ride in the Ambracian Gulf, you’ll discover a spectacle that nature took eons to craft: an enchanting, labyrinthine complex of wetlands, where fresh water from the Louros and Arachthos rivers has been mingling with the salt water from the Ionian Sea for more than two millennia. The entire beauty of Western Greece concentrated in one place: Here you’ll come face to face with lagoons and reedbeds, salt marshes and thick forests, sandbars consisting solely of shells. It’s home to 270 bird species, 71 of which are endangered, protected under European legislation. If you’re lucky, you may spot some playful dolphins cavorting around you.
Getting to know Arta
The town of Arta, built on the banks of the Peranthis River, is a happy combination of past and present. The 13th-century Byzantine castle, which looms above sections of the ancient city wall, is an important attraction and still plays an active role in people’s lives. Dozens of happenings and events take place in the municipal theatre near its entrance, where the clock tower stands. Present-day stories evolve in National Resistance Square, on the sidewalks, shops, cafes and bars where you’ll see Arta’s lively young people getting together.
The Wall Of Ancient Amvrakia
Among the most impressive sights in Arta. It was built to protect the ancient town from enemies, but it’s not known exactly when its construction began. The parts that remain show that it was an imposing wall, made with impressively large uncut stones.
Images of Arta
Hidden gems of Arta
The water wonderland at Theodoriana
When you travel to Epirus, its wild nature is waiting to be explored. Take a side trip to the village of Theodoriana, in the eastern Tzoumerka range. There, in the middle of a dark green fir forest, you’ll stumble upon a magical scene: a village encircled by two rivers, the Goura and the White Goura. They flow around it to meet in a deep gorge. Before the White Goura meets its other half, it has a surprise in store for you: two stupendous waterfalls 1,300m high.
The Arachthos reservoir
Not far from Arta, you’ll come to the village of Pournari. There, an enormous earth dam, the second largest in Greece after the Mornos, stops the river flow to form the Pournari artificial lake. Human endeavour and nature’s grandeur join forces to impress.
The Arta Plane Tree
On the left bank of the Arachthos River, just a few metres from the legendary Arta Bridge, is the ageless and imposing Arta Plane Tree (O Platonas tis Artas), also known as Ali Pasha’s Plane Tree. One of the oldest and most beautiful in Greece it has been declared a protected natural monument from 1976. It provides the perfect shade for enjoyable coffee while you take in the view of the bridge and the river.