If you are looking to visit a small city that's off the beaten path, Arta is an intruiging destination.
It is situated on the north of the Ambracian gulf and its location as a gateway between southern Greece and the rest of Epirus has bestowed the city with commercial and military significance. Arta means Fort, Fortress.
Arta prefecture is one of the least affluent regions of Greece and it is largely untouched by tourism. Its charm today may very well be due to the fact that it has remained outside the scope of travel agents. There are however some very good reasons that one can point his path towards the Arta area.
The city of Arta is built on the ruins of ancient Ambracia, and its history spans eons of diverse influences and foreign occupations. Ambracia was named after the legendary amazon who was born of Melaneus and Oechalia. The rich fishing estuaries of the Ambracian gulf, the fertile grounds of the valley, and an active merchant and agricultural community provide the backbone of the local economy. A walk through the city will reveal a number of archaeological sites (such as the small Ambracian Theater, and the temple of Apollo) that are sprinkled throughout as well as
numerous Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empire monuments, most prominent of which is the stone wall that protected the city from invaders since ancient times. In fact, the bottom part of the wall consists of the cyclopean stones of ancient Ambracia and the top part is built from smaller stones in Byzantine times.
The modern city of Arta is intersected by the lazy waters of the river Arachthos and it is adorned by orange groves in the south, and olive groves in the North. It has a rich history since ancient times, but it flourished during Byzantine times. The city features numerous Byzantine churches, most famous of which are Panagia Paregoretissa (built in the 13th century), and the church dedicated to the saint Basil. The market place of Arta is a lively place with pedestrian streets filled with stores selling authentic folk art, traditional artifacts, and textile from Epirus.
The most famous landmark of Arta is its legendary stone bridge which was built in 1602 and it spans with its beautiful arches the width of Arachthos river. The Arta bridge is a visual delight and for centuries it has acquired mythical proportions with numerous legends taking shape around its carefully placed stones. The most famous legend is the one that details the bridge's creation as an improbable feat in the midst of an endless cycle of destruction and rebuilding.
An entire epic poem is dedicated to this legend, and it describes in lyrical terms how the masons built the structure all day long just to find that it collapsed overnight. With this process repeating itself for a long time to the desperation of the masons, only divine intervention could save the bridge, and it came in the form of a message from a bird. The building of the bridge according to the message required the personal sacrifice of the foreman's beautiful wife. The poem revolves around the foreman's conflict between his own tragic personal loss, and the resulting common good. The conflict resolves itself with the tragic death of the young wife as she unknowingly becomes victim for the benefit of the greater society. This epic poem has survived through oral tradition for centuries.
The term "the bridge of Arta" was coined after the legend and it is used widely in modern Greek to describe any endless process that tends to repeat itself in pointless cycles.
For some beautiful mountain views, drive about one hour north of Arta to the picturesque villages of Agnanda, Pramanda,
Sirako and Kalarites. On your way you can stop at Plaka bridge where you can find nature activities like rafting in the Arachthos river.
We recommend Via Natura for rafting in Arachthos river. It's an easy rafting family trip but you should call ahead for reservations.
To the North of Arta, the rocky hills offer their ground to many small villages that were the hiding grounds of a very activeresistance movement during German occupation of the WWII. The village of Komeno which was burned to the ground by the German occupying forces is a testament to the scarred history of the area.
Beyond Arta to the south the orange groves lead to the the Ambracian gulf and the fertile lagoons of Logarou and Tsoukalio and the protected wetlands around Salaora and Koronisia. The villages of Aneza, Vigla, and Rachi are the largest population centers in the valley.
The road west of Arta will take the traveler to Preveza, and
beyond to Lefkada, Parga, or Igoumenitsa.
But there is no reason to hurry along. Stay a while and enjoy the unspoiled
riches of Arta, the smell the textured salt of the Ambracian gulf, and the unspoiled mountainous region and villages.