Bridge of Arta
The Bridge of Artais a stone bridge
A bridge is a structure built to span physical obstacles such as a body of water, valley, or road, for the purpose of providing passage over the obstacle...

 that crosses the Arachthos river
Arachthos River
The Arachthos is a river in eastern Epirus in Greece that flows from the Pindus mountains and begins in the area southeast of Metsovo in the Ioannina Prefecture near the Trikala Prefecture and flows by numerous village including Elliniko...

 (Άραχθος) near the city of Arta
Arta, Greece
Arta is a city with a rich history in northwestern Greece, capital of the peripheral unit of Arta, which is part of Epirus region. The city was known in ancient times as Ambracia . Arta is famous for its old bridge located over the Arachthos River, situated west of downtown...

 (Άρτα) in Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

. The bridge became famous from the eponymous legendary folk
Folklore consists of legends, music, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales and customs that are the traditions of a culture, subculture, or group. It is also the set of practices through which those expressive genres are shared. The study of folklore is sometimes called...

A ballad is a form of verse, often a narrative set to music. Ballads were particularly characteristic of British and Irish popular poetry and song from the later medieval period until the 19th century and used extensively across Europe and later the Americas, Australia and North Africa. Many...

, which is at the core about human sacrifice
Human sacrifice
Human sacrifice is the act of killing one or more human beings as part of a religious ritual . Its typology closely parallels the various practices of ritual slaughter of animals and of religious sacrifice in general. Human sacrifice has been practised in various cultures throughout history...

. From the ballad, a number of Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

A proverb is a simple and concrete saying popularly known and repeated, which expresses a truth, based on common sense or the practical experience of humanity. They are often metaphorical. A proverb that describes a basic rule of conduct may also be known as a maxim...

s and customary expressions arose, associated with interminable delays, as in the text of the ballad: "All day they were building it, and in the night it would collapse."

The bridge and the legend

According to chronicler of Epirus
The name Epirus, from the Greek "Ήπειρος" meaning continent may refer to:-Geographical:* Epirus - a historical and geographical region of the southwestern Balkans, straddling modern Greece and Albania...

 Panayiotis Aravantinos, the bridge was constructed during Ancient Roman times. However, according to some traditions it was built when Arta became capital of the Despotate of Epirus
Despotate of Epirus
The Despotate or Principality of Epirus was one of the Byzantine Greek successor states of the Byzantine Empire that emerged in the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade in 1204. It claimed to be the legitimate successor of the Byzantine Empire, along with the Empire of Nicaea, and the Empire of Trebizond...

, possibly under Michael II Ducas (1230–1271). Other alleged construction dates vary from 1602 to 1606. Seraphim, the Archbishop of Arta, has noted that the bridge was built, according to some tradition, by an Artan grocer.

According to the folk ballad of the acritic songs
Acritic songs
The Acritic songs are the heroic or epic poetry that emerged in the Byzantine Empire probably in the 9th century. The songs celebrated the exploits of the Akrites, the frontier guards defending the eastern borders of the Byzantine Empire. The historical background was the almost...

 family, every day 60 apprentices and 45 craftsmen or masons, under the leadership of the Head Builder, tried to build a bridge, but its foundations would collapse each night. Finally a bird with a human voice informed the Head Builder that in order for the bridge to remain standing, he must sacrifice his wife. As the wife is being killed, being built in the foundations of the construction, she utters curses that conclude with blessings.


The idea that a major edifice can not be built without a human sacrifice ("building in" of a person
Immurement is a form of execution where a person is walled up within a building and left to die from starvation or dehydration. This is distinct from being buried alive, in which the victim typically dies of asphyxiation.-In legend and folklore:...

) was also common in the folklore of other Balkan peoples such as Bulgarians, Albanians, Serbs and Romanians; for example, the Romanian legend of Meşterul Manole
Mesterul Manole
In Romanian mythology, Meșterul Manole was the chief architect of the Curtea de Argeș Monastery in Wallachia...

. A masterbuilder being forced to sacrifice his wife in this way is a common theme in folk songs. A recurring plot element is the masterbuilders' decision to sacrifice the woman who comes first to the building site to bring them food. All but one break their promise and tell their wives to come late, and it is the wife of the only honest one that is sacrificed.

One of the legends associated with Merlin
Merlin is a legendary figure best known as the wizard featured in the Arthurian legend. The standard depiction of the character first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, written c. 1136, and is based on an amalgamation of previous historical and legendary figures...

 is that Vortigern
Vortigern , also spelled Vortiger and Vortigen, was a 5th-century warlord in Britain, a leading ruler among the Britons. His existence is considered likely, though information about him is shrouded in legend. He is said to have invited the Saxons to settle in Kent as mercenaries to aid him in...

, the King of England, was building a tower to defend himself from Ambrosius
Ambrosius Aurelianus
Ambrosius Aurelianus, ; called Aurelius Ambrosius in the Historia Regum Britanniae and elsewhere, was a war leader of the Romano-British who won an important battle against the Anglo-Saxons in the 5th century, according to Gildas...

 and Uther Pendragon
Uther Pendragon
Uther Pendragon is a legendary king of sub-Roman Britain and the father of King Arthur.A few minor references to Uther appear in Old Welsh poems, but his biography was first written down by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia Regum Britanniae , and Geoffrey's account of the character was used in...

. Like the Bridge of Arta, whenever they finished one day's work on the tower it would collapse in the night and Vortigern's advisors recommended that sacrificing a child and mixing his blood with the mortar would prevent the collapse.


  • Artemis Leontis, "The Bridge between the Classical and the Balkan", The South Atlantic Quarterly 98:4:625-631 (1999) at MUSE On understanding the place of the Bridge of Arta in the literary landscape.

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