Ascending Arta

The Bridge at Arta is probably best known from a Greek folk ballad that tells the tale of human sacrifice and betrayal. As the story goes, during the construction of the bridge, it would collapse every night, thus necessitating the workmen to begin again each day. However, in order to complete the bridge, the master mason tricked his wife into descending into one of the pylons and ordered her to be entombed alive. The bridge was finished, but the doomed wife cursed all those who ascend to cross – to shake like leaves that fall, and to perhaps fall from the great height themselves.

The historic Bridge of Arta crosses the river Arachthos at the town of Arta in the northern Greek province of Epirus. It said to have originally been constructed by the Romans, but the current form dates to 17th century Ottoman times. It is 145 meters long and 3.75 meters wide with four asymmetrical arches that demand that the pedestrian traffic (who still use the bridge) must ascend from the river banks to the high point at the apex of the highest arch in order to cross. At one point in its history, from 1881-1912, this ascension marked travel north from the modern Greek state into the territory controlled by Ali Pasha, a satellite of the Ottoman Empire. The current Folk Museum on the Greek side was once the customs house. It marked the beginning of the ascent.

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    • The ballad is part of a group of Balkan folk tales in the Byzantine-Ottoman tradition, but I suspect it goes back further. Archaeologists do find bodies (mostly children) buried under thresholds of houses – a type of “foundation” sacrifice that ensures the building endures. Nevertheless, it is abhorrent!

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