Arta is in the north west of Greece in the region of Epirus and is the second largest town in the area after Ioannina. Unlike its larger neighbour, Arta is untouched by tourism, which is surprising for what the town offers including one of the most famous land marks in Greece - the bridge of Arta. It hasn't got the white washed houses, the small fishing harbours and the souvenir shops like so many other Greek towns, what it does have is stunning views and a look at real Greece with a rhythm all of its own.
Over the years Arta has been influenced from many different sources, Venetian, Turkish, Italian, French, Byzantium and Norman, all leaving their mark on the town and people. The countryside around the town is one of most wild and beautiful in Greece, Sitting on one of the many offshoots of the Pindos mountains.
The modern town of Arta sits on the ancient site of Ambracia - a Corinthian colony dating back to the 7th century BC - and later became the capital of the Kingdom of Pyrrhus in about 295BC. King Pyrrus was a relative of Alexander the great, his kingdom became one of the most powerful in ancient Greece. Pyrrhus fought the Romans in southern Italy and Sicily in a number of victories, but at great cost, this is were we English take the phrase ' Pyrrhic victory'.
You can still see remnants of ancient Ambracia today, parts of the fortified wall are spread throughout the town, the Temple of Apollo and a small theatre are all still standing. Ambracia was abandoned in 31BC, when the inhabitants were forcibly moved to the new city of Nicopolis after Octavian's victory over Mark Anthony and Cleopatra at Actium.
The town wasn't occupied again until the 11th century AD under the Byzantines with a castle being built, and can be seen today in the south east of the town. The Byzantine period gave Arta its most beautiful architecture in its churches and monasteries. Arta was occupied by the Turks in 1430 and was fought over many times during the war of independence (1821-29), but never gained independence until 1881.
Coming into Arta on the main highway from Igoumanitsa the first thing you see is the famous stone bridge striding over the river Arachthos. The bridge dates back to the 17th century, but built on the site of older bridges that go back even further to the time of Pyrrus.
Legend has it that the bridge's builder, frustrated with each days work being ruined by the river, was advised by a bird that the problem could be solved by putting his wife in the foundations. He did this by burying her alive, and luckily for us the bridge is still standing - not so lucky for the wife.
The area around the bridge, with its bars and restaurants on either side and a small path on the west bank of the river, is one of the most spectacular and relaxing parts of Arta. This area is used a lot by the locals. Some of the bars and restaurants sit on the edge of the river, and the views are incredible - especially during the winter months when the river is at full torrent.
Arta is famous for its Byzantine architecture and church's, but its most beautiful and famous is the church of Panagia Parigoritsa. The 13th century church is crowned with towers and domes and inside, it is full of wall paintings that date back hundreds of years. In the church's grounds the old refectory has been turned in to a small museum that holds many ancient finds from ancient Ambracia and other parts of the county of Arta. One of the most interesting being an inscribed stele from the 2nd century BC that defines the boundaries between Ambracia and its neighbouring city of Charadros.
Koronissia is tiny island eight kilometres to the south-west of Arta, and is joined to the mainland by a five kilometre causeway. The island is now a national park and is protected by international laws, it is also famous world-wide for its bird populations.
Travelling to the island from Arta the landscape changes in minutes from the lush greenery and mountains to flat marsh land covered in reeds. Crossing the causeway is a strange sensation, it feels like you are driving through the sea and it will engulf you at any minute. The island is one of the most peaceful and tranquil places you could visit, a population of 338 people and one road through the island.
There is a tiny fishing harbour as you arrive on the island, with a cluster of fish restaurants that do delicious fresh meals.
Arta isn't a tourist area but it is in easy reaching distance from places like Preveza, Parga, Ionannina and Zagoria, and is a good place to stay for looking around Epirus.
Arta was originaly called Ambracia and was the capital of the Kingdom of Epirus under Pyrrhus.
Location - Arta is in North-West Greece in the region of Epirus, just North of the Ambracian gulf.
Travelling to Arta: Arta is about a five hour drive from Athens. There are also regular buses from Athens to Arta and vice-versa. The nearest airport is in Prevaza.
Tips:Arta is a very good place to start looking around Epirus, the town is situated at the southern part of Epirus. Check out all the small archaeological sites that are scattered throughout the town.