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The Bridge of Arta

The Bridge of Arta is a stone bridge that crosses the Arachthos river (Αράχθος) near the city of Arta (Άρτα) in Greece. The bridge became famous from the eponymous legendary folk ballad, which is at the core about human sacrifice. From the ballad, a number of Greek proverbs 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 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, 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 family, every day 1300 builders, 60 apprentices, 45 craftsmen or masons, under the leadership of the Head Builder, tried to build a bridge the foundations of which would collapse each morning. 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 folk ballad

The Bridge of Arta:

Masters forty five and apprentices sixty
a bridge they were building at the river of Arta once
All day they built it, and in the evening it collapsed.

Masters complain about the calamity and apprentices cry:
"- alack upon our vexation! And shame on our works!
Allday we build it and in the evening it collapses!" ...

One bird flat-hatted there around and sat down on the other side of the river.
it was not bird's warbling, nor sparrow's chirrup it had.
It sang, spoken in human tongue :
"- if no human sacrifice, then never this bridge shall stay ...
But do not sacrify an orphan, nor stranger, or a traveler,
only Headmaster's pretty spouse,
who later comes in mornings and lunches brings late ..."


The idea that a major edifice can not be built without a human sacrifice ("building in" of a person) 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. A masterbuilder being forced to sacrifice his wife in this way is a common theme in folk songs.[1] 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.[2][3]

One of the legends associated with Merlin is that Vortigern, the King of England, was building a tower to defend himself from Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon. 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.


  1. ^ Моллов, Тодор (14 August 2002). "Троица братя града градяха" (in Bulgarian). LiterNet. Retrieved 2007-05-19.  
  2. ^ БЪЛГАРСКО НАРОДНО ТВОРЧЕСТВО В ДВАНАДЕСЕТ ТОМА. Том VІІІ: Трудово-поминъчни песни. ЕИ "LiterNet" Варна. Второ издание, 2006 [1]
  3. ^ Српске народне пјесме. Скупио их и на свијет издао Вук Стеф. Караџић.Технологије, издаваштво и агенција Београд, 11. октобар 2000 [2]


  • 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.

External links

Coordinates: 39°09′06″N 20°58′29″E / 39.15167°N 20.97472°E / 39.15167; 20.97472


Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

The Bridge of Arta (Το γεφύρι της Άρτας)
Traditional folk ballad
Information about this edition
The Bridge of Arta is a stone bridge that crosses the Arachthos river (Αράχθος) near the city of Arta (Άρτα) in Greece. The bridge became famous from the eponymous legendary folk ballad, which is at the core about human sacrifice. From the ballad, a number of Greek proverbs and customary expressions arose, associated with interminable delays, as in the text of the ballad: "All day they built it, and in the evening it collapsed."
— Excerpted from Bridge of Arta on Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Forty-five master builders and sixty apprentices
Were laying the foundations for a bridge over the river of Arta
They would toil at it all day, and at night it would collapse again.
The master builders lament and the apprentices weep:
"Alas for our exertions, woe to our labours,
For us to toil all day while at night it collapses!"

A bird appeared and sat on the opposite side of the river.
It did not sing like a bird, nor like a swallow,
But it sang and spoke in a human voice:
"Unless you sacrifice a human, the bridge will never stand.
And don't you sacrifice an orphan, or a stranger, or a passer-by,
But only the chief mason's beautiful wife,
Who comes late in the afternoon and brings his supper."

The chief mason hears it and falls down like dead.
He quickly sends to his wife, with the bird as his messenger:
"Let her dress slowly, change slowly, and bring the supper late,
Let her come late to cross the bridge of Arta!"
But the bird ignored it and gave her a different message:
"Hurry, dress quickly, change quickly, and bring the supper early,
Go quickly to cross the bridge of Arta!"

So she went and appeared at the end of the white lane.
The chief mason saw her and his heart broke.
From far she greeted them, and when she came near she spoke:
"Greetings, builders, and greetings to you, apprentices.
But what's wrong with the chief mason that his looks are so dark?"
"He lost his wedding ring, it fell into the first chamber.
Who'll go down there now and up again to find the ring for him?"
"Master, don't worry, I'll go myself to get it,
I'll go down there and come up again and find the ring for you."

She had hardly descended, hardly went down into it,
When she called: "Pull me up, dear, pull the chain,
I've looked everywhere but can't find anything!"
One comes with the spade and one with the mortar,
And the chief mason himself goes and throws a big stone.

"Alas for our fate, woe to our destiny!
We were three sisters, and all three star-crossed.
One of us worked on the Danube, the other on the Euphrate,
And I, the youngest, on the river of Arta.
May the bridge ever shake, as carnations shake,
And may those who cross it ever fall down, as leaves fall from trees."

"Girl, take that back, make it a different curse,
Because you have your only dear brother, lest he happen to pass by."
And so she took it back and uttered a different curse:
"When the wild mountains shake, then may the bridge shake,
And when the wild birds fall from the sky, then may those who cross it fall.
For I have a brother abroad, lest he happen to pass by."

This translation is hosted with different licensing information than from the original text. The translation status applies to this edition.
PD-icon.svg This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.
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(user-created translation)


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