Arta – creativity taken to extremes?

Olympia, where it all began.
Kalimera Corfu.

20th June

Our stop today was unusual as it is not on the usual tourist trail. We docked at a little town called Preveza, a small fishing village, and I guess the closest point to our real destination which was a small town called Arta, about an hour’s bus ride away. More specifically the church of Panagia Paregoritissa (“Mother of the Swiftly Consoling”).

Breakfast is served in the restaurant (the Terrace Cafe) but there is also a continental breakfast on the Lido deck around the pool, which happens to be the same level as our cabin. There is cereal, fresh fruit, various dried fruit and nuts, breads, croissants, muffins, juice, tea & coffee. Downstairs there is a menu of hot breakfasts and we had planned to vary our breakfast location but somehow we never have. It is very pleasant sitting on the Lido deck before the heat of the day, and less temptation to overeat!

After breakfast we piled onto (thankfully air-conditioned) coaches for our journey to Arta. This was the first time our shore excursion had involved coaches, other than a shuttle from the ship to the town. We had a lovely guide, who talked constantly the whole way there and back. She talked of the history, culture of the area, and of Greece in general, but I have to say I didn’t take much of it in. Too much information! It was interesting driving through the Greek countryside and passing through farms and small villages. We passed the ruins of Nicopolis, which was a city built by the future Roman emperor Octavian (Augustus) to commemorate his victory over Mark Antony & Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31BC. There’s not much left of Nicopolis now, but from the bus we could see walls & part of an ancient theatre. It is a bit mind-blowing that here you just drive past the remains of a 2000 year old city with hardly a sideways glance.

The church of Panagia Paregoritissa is a very unusual design. It was built in 1290, designed by a local architect. it has a high dome, supported by a very unique arrangement of cascading columns. I think I will have to let the photos speak for themselves! There are a number of icon paintings which were dismissed as “modern” by the guide (i.e. 16th & 17th century) but the ceiling mosaic is original, as were some quaint stone reliefs hanging from archways so high in the dome that no-one could possibly have seen them from below! They are a mystery. It is quite striking, inside and out, with elaborate brickwork designs on the exterior, and well worth the drive to get there.

Local legend has it that the architect’s assistant actually designed the best features of the church. The architect recognised this, and in the pretence of showing him something, took the assistant up to the roof in order to  throw him off. The assistant grabbed the architect on the way down and they both fell to their deaths. There are two stones on the ground, which apparently are their petrified heads. There is an 17th century  bridge near the town of Arta which has an equally blood-thirsty legend attached. Apparently the bridge builder was frustrated because the work he had done on the bridge during the day was getting washed away every night. A bird came to him in a dream and told him he had to sacrifice a person that he loved, so he build his wife into the foundations of the bridge, burying her alive. I guess it worked because the bridge is still there today!

We spent a relaxing afternoon on board while we sailed to the island of Ithaca. We anchored for the night and were given the option of tendering into the town of Vathy, but Dad and I opted for a quiet night in. It is exhausting, all this sight-seeing, and it didn’t sound like Vathy had much to recommend it. I’ve looked in several guide books in the ship library and it doesn’t get a mention in any of them! Normally that would recommend it to me as a place to see a ‘real’ Greek town, rather than one that caters to tourists, but inertia set in and we stayed on board.

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