The Story of The Haunted Bridge of Arta | Greek Folklore

Arta is a picturesque town in Epirus region in northwestern Greece. The area is rich in folktales from Greece’s recent past. Its vast green forests and gigantic mountains have inspired locals to tell stories of fairies and other mythical creatures. But there is one story that stands out the most: the story of the so-called haunted bridge of Arta.

The Bridge of Arta

A long time ago, the Romans built a bridge over the Arachthos river near Arta. This bridge was reconstructed many times over the years and is still standing in the 21st Century. Its most recent reconstruction was during the 17th Century, when a peculiar folk song that narrated the story of the bridge appeared for the first time.

The story talked about hauntings and human sacrifice, although the latter was not a local custom. Some people say that this folktale was meant to scare the Ottoman Turks away from the area, although others see a resemblance to other similar stories from around the world. But what is this story even talking about?

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The Folktale of the Bridge of Arta

According to a 17th Century legend, when the Ottomans reached Epirus, they wanted to reconstruct some of the works of the Romans that had been destroyed over the years. Their project included a beautiful stone bridge that crossed Aracthos river near the town of Arta.

A group of local men was assigned with this difficult task, since the stone bridge was in ruins and only its foundations were still standing. The master mason was a young, skilled worker who was newly married. He was ambitious and determined to reconstruct the bridge as fast as possible. However, rebuilding the bridge was proven to be an impossible task.

As the folksong says: “They were building all day long. At night, (the bridge) would collapse”.

One day, a nightingale flew over the builders and stood on a nearby branch. But the bird did not start chattering as expected. It started speaking with a clear human voice and revealed what should be done to complete the bridge. According to the bird, a human must be sacrificed on the spot to haunt the place. The haunting would keep the bridge stable and safe.

“(It shouldn’t be) an orphan, a stranger, or a traveler.”, the bird explained, but rather the beautiful and beloved wife of the master mason.

As soon as the man heard that, he started worrying and told the nightingale to tell his wife to take her time with preparing his lunch and come much later than usual to visit him on the construction site. But the bird misheard him and told his wife to get ready quickly and run straight to the bridge.

The young woman arrived at the scene and immediately noticed that her husband seemed sad and anxious. One of the builders told her that he accidentally dropped his ring in the foundations of the bridge and that is why he feels blue.

The young wife didn’t think twice before jumping into the construction to search for the ring. And that is when the masons started throwing mortar and lime and rocks at the opening to build over the old foundations. The woman realized that she was trapped into the building and the men continued with the constructions without hearing her cries for help.

And that is when she revealed that her sisters had a similar fate to hers, all being sacrificed in a similar manner across Europe. The woman started cursing the bridge and the masons, saying that it will shake and cause people to fall into the river as soon as they step foot on it.

“Maiden, change your word and give another curse

for you have a one dear brother who may cross this bridge.”, someone told her over the rubble.

The woman then remembered her youngest brother and immediately took the curse back. She couldn’t risk her brother dying too.

“May the bridge shake, like the wild mountains do

May crossing pedestrians fall, like the wild birds do

for I have a brother abroad who may cross this bridge.”, she exclaimed. And the bridge has indeed survived to this day.

Sacrifices, Masonry, and Foundations

This particular story and the folksong that goes with it, are of particular interest. Why would a Christian Orthodox population in the 17th Century come up with a story about human sacrifice? And why would a haunting keep a bridge stable?

People from Arta often say that the story was made up to convince the Ottomans that the bridge was haunted and therefore they should avoid crossing it. In fact, there is no proof or even speculation that people engaged in rituals that involved human sacrifice in Byzantine and Ottoman Greece. However, this folktale somehow involves the archetype of the beautiful maiden who is sacrificed for the greater good. A pattern that we find in many ancient legends that have survived over the years.

The folktale of Arta remind us of two ancient Greek legends in particular: the one of princess Iphigeneia and the one of princess Antigone. Iphigeneia was a legendary maiden that was going to be sacrificed by her father who wanted to sail safely to Troy, but managed to escape with the help of goddess Artemis. Antigone, on the other hand, was a young woman that was sentenced to death for disobeying the laws of her uncle – she was thrown alive into an underground cave to die slowly, just like the maiden of Arta who was captured alive in the bridge’s foundations.

Although human sacrifice was not a local custom at that time, small animal sacrifices did occur in many villages in the Balkan peninsula before and during the Ottoman occupation. Birds, chickens, or roosters were killed at the foundations or doorsteps of newly built houses to protect the owners from earthquakes, floods, but also ghosts and evil spirits. They believed that the animal would haunt the construction and the building would not collapse. These customs were not allowed by the Christian Orthodox Church, however, some people continued doing them over the years.

The foundations of buildings seem to be of particular interest in Greek and European folklore. In some Greek villages, locals would allow snakes to find refuge in the foundations of their homes. The snakes were considered protectors of the homes and were very much welcomed to co-exist with humans. They would eat all the rats and mice that would try to enter the house.

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Similar Stories Around the World

Believe it or not, stories similar to the bridge of Arta exist all around the world. Have you ever heard of the Irish-American song named “London Bridge Is Falling Down”? The song implies that no matter how good the materials the masons use are, the bridge of London will always collapse. What’s essential is a human to guard it all day and night – a human that will be sacrificed in its foundations. In Sweden, there is a folktale that says that children were buried alive to stop the spread of a disease in a small town.

Are these stories true or imaginative? Also, are there any similar folktales in the part of the world where you come from? Leave a comment in the comment section.

Are Fairies Real? Modern Greek Legend of “Neraides” | Greek Folklore✨

greek neraides

In ancient Greece, they were called “Nymphs”. In modern Greek folklore, they are known as “Neraides”. Described as “extraordinarily beautiful”, neraides are supernatural beings associated with the elements of nature. But who are they exactly? Are they nice or dangerous?

In a previous video, we discussed the modern Greek legend of the “Kallikantzaroi”, the Greek Christmas trolls. Today, we will explore another folktale, the one of Greek fairies.

From Nymphs to Neraides

Apart from heroes and Olympian gods and goddesses, ancient Greek myths involve different mythical creatures, including fairies. Ancient Greek fairies were called “nymphs”. According to various legends, nymphs were very beautiful women who were related to gods, such as Zeus and Hermes. But they were also mortals. Nymphs often resided in sacred trees that people treated with great respect. These trees looked extraordinary and wise. When a nymph died, her tree also did.

Nymphs were divided into different subgroups:

  • Meliae, were the ash tree nymphs;
  • Dryads, were the oak tree nymphs;
  • Naiads, were the freshwater nymphs;
  • Nereids, were the sea nymphs;
  • Oreads, were the mountain nymphs.

There are countless stories featuring nymphs in ancient Greek mythology. Hylas, Hercules’ friend, was accidentally drowned by a nymph named Ephydatia who fell in love with him, hugged him, and dragged him down a lake, causing him to suffocate. Daphne is another well-known nymph; god Apollon was once chasing her in the woods, when the gods fell pity for her and transformed her into the plant with the same name. Nymphs would also spend a lot of time with the male nature spirits, the satyrs, who would often chase them into the woods.

As time passed by, nymphs started being called “neraides” and started being associated with the fairies of western European folklore. Since neraides are associated to nature, in Medieval times they were thought to be pagan deities.

Are Greek Fairies Dangerous?

Neraides are generally not considered evil but rather playful and sometimes mischievous. However, in some parts of Greece, they were often feared and there are countless stories across the country that present neraides as dangerous.

For example, in the Cyclades, such as Mykonos, the fairies of the wind dance in circles around midday, causing people to have sunstrokes and get dizzy. In other places, neraides may grab you to dance with them, which may result in you losing your senses, your voice, or even your ability to think clearly. A person who returned home from the woods looking dizzy and confused was often called “neraidoparmenos” (abducted by fairies).

In other parts of Greece, neraides manage to get into people’s homes and search for new dresses to steal. A soon-to-be-bride should be very careful at night. In some Greek villages, it is believed that bridal gowns that are not stored in wardrobes during the night can be stolen by the neraides. Neraides can also “steal” young men who wonder alone in nature. They will flirt with them and lead them into different realms. If the men return, they are not the same anymore.

This fear for the neraides often stems from the transition from paganism to Christianity, which often led people to associate mythological creatures to demonic entities.

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Folktales from Greece: Married to a Neraida

The most common folktale from modern Greece, however, is that of the Neraida who got tricked into marrying a mortal man. Greek fairies normally like to roam freely away from busy towns and cities. They prefer staying with their own kind and dance and play by streams, lakes, and rivers. They sometimes flirt with mortal men but they never want to settle down.

According to some local legends, neraides usually hide their silky hair under a thin veil that supposedly holds some of their powers. If a man manages to grab the fairy’s veil while dancing with her, she is then bound to stay with him. He can ask her to marry him and she has to follow him home. A very common Greek folktale that you can hear in every Greek village goes as follows:

Once upon a time, there was young man who fell in love with a beautiful woman he met in the woods. The woman was a neraida and was not planning on getting married and moving to the world of humans. But the man, let’s call him Alexis, was determined to marry the neraida.

An elder man told Alexis that a neraida can be captured by stealing her veil. Her veil holds all her supernatural powers. Without it, she cannot disappear, fly away, or transform herself into a tree. After hearing this, Alexis run deep into the forest and watched the fairies dance in circles. He waited for the right moment and as soon as the girl he liked turned her back to him, he grabbed her veil.

That is when the neraida realized that all her powers were now in the hands of the mortal man. She agreed to marry Alexis and followed him to his house. Although hesitant at first, the neraida started liking her new life. She and Alexis had many children together and she made many new friends in the village.

Ten years had passed and the woman seemed very happy in her marriage. One night there was a big celebration in the village. Alexis’ wife wanted to dance but she suggested to use her veil that her husband was still hiding from her for “no reason” all those years.

“We’ve been married for so long and you still don’t trust me. Just let me wear my veil for once”, the fairy told him.

Alexis realized what a fool he was for believing that his wife would try to leave now after being happily married for years and after giving birth to their children. He went into the house and unlocked a cupboard in which he kept her veil. He handed it to her with a smile and saw her dance like never before. She was glowing from happiness. As soon as the dance stopped, he blinked for a second and saw his wife disappear in front of his eyes. He never saw her again. The fairy was waiting all those years for her opportunity to flee.

This story varies from place to place, however, it narrates the story of a man who tricked a fairy into marrying him and ended up all alone in the end. A neraida will always wait for the opportunity to return to her world, far away from humans. In some villages, you may find people who may tell you that they are descendants of such fairies who were tricked into marrying a mortal man.

Are their stories real or fake? What do you believe?

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