Arta, located at the site of ancient Ambrakia on the river Arachthos, was the capital of the Despotate of Epiros starting in 1205. Its history is unclear before the 11th century. In the 12th century, it was an important trade center frequented by Venetians and an archbishopric. The fortifications of the acropolis have been attributed to Michael I Komnenos Doukas, but in their present state they are largely post-Byzantine and its palace has vanished completely. The Chronicle of the Tocco describes Arta as the center of a fertile agricultural region with many water buffaloes, cows, and horses; merchants from Venice and Dubrovnik competed for the market of Arta, which supplied dried meat, lard, ham, furs, and indigo. Arta was attacked by the empire of Nicaea and fell briefly in 1259 to Nicaean troops. The restored empire continued these assaults: Andronikos II attacked Arta unsuccessfully, but in 1338 Andronikos III took it. After a rebellion led by Nikephoros Basilakes, the city surrendered to John Kantakouzenos. Afterwards Arta changed hands many times: it was conquered by Stefan Urog IV Dugan, then passed to the Albanians, and in 1416 to Carlo I Tocco. It fell to the Ottomans in 1449.
Castle of Arta
Church of St. Basil of the Agora
The Church of St. Basil of the Agora (Ναός του Αγίου Βασιλείου της Αγοράς) is south of the castle of Arta near St. Theodora. It is a aisleless basilica dating to the end of the 13th century.
Plan by Ćurčić
Ottoman Bridge of Arta
Monastery of Kato Panagia
Monastery of Kato Panagia
Plan by Ćurčić
Church of St. Basil Gephyras
The Church of St. Basil Gephyras (Αγίου Βασιλείου της Γέφυρας) has a free-standing cruciform plan dating to the second half of the 9th century located just outside of Arta. It is named after Arta’s bridge which is located a kilometer away (in contrast to St. Basil Agoras, named after the market). It was originally the katholicon of a monastery.
At the point where the arms of the cross intersect, a high, cylindrical dome rises. Due to its rough stonework and the meager brickwork decoration, the church can be dated to the second half of the 9th century. Architecturally it belongs to the type of the free cross, which on the east ends to a semi-circular apse and on the west to a barrel vaulted narthex. At the center there is the characteristic tall, cylindrical dome with the conic roof and the ceramic decoration.
From the wall paintings of the church, which belong to four different time periods, stand out the ones at the bema (second half of the 13th century) and the depiction of Agios Vasileios on the eastern wall if the south arm of the cross (16th century).
Plan from Vocotopoulos
Church of St. Demetrios Katsouris on Plisii
The Church of St. Demetrios Katsouris on Plisii (Αγίου Δημητρίου Κατσούρη Πλησιών) is located southwest of Arta and is one of the oldest churches of the area. It has a cross-in-square plan with a large dome. It was the katholikon of a monastery and has a bell tower in front of its narthex. While the church was perhaps constructed in the 9th century, its name was first mentioned in 1229 and probably refers to its founder or some responsible for restoring it.
Church of St. Nicholas Rhodias
The Church of St. Nicholas Rhodias (Άγιος Νικόλαος Ροδιάς) is located southwest of Arta in Epirus. It was the katholikon of a monastery and a metochion of the Monastery of Panagia Rodias from which it took its name. It was painted in the style of the early decades of the 13th century.
Ruins of the Church of St. Luke
Engraving of Arta (19th century)
Engraving of Arta (1854)
Byzantine Architecture by Cyril Mango
Architecture in the Balkans from Diocletian to Süleyman the Magnificent by Slobodan Ćurčić
Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture by Richard Krautheimer
Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium edited by Alexander Kazhdan
St. Basil Agora Arta Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)
St. Basil Gephyras Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)