The bridge of Plaka
Historical monuments are an attraction, they recall important moments of history, but at the same time they serve as a pole of attraction for visitors. They are unique examples of the Εpirotic architectural tradition and modern Greek culture. The bridge of Plaka is one of the most famous bridges, not only for its history but also for its perfect construction and its wonderful architecture. It bridges Arachthos, one of the most rapid rivers of Epirus and is the largest single-arched bridge in the Balkans and the third largest in Europe.
The historical and folklore elements of the bridge are really interesting and cover a period from 1863 until today. After all, glamor and historicity belong to the original.
In this place, known for a long time with the name “Plaka”, there was an old stone bridge which was on the main road connecting the villages of Tzoumerka with Arta. The bridge was supported on one side by a huge rock. A difficult case which resulted in its collapse twice in previous years. In 1860 the torrential autumn rains resulted in the movement of the rock and the collapse of the bridge again.
Its reconstruction was a matter of priority. The plans of the master craftsmen from Pramanta, Raftanei and Skloupo (today Ampelochori) were excluded, and someone master-George from Konitsa was proposed by Ioannis Loulis. Ioannis Loulis from Kortortsi (today Aetorrachi) who was a typical case of an Epirote sponsor allocated 9,000 grosses for this bridge and his opinion definitely did matter.
These are written by Nikolaos Papakostas who knew that the account notes were kept until 1912 in his village Melissourgi. On the other hand, the historian Ioannis Lampridis mentions Dimitrios Arvanitogiannis from Pramanta as a financier with 30,000 grosses. However, the work was undertaken by the chief craftsman George and the bridge was built in the summer of 1863, but on the day of the inauguration the bridge collapsed.
The inhabitants of Tzoumerka were excluded once again. New construction had to be done, the third in a row. Ioannis Loulis gave an amount of over 38,000 grosses, the community of Melissourgoi offered 96,000 grosses, of Pramanta 32,000 and of Agnanta the timber plus 48,000 along with other neighboring villages whose inhabitants also offered personal work. The amount reached 180,000 groschen. This time the project was undertaken by Costas Bekas from Pramanta together with local craftsmen.
From July to September, they built the beautiful, symmetrical, single-arched and imposing bridge with two side openings (relief arches) for the channeling of water in case of flood, with a height of 20 meters and a length of 40 meters.And this almost has the same fate as the previous one because the early first rains forced the rapid removal of its scaffolding with the risk of being swept away by the current of the river. This justified haste caused a slight deviation in the bridge which was not apparent at first glance.
The inhabitants of the surrounding villages, despite their efforts and financial sacrifices, did not enjoy the new bridge. From 1881, Arachthos was the Greek-Turkish border, as a result of which the passage was useless until 1913.
The area of Plaka was for 30 years the headquarters of a military base for the guarding of the Greek-Turkish border. Next to the bridge there was an outpost for the control and secure surveillance of the border. Opposite the bridge, the Turks also had their own outpost. The area was in a strategic position and, as it was next, there were many conflicts and deadly battles for its occupation and control.
At the inn located next to the bridge on February 29, 1944, the Myrofyllo-Plaka agreement was signed between the main and at the same time conflicting Greek resistance organizations, ΕΑΜ-ΕΛΑΣ (National Liberation Front- Greek People’s Liberation Army), ΕΔΕΣ (National Republican Greek League) and ΕΚΚΑ (National and Social Liberation). The purpose of this agreement was – mainly – to put an end to the civil strife that had preceded the last four months. The negotiations that led to its signing, officially began on February 19, in the village of Myrofyllo of Trikala, hence the name of the agreement.
During World War II, the bridge was bombed by German forces but suffered minor damage. The locals repaired it with cement in 1943. In 2007 the bridge was severely damaged – while there were already plans (only on paper of course) to carry out repair work, something that never happened, until 2015 when it collapsed.
The intense climate of frustration became optimism when the NTUA (National Technical University of Athens) stated that the Bridge can and should be restored, undertaking, immediately, the realization of the preliminary studies and leading this effort in close cooperation with the institutions of Epirus, the involved state bodies and the local communities. A collaboration that for one of the few times bore fruit.
According to what we read, none of the modern technologies were used, no hidden reinforcement, not even a kilo of metal from the minimum they had put in the original bridge, focusing on the technicians completing the work “by reading correctly what the master craftsman Bekas with their own craftsmen had done 150 years ago”. The researchers deciphered the secrets of the original construction, putting in the “microscope” the debris in the riverbed, historical photographs and any other evidence and rational assumptions made up for the partial lack of knowledge. In mid-February 2020, the metal frame that supported the bridge during the works was removed.The people who worked for the success of the cause are rightly proud since the project is the largest stone bridge restoration in the world.