The Castle of Arta
One of the most impressive and well-preserved Castles of Greece is the Castle of Arta, which stands majestically on a low hill at the northeastern side of Arta, near the river Arachthos and it is a material evidence of the town’s medieval physiognomy. The location where it was built was not chosen randomly, since from antiquity, the Corinthian settlers who founded the ancient city of Amvrakia had erected its fortification on the foot of the same hill. Parts of the ancient defensive wall had been integrated in the medieval Castle’s structure and are preserved to this day both in its eastern and northern sectors.
The Castle is trapezoid, it occupies 4 acres of land and at some points, reaches a height of 11 meters. It is enforced by 19 towers, which are rectangular, semi-circular, polygonal, or triangular. The inner walkway, that runs the whole length of the walls is also well preserved. Rectangular and semi-circular towers, as well as the ramparts, are dated in the Byzantine period, while polygonal and triangulartowers are dated in the Ottoman period.
The main gate, which is located in the south sector, is the main entrance to the site and it was protected on its left side by a rectangular tower. The second and smaller gate is located at the north side of the walls. The northwestern and the south sections of the Castle are reinforced by a bulwark.
The inner fort “Its Kale”
The Acropolis, also known as “Its Kale”, was the last stand of the defenders in case of siege and it is located on the southwest side of the Castle, to the left of the main gate. Within the acropolis, there are three buildings. A large one is on the north side, a small one opposite to the gate, and a small underground building is at the east side. There is also a coat of arms engraved on a well and until recently it was believed that it belonged to the Orsini family. However, this hypothesis has recently changed due to a new historical analysis of the coat of arms and is now attributed to the Tokko family.
In the center of the Castle, there are the ruins of a large Byzantine building. The surviving part of the building is gamma shaped and its southern part is preserved at a sufficient height of 4m. The formality of the structure and its rich decoration have led researchers to identify this building as the palace of the Despotate’s of Epirus rulers.
History of the Castle
The construction phases of the monument are four:(the mid-Byzantine, the late-Byzantine, the Ottoman, and the modern period), making the Castle an indisputable witness of the city’s history from the Byzantine era until today.
Over the years, many reports and descriptions are made from travelers, researchers, and historians who visited the imposing fortress. Characteristic is the report of Rabbi Benjamin from Tudela, Spain who stated that in 1165 AD, he visited the city of Arta “on this coast lies a village with about hundred Jewish inhabitants inside its castle”. The evidence and studies that followed the coming years were growing and sometimes were contradictory. As to the dating of its construction, recent archaeological excavations documented the Castle’s existence since the mid-Byzantine period. Today, it is believed that the Castle was expanded and upgraded from its pre-existing form to its current, and became extremely fortified by Michael II Komnenos Doukas (1206-1268 AD), who ruled the “Despotate” of Epirus from 1231 to 1268.
Subsequently, in 1449, Arta and its Castle were surrendered into the Ottoman conquerors. During the years 1796-1820, it was fully handed over the rule of Ali Pasha of Ioannina and certain upgrades followed, mainly in ramparts and towers, according to the requirements of the warfare techniques of that time.
In modern era, 1959-1961, the hotel Xenia was erected inside the Castle. Maintenance work on the walls and general rearrangement of the site also took place at that time.
The Castle of Arta, despite the sieges and wars it experienced, was preserved in excellent condition and it has become a masterpiece for the city of Arta. When its usefulness as a military infrastructure was canceled due to the development of weapons systems, the Castle acquired new uses that reached to our days. In 1956, it was designated as a “historical monument” (ΥΑ 90211/4215 / 7-12-1956 – ΦΕΚ 281 / Β / 29-12-1956) and since then, it has become a place that highlightes the cultural heritage of the wider region.