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A hike to Zarzi stone bridge, near Vytina, Arcadia

Greece, and particularly Epirus and the Peloponnese, is dotted with magnificent old stone-arched bridges, built and rebuilt during Byzantine, Ottoman and early modern Greek eras, the oldest being a 4,000-year-old Mycenaean bridge (Arkadiko) linking Argos and Tiryns to Epidaurus which was still in use until a few decades ago. There is an ongoing effort to inscribe all the larger, well-known, Epirus stone bridges as UNESCO cultural landscapes, although some like the Kokori/Noutsou bridge (1750), are already within a UNESCO site, the Vikos-Aoos National Park. Among the many, smaller and lesser visited ones, that do not yet enjoy an official protection status, is the single-arch Zarzi stone bridge over the Mylaontas River (Mylaontas Gorge - See Map), below the village of Vytina in the Mt. Mainalon area of Arcadia, the forested heart of the Peloponnese. This Ottoman era bridge, one of around 20 built in Arcadia during those years, used to connect Vytina with Magouliana, the highest inhabited village of the Peloponnese (1200-1400 metres asl). The oldest reference of Zarzi bridge is by Fotakos, the diarist and adjutant of Kolokotronis. Fotakos, who was from Magouliana, records that in 1826 Kolokotronis troops unexpectedly met and clashed with the Turkish-Egyptian Army of Ibrahim Pasha in Vytina and then managed to retreat via the gorge and the bridge to Magouliana. The bridge was subsequently repaired by the mayor of Nymfasia in 1880s and is still solid (or at least looks so). It has two side openings (mini-arches) for excess water to go through during winter, while there are remnants of an old channel taking water to an old watermill further down the river (Petreika). Even though Vytina is very popular with domestic tourists and day visitors from other resorts due to its many quality eateries, very few are aware of the Mylaontas Gorge, its bridges and watermill ruins. There are two paths to reach the bridge from Vytina, one from the south west, and one from the north east. It is a relatively easy 2 hour (in total) walk, although the return includes a rather steep ascent. The hike is part of a larger circuit to Elati, and other villages of Mainalon, collectively known as and maintained by "Mainalon Trail". The specific trail is well-marked, but extra caution is needed in a couple of narrow points, lest someone falls into the gorge, so it is not safe for young children. May and June should be the best time to visit with the plane trees in full bloom - by August Mylaontas dries up. A good picnic spot is at the confluence of a stream from Vytina and Mylaontas, 600 metres south of the bridge.

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