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Presentation of Geographical Unit Kourenta

A stunning mosaic of history and culture lies in the cultural unity of Kourenta, bounded by the mountains of Kourenta (1.172m) to the east and by the northwestern extension of the mountains of Paramythia (1.644m) to the southwest.

Description of geographical features

In the north, we identify as geographical boundary the Kalamas River and to the south, the mountains of Souli and the northwestern foothills of Tomaros. West of the Tyria and Kalamas rivers, the gaze is lost among among the plane trees, the oaks and the abundant oak trees (dousko), from which the location takes its name: Ntouskara.
The two rivers of the region formulate indelible marks in the space. Kalamas flows through dense vegetation between Kasidiaris and Kourenta, while Tyria passes between Kourenta and Tomaros to flow into Kalamas. Between Vrosyna and Pente Ekklisies, Kalamas crosses towering cliffs that rise to an imposing gorge.
Outlining the region, we identify a landscape of unparalleled beauty that develops along the Kalamas River. There is situated a series of historical villages, tucked into fertile hilly valleys, numerous hill ranges and small canyons. These villages, on either side of the Kalamas Valley, form one administrative unit divided into five boroughs, of Ano Kalamas, of Kalpaki, of Zitsa, of Evrimenoi and of Molossoi.
Of particular interest is the natural environment of the area, home to rare species of flora and fauna. The area that is crossed by the river Kalamas includes croplands, riparian forests of poplars, alders, elms and willows, kermes oak forests, shrublands, extensive forests of oak as well as strawberry trees, wild olives, cedars, dogwoods, Judas trees and autumn heaths.
It is an area with low hill highlands, where the combination of the mild Mediterranean climate and human activity have created a homogeneous vegetation zone, which starts from the beds of the rivers and the torrents and reaches the peaks of the mountains.

Historical and cultural significance of the stone bridges

The stone structures of Epirus are many in number, but unique in art and aesthetics. However, what stands out the most is the art of the arched bridges, which are the accomplishment of the Epirotes craftsmen and an aesthetic culmination of folk architecture.
The entire region of Epirus is traversed by rivers which in the winter are very wild and impetuous. The bridges link the settlements to each other but also the neighbourhoods in each village, the fields, the vineyards, the pastures.
The choice of the location of the bridges was done the master builder. The master builder chose after searching the location, which on the riverbank had to be rocky for it to be able to safely support the pedestals of the bridge.
The stone bridges are classified into two categories according to the number of their arches: single-arched and multi-arched. The variety and diversity in the architectural composition of the bridges is connected with the zeal of the builder, in contrast to the construction materials, the plasticity and their proportions, which basically are a common feature of all the stone bridges.
However, the stone bridges of Greece are for the most part single-arched and are located in mountainous soils. This happens because the single-arched bridges are mainly manufactured in steep terrains, where the rivers because of their small width are more impetuous, as opposed to the lowland terrains, where the width of the river is greater and thus their impetuousness is much lower.
All the bridges in Epirus were built during the Ottoman era. The economic growth of the 18th and 19th century and the commercial transactions with the Balkans and the Central European countries led to the construction of new bridges or the improvement of older ones.
Each bridge is also a story, which expresses the need for communication between people, whilst they form carriers of the culture and lifestyle of a bygone era.

Traditions and customs on the stone bridges

The bridges form an indispensable part of the Greek landscape and are inextricably linked with folk fables, which are the result of man’s attempt to approach the unknown, the creation of the bridge, a feat so difficult that seemed to escape the human constraints (Mantas, 2000).
The destruction of a construction was usually attributed to some supernatural being. Also, it is possible that these legends are based on popular perceptions about the fight between good and evil (Tsotsos, 1997).
This is essentially a way of expression of the fear for the unforeseeable events that followed the construction. The most difficult time, was that of the removal of the formwork from the bridge, which gave birth to most of the legends, since there was a belief in the existence of a dragon that was against the building and asked for human sacrifices as an exchange to allow the completion of the project (Petronotis, 2000).
This superstition through the sacrifice to a higher being, is mentioned in many ancient Greek myths (Petronotis, 2000). Indeed, as It is known in ancient religions and extensively in Greek mythology it was believed that the more precious were the presents-sacrifices, the greater would be the favor of the gods (Schismenos, 2000).
We should not omit, however, to note also the defining role of the rivers as a source from which various mores and traditions came out. Since the ancient times, the rivers were worshipped as gods. Thus the people with various mystical events sought their favour, to succeed with the fertility of the land but also their own fertility.
As an aftermath of the perception of people about the rivers, Spyros Mandas cites a very interesting story about a superstition which was in force until recent years in Zagori of Epirus: There, any woman that gave birth to a dead baby, after going down to the nearest river, pushed in the waters, from the top of an arch of a bridge, one or more of its “arkades”, i.e. the rocks that secured the passageway. In the subconscious of the Zagorian mother, as explained by S. Mantas, there is a latent intuition that the old patron of fertility, the river, wronged her. The fact that the woman chooses to punish the river from a bridge is not accidental. It happens because its construction humbled the untamed river in the mind of the local perception, by joining its two sides.

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