Corinth Canal (or Isthmus) is a strategic spot for Greece and one of the most important for the East Mediterranean. Its construction constituted a major issue during ancient times, since it would solve a lot of problems for commerce and navigation.
History of the Corinth Canal
Periandros, the tyrant of Corinth, was the first one to conceive the idea of the construction, around 602 B.C., but was content with just Diolkos. Dimitrios the Besieger, Julius Caesar, Caligula and Nero, all studied and attempted to construct the canal, with no success. Herod Atticus, the Byzantines and the Venetians, successor of Periandros’ vision, all gave it up for different reasons. Finally, after the Turkish Occupation, the newly established Greek state, after many attempts, completed the construction of Isthmus.
When travelling from Athens to Corinth you leave Attica to enter the Peloponnese while crossing an Isthmus, a narrow and fairly low-lying, 6 kilometres wide, tongue of land which links Central Greece (Sterea Hellas) with the Peloponnese as well as with the east parts of the Saronic Gulf. Both economically and strategically, the Isthmus of Corinth, as this narrow stretch of land is called, has played a very important role in the history of Greece. It is the only land bridge between the country’s north and south. Populations, armies and commodities have got to move through it.
Before it was built, ships sailing between the Aegean and Adriatic had to circumnavigate the Peloponnese adding about 185 nautical miles to their journey. The first to decide to dig the Corinth Canal was Periander, the tyrant of Corinth (602 BCE). Such a giant project was above the technical capabilities of ancient times so Periander carried out another great project, the diolkós, a stone road, on which the ships were transferred on wheeled platforms from one sea to the other. Dimitrios Poliorkitis, king of Macedon (c. 300 BCE), was the second who tried, but his engineers insisted that if the seas where connected, the more northerly Adriatic, mistakenly thought to be higher, would flood the more southern Aegean. At the time, it was also thought that Poseidon, god of the sea, opposed joining the Aegean and the Adriatic. The same fear also stopped Julius Caesar and emperors Hadrian and Caligula. The most serious try was that of Emperor Nero (67 CE). He had 6,000 slaves for the job. He started the work himself, digging with a golden hoe, while music was played. However, he was killed before the work could be completed.
The construction of the Corinth Canal
After the liberation of Greece in the first half of the 19th century, the canal project was revived under Kapodistrias. Its execution hung fire until 1882, when a French firm took the work in hand. It was a Greek firm which completed it in 1893. The Corinth Canal is 6,343 metres long. Its width amounts to 25 metres, its depth 8 metres and the earth cliffs flanking it reach a maximum height of 63 metres. Two large bridges – one for railway, and one for the National Road, both of them rebuilt after World War Two – now link Central Greece with the Peloponnese, while below them fairly large ships are piloted directly from one sea to the other. In 1975 a second road bridge was built to ease the increased volume of traffic.
Due to the canal’s narrowness, navigational problems and periodic closures to repair landslips from its steep walls, it failed to attract the level of traffic anticipated by its operators. It is now used mainly for tourist traffic. The bridge above is perfect for bungee jumping.