Corinth Canal

Santorini Traveler - - EDITORIAL - EDITOR: CAROLINA RIKAKI PHO­TOS: NIKOS PSAR­ROS, CAROLINA RIKAKI, LOUKAS HAPSIS ( selfie)

Ev­ery vis­i­tor go­ing to An­cient Olympia or Ep­i­dau­rus stops at the old bridge of the Corinth Canal to ad­mire the largest tech­ni­cal project in Greece in the 19th cen­tury. As strange as it may seem, it is one of the most pop­u­lar attractions in Greece: ev­ery day hun­dreds of tourists cross the canal by boat but also try bungee jump­ing, kayak­ing, SUP, swim­ming and other ac­tiv­i­ties.

Lo­ca­tion

The Corinth Canal con­nects the Gulf of Corinth with the Sa­ronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. It cuts through the nar­row Isth­mus of Corinth and sep­a­rates the Pelo­pon­nese from the Greek main­land, mak­ing the penin­sula an is­land. The canal was dug through the Isth­mus at sea level and has no locks. It is 6.4 kilo­me­tres (4 mi) in length and only 21.4 me­tres (70 ft) wide at its base. In this way, a 3-day trip around the penin­sula is done in just a few min­utes.

Some history

The Isth­mia area, due to its strate­gic lo­ca­tion, was in­hab­ited since the 5th mil­len­nium BC.

In the area, the cel­e­bra­tion of Isth­mia be­came the sec­ond most im­por­tant cel­e­bra­tion in the an­tiq­uity af­ter the Olympic Games. The cel­e­bra­tions be­gan in 582 BC and ceased af­ter the de­struc­tion of Corinth by the Ro­mans in 46 AD.

The ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site of an­cient Isth­mia may not be well known nor a pri­or­ity for the vis­i­tor to­day. How­ever, it is worth a visit to the place where Isth­mia cel­e­bra­tion took place and to the mu­seum, where many glass arte­facts found in a ship­wreck from Alexan­dria, Egypt are ex­hib­ited. In the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site you will see the ru­ins of the Tem­ple of Po­sei­don, the sta­dium, the the­ater and the Ro­man baths where an enor­mous mo­saic sim­i­lar to those in Os­tia and Pom­peii is pre­served in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion.

In the 7th c. BC, the tyrant Pe­rian­der con­structed an over­land portage road, named the Di­olkos or stone car­riage­way, along which ships could be towed from one side of the Isth­mus to the other and trans­ported mer­chan­dise and ideas, mak­ing Corinth a com­mer­cial and spir­i­tual cen­ter. The vis­i­tor can see to­day the ru­ins of an­cient Di­olkos at the north­ern exit of the Isth­mus to­wards the Corinthian Gulf in the area of Posi­do­nia and visit the Cen­ter of History and Sci­ence.

It was about 7.5 kilo­me­ters long and was con­sid­ered a mir­a­cle of en­gi­neer­ing as its con­struc­tion took ad­van­tage of the slopes of the soil.

Con­struc­tion of the canal

The Ro­man em­peror Nero was the first to at­tempt to con­struct the canal in 67 AD, but the project was aban­doned when he died shortly af­ter­wards.

The idea of a canal was re­vived af­ter the Greek war of In­de­pen­dence from the Ottoman Em­pire in 1830. In 1881, the So­ciété In­ter­na­tionale du Canal Mar­itime de Corinthe was com­mis­sioned to con­struct the canal and op­er­ate it for the next 99 years. Con­struc­tion was for­mally in­au­gu­rated on 23 April 1882 in the pres­ence of King Ge­orge I of Greece. Af­ter the com­pany went bank­rupt, con­struc­tion re­sumed in 1890 when the project was trans­ferred to a Greek com­pany, and was com­pleted on 25 July 1893 af­ter eleven years' work.

Se­ri­ous dam­age was caused to the canal dur­ing World War II. On 26 April 1941, Nazi Ger­man in­vad­ing parachutists at­tempted to cap­ture the main bridge over the canal, de­fended by Bri­tish troops. The bridge had been wired for de­mo­li­tion. The Ger­mans sur­prised the de­fend­ers with an as­sault in the early morn­ing of 26 April and cap­tured the bridge, but the Bri­tish set off the charges and destroyed the struc­ture.

Three years later, as Ger­man forces re­treated from Greece, they used ex­plo­sives to set off land­slides to block the canal, destroyed the bridges and dumped lo­co­mo­tives, bridge wreck­age and other in­fra­struc­ture into the canal to hin­der re­pair work – the rel­e­vant footage can be found in Youtube.

Nowa­days

Cross­ing the canal with a tourist boat is an awe­some ex­pe­ri­ence. The trip starts from the Coast Guard Of­fice at the end of the canal in Isth­mia and crosses the whole chan­nel to the other side and back. There are more boats do­ing longer trips to Aegina and Ag­gistri is­lands that pass through the canal too.

Nat­u­rally, due to its dif­fi­cult ter­rain, the canal has ex­pe­ri­enced fi­nan­cial and op­er­a­tional dif­fi­cul­ties. The nar­row­ness of the canal makes nav­i­ga­tion dif­fi­cult; its high rock walls chan­nel high winds down its length, and the dif­fer­ent times of the tides in the two gulfs cause strong tidal cur­rents in the chan­nel.

This year land­slides blocked the canal and ceased its op­er­a­tion for sev­eral days.

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