If a modern visitor today could imagine the Isthmus of Corinth in
its original, natural state before human purpose and modern technology sliced
a canal through it, he would feel overwhelmed pondering over the excessive hassles
an ancient seafarer had to put up with in order to transport his entire ship and
precious cargo intact across land from shore to shore. To say the least, it must
have been a spectacular feat to slide a ship on a masonry trail known by the name
of - for which ("Corinth of the twin seas") was famous and esteemed
highly in classical antiquity.
Anguish and anxiety were undoubtedly salient features of the Diolkos
experience. Nonetheless, at a time when technology was in a state of infancy,
man's creative mind invented this - all the same cumbersome - method to bypass
a caprice of nature. Of course, seen otherwise, the narrow strip of land which
connected Peloponnisos with the mainland to the north was an unmatched gift which
Nature has bestowed on men. It was quite like a Pandora's Box - if man could only
scale it to a measure which served his diverse needs. The Isthmus of Corinth was
therefore, at the same time, a bliss and a curse of the gods.
Since early times, a number of spirited souls entertained thoughts
of constructing a canal through the Isthmus - in spite of the insurmountable technical
problems such a feat posed. Nonetheless, the record of repeated attempts in this
direction goes to show that human ingenuity and courage were just not good enough.
602 B.C. - 44 B.C.
Ancient writers relate that, in 602 B.C., Periander, Tyrant of Corinth
and one of the Seven Sages of Antiquity, was the first man to seriously consider
the possibility of opening a canal through the Isthmus. Periander is said to have
given up on his plans fearing the wrath of the gods. Pythia, the priestess of
the Delphic Oracle, warned him not to proceed. It is possible that this negative
oracle was provoked by the multitudes of priests in temples around the region
who were concerned about not relinquishing their status of prominence or the influx
of gifts and dedications by god - tearing merchants and seafarers who thronged
lavish Corinth. was an apt ancient remark about the affluent city.
In 307 B.C., about three centuries after Periander, Demetrios Poliorketes
made up his mind to cut a naval passage through the Isthmus. He actually began
excavations before he was talked out of continuing with it by Egyptian engineers,
who predicted that the different sea levels between the Corinthian and the Saronic
Gulfs would inundate Aegina and nearby islands with the sea.
In Roman times - which is to say two and a half centuries after Poliorketes
- Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. and Caligula, in 37 B.C. again courted with the idea.
In 66 A.D., Nero reconsidered earlier plans and, a year later, he set teams of
war prisoners from the Aegean islands and six thousand slave Jews to work on the
canal. They dug out a ditch 3,300 meters in length and 40 meters wide, before
Nero had to rush back to Rome to quell the Galva mutiny. Once there, Nero was
arrested on charges of treason and was sentenced to death in 68 A.D. The unfinished
canal fell to oblivion and was overtaken by tales of superstition and supernatural
The next historic personality to be associated with the canal of Corinth
was Herod of Atticus. He tried, as also did the Byzantines - but to no avail.
The Venetians were next in line. They commenced digging from the shore
on the Corinthian Gulf but the enormity of the task made them give up overnight.
Thus one attempt after another failed to reverse the inscrutable will
of gods to retain the Isthmus sealed forever. There were many others, whose names
do not survive, who were bewitched by the spell to link their name with such a
1830 A.C. - 1893 A.C.
As centuries passed, humanity reached a point where it began to unravel
the secrets of our Universe. Through science and technology, man began to harness
physical powers of an unprecedented magnitude. At long last, the Corinth Canal
appeared within the grasp of man's potential.
Yet the actualization of the dream still had a number of obstacles
to overcome. In the eighteenth century, the Hellenic State having won independence
(in 1830) after nearly four hundred years of Ottoman rule, was missing in material
resources and financial strength to undertake such a costly task. Capodistrias,
contemporary Governor of State, commissioned a special study on the canal project.
The conclusions of that study made Capodistrias abandon further consideration.
Subsequent studies and proposals submitted to the government were likewise evaluated
as unrealistic and unrealizable and met with the same fate.
However, a final push of sufficient threshold energy came to rescue:
Another mammoth-scale canal project, the Suez Canal opened its gates to naval
traffic in 1869. In view of that event, in November 1869 the Zaimis Administration
enacted a law entitled "Opening of the Isthmos of Corinth". Following
that legislation, the government proceeded to assign the project to E. Piat and
M. Chollet, French contractors.
Nevertheless, the pace of events again hearkened to another tune.
The French contract remained only an agreement on paper. Twelve years later, in
1881, another contractor, a Hungarian general by the name of Stefan Tyrr and aide
de camp to Victor Emmanuel established "The International Company of the
Canal of Corinth" and took over the project. Construction of the canal -
a work which was destined to alter all existing sea routes in Greece, the Adriatic,
Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea - began on April 23, 1882. King George
I of Greece was present at the official ground breaking.
It is quite surprising (and a historic irony) that modern engineering
plans followed almost to the point the plans Nero himself has used long ago. In
other words, the 6,300 meters of canal length which Nero had mapped out still
proved to be the most feasible economic alternative.
The Corinth Canal was completed in 1893. By then, the initial contractor
had run dry of funds and was replaced by a Greek Company under Andreas Singros.
Naval traffic in the Corinth Canal was inaugurated in a brilliant
ceremony held on July 25th, 1893. It was indeed a vindication of a dream first
conceived some 2,495 years ago.
As the tab of the Isthmus and the Canal of Corinth comes to an end,
modern man ought to take heed not to fall prey to a common illusion, namely that
the only thing the future has in store for us is our technology and its power.
The future of man kind will also be shaped, for better or worse, by our time-resistant
fantasies and daydreams. The fascinating tale of the Corinth Canal shows that,
even though sentiment and desire of themselves were not sufficient to make a vision
come alive, they nonetheless sustained it long enough until it could be made to
1923 A.C. - Nowadays
The Canal cuts the Isthmus of Corinth in a straight line 6,346 m.
long. Canal width is 24.6 m. at sea level and 21.3 m. at bottom level. Depth range
is from 7.5 to 8 meters. Twelve million cubic meters of earth had to be removed
to cut out the entire passage.
The rock formations in the flanks of the Corinth Canal are not uniform
throughout. There are several geologic fissures which run in east-west direction
at a vertical angle to the canal axis. These geologic features were responsible
for a number of major landslides into the Canal at several instances. On account
of these landfalls, the Canal often had to be dosed for repairs. From its beginning
until 1940, the Canal had to be closed to traffic for a total of 4 years. The
most serious such incident took place in 1923, when the Canal remained closed
to traffic for 2 years on account of 41,000 cubic meters of earth which had fallen
Another major interruption of operation occurred in 1944, when the
retreating German Army set explosives to the flanks of the Canal and caused 60,000
cubic meters of earth to cave in. To make repairs even more difficult, the Germans
also sunk railroad cars into it. It took 5 years to clear the Canal for traffic
The flow of waters in the Canal alters direction about every 6 hours.
Usual current speed is 2.5 knots, rarely exceeding 3 knots.
The tide level shifts gradually without a set time pattern. High and
low ebb points are not more than 60 centimetres apart.
There are 2 sinking bridges in the Corinth Canal today at Poseidonia
and at Isthmia - to facilitate land traffic over it.
Safety and economy! These prime objectives of modern entrepreneurial
activity are also basic service features for all Corinth Canal clients. The Canal
is the most favourite itinerary for cargoes and transports among Mediterranean
and Black Sea ports because it is the safest and cheapest access route to and
from all destinations.
Finally, the Corinth Canal is also a region of considerable tourist
attractions. Multitudes of vacationers from every race, creed or color converge
here in a spirit of brotherhood to admire not only the gift from the hand of Nature
but also the miracle worked out by the hand of man. They thus promote both the
welfare of this region and the spirit of rapprochement among nations.
This text is cited November 2004 from the Corinth Canal Management Company Periandros S.A. URL below, which contains images
http://www.corinthcanal.com/gr_history.html (4 img.)