The Corinth Canal
Greece has landmarks of all kinds: both architectural and natural, and those before whose age any person feels awe. But one of them stands out for a number of peculiarities. It is the Corinth Canal, a man-made wonder of the world, separating mainland Greece from the Peloponnese, connecting the Corinthian Gulf with the Saronic Gulf.
If you look at the canal from above, it will impress you with its straightness – as if it pierced the Corinthian isthmus with an arrow. The length of the canal does not compete with the famous Suez or Panama Canal. However, the beauty of the place and an amazing history of construction does not leave tourists indifferent.
History of the Corinth Canal
In ancient times, Corinth prospered due to its location. Through the narrow isthmus connecting the Peloponnese and the mainland, ships were pulled along a greased stone road. This avoided the dangerous voyage around the coast of the Peloponnese, at the southernmost point of which there was a great risk of running into a storm.
Attempts to build a canal at this point and cut the way had been made since long ago. The first to do so was the tyrant Periander in the 7th century BC. The work even began under him, but was stopped because of fears: the meeting of the Aegean and Ionian Seas because of the difference in levels could lead to flooding of the land. And because the ancients had a special relationship to the gods and their will, Periander took seriously the warnings of the ancient Oracle of Delphi.
Demetrius Poliorchetus also began to think about creating a canal and even invited Egyptian engineers to do so. This time it was not the oracle, but experts dissuaded the ruler from the idea because of the difference in sea levels. According to them, the surging water would inevitably flood the Corinthian area and the nearby islands.
During Roman times, Caligula and Julius Caesar seriously considered plans for a canal. Nero, on the other hand, put words into action and hired thousands of slaves. But because of the emperor’s death, construction was abandoned. Attempts would later be made by the Byzantines and the Venetians.
In the XIX century, the development of the project was entrusted to the French at the initiative of Ioannis Capodistria, but the work was postponed for economic reasons. The last attempt proved successful – construction began in 1882, and in 1893 the canal was put into operation. What the Greeks had dreamed of for more than 2000 years, was realized in 10 years by 2500 workers.
During the war years, Greece could have lost its man-made miracle. In 1941, Greece was occupied by German troops. And during the evacuation in 1944, the Germans set off a series of explosions. The canal was filled with soil, remnants of trains and military equipment. The clearing was completed in 1948 and opened the way for ships.
Corinth Canal today
The canal is 6 km long, about 8 m deep, and the walls are up to 76 m high. The width of the Corinth Canal in different sections is from 21 to 25 m.
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the Corinth Canal for Greece. It has made it possible for ships to shorten their way by 400 km. Small and medium-sized ships can pass through the canal – it is too narrow for most huge ocean cruise ships. To keep the natural walls of limestone from eroding away, many ships go in tow. For the same reason, there is a limit on the number of passes through the canal.
Today, due to its insufficient width, the Corinth Canal has lost its economic importance and is rarely used for piloting ships. The exception is low-tonnage intra-Greek shipping. But the canal has become a tourist attraction: both as an unforgettable spectacle and as a way to tickle one’s nerves. Today it is probably the main place in Greece for rubber rope jumping (bungee jumping). It is the most popular extreme attraction in the Peloponnese and is available for professionals and beginners alike, running from May until mid-autumn.
Interesting facts about the Corinth Canal
Such an extraordinary attraction simply could not stay away from all sorts of ratings, comparisons and characteristics. There are several interesting facts that make the Corinth Canal special:
- The result of effort and extensive work is a site that impresses tourists more than it benefits Greece. But there is a benefit to it, too: the famous canal serves to attract travelers to the Peloponnese;
- The Corinth Canal is the rare case where a 2,000-year-old long construction project was completed;
- The canal is considered the shortest navigable canal in Europe and the narrowest in the world;
- When you come here, you can see two seas at once: the Ionian Sea and the Aegean Sea;
- The Isthmus of Corinth, through which the canal was built, made the Peloponnese a peninsula. But after the work was completed, the Peloponnese was artificially transformed into an island.
How to see the Corinth Canal
The first is by taking a train to the Peloponnese from mainland Greece and in the opposite direction.
The second is to rent a car and drive over any of the bridges that are paved. On the old road there is a bridge on which there is an observation deck. Here you can park quietly and enjoy the views of the Corinth Canal. There is a souvenir shop on the observation deck for tourists. For those who take a cruise from Athens Piraeus, you can also get a glimpse of the canal, where the cruise ships approach the gates.
If there is no hurry, you can start from Corinth. Here, any travel agency or the owner of a private boat will offer you a boat trip along the Corinth Canal. You can book it in the early morning or late afternoon. At sunset the canal is especially beautiful, but even in the daytime the view of the narrow sea corridor and the steep walls is impressive. When ordering a boat it is worth remembering that there is a toll (about 30 euros) for the canal.
The Corinth Canal is unique not only by Greek, but also by European standards. It became an example of how a centuries-old dream of an entire nation came true and man was able to cope with the elements. In terms of beauty the Corinth Canal is in no way inferior to the natural creations and quite deservedly included among the most photographed sights in Greece.
Corinth Canal. The Peloponnese. Greece
The Corinth Canal is one of the ways to reduce the length of the sea route in the Mediterranean Sea. Hundreds of years of attempts and several tragic deaths of the rulers who tried to build it have accompanied the canal in different times. Nevertheless it was still built, but it is used mainly by tourist ships. You will find out why next.
Where is the Corinth Canal
The canal connects the Gulf of Corinth, which is part of the Ionian Sea, and the Saronic Gulf of the Aegean. It cuts through the narrow isthmus of Corinth and separates the Peloponnese peninsula from the mainland, effectively turning it into an island.
The Corinth Canal is built at sea level and therefore has no locks. It also has no bends and is straight as a string.
The length is 6343 meters. The depth is 8 meters. The minimum width is only 21.4 meters. The rocks, in which the channel is cut, are up to 90 meters high. The canal has almost vertical (at an angle of about 80 degrees) walls. Above it pass the railroad, the highway and several roads. In 1988, submerged bridges were installed at the ends of the Corinth Canal, which can be lowered to 8 meters below sea level.
In this video you can see what the Corinth Canal submersible bridge is
The canal greatly reduces the 700-kilometer sea route around the Peloponnese, but it is too narrow for modern ocean-going ships. It accommodates ships up to 17.6 meters wide and no more than 7.3 meters in draft. Ships pass through the channel one at a time. That is, there is no two-way traffic in it. Small ships pass the way on their own, and large vessels are conducted by tugboats.
At present, the canal has practically no economic importance, and is used mainly by tourist ships. About 15,000 ships pass through each year.
Here is a short video of a ship passage through the Corinth Canal
History of the Corinth Canal
Since ancient times, there have been many attempts to dig a canal at this very spot. At different times, several rulers dreamed of making it happen.
The first to propose the construction of the canal was the tyrant Periander back in the 7th century BC. But the project was not realized. Instead of a canal, overland drags were built on which ships and goods were towed. Such a crossing was called the Diolk. The remnants of this route are still near the Corinth Canal.
The Diolk land crossing
The Diolcus is a special stone-paved pathway in the Corinthian area that allowed ships to travel overland across the Isthmus of Corinth. In ancient times, this path helped ships avoid the long and dangerous journey around the Peloponnesian Peninsula.
The main function of the Isthmus was to transport goods and ships, but in times of warfare this route greatly accelerated the movement of ships in the area.
The length of the Diolk is thought to have been between 6 and 8.5 kilometers.
Historians believe that the crossing was built in the 7th-6th century BC and was used until the 1st century AD.
The ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes used a phrase that can be translated as “quick as Corinth. That is, he meant that the Corinthian Isthmus crossing was very fast.
The Diolk crossing brought considerable income to the Corinthian treasury, so the construction of the canal was delayed for a long time for fear that the canal might deprive Corinth of its dominant role as a land route.
Prediction and Death of Emperors
The philosopher Apollonius of Tianus predicted that anyone who proposed to dig the Corinthian canal would be met with disease. And three Roman rulers who considered the idea died or were killed.
According to the historian Suetonius, the Roman emperor Julius Caesar thought the Corinthian canal was necessary, but was assassinated before he could begin the project.
Caligula (the third emperor of Rome) hired Egyptian experts in 40 A.D. to determine if a canal could be built. They concluded that the Corinthian Gulf was higher than the Saronic Gulf, so flooding was possible. The matter went no further as the emperor was assassinated.
Nero was the first emperor to actually try to build a canal, personally breaking the ground with a pickaxe and removing the topsoil in 67 AD. The Romans threw about 6,000 captive Jews to build the canal.
By the way, don’t forget to read about the fortress of Masada in Israel. Therein lies the story of one fortress during the merciless Roman-Jewish war.
Two groups of Jewish prisoners began to dig trenches 40-50 meters long on both sides, and a third group on the ridge drilled deep shafts to determine the quality of the rock (these holes, by the way, were later used in 1881 for the same purpose). According to Suetonius, a canal was dug at a distance of about 700 meters. But again the project was frozen because the emperor died.
Demetrius Poliorketus in the 3rd and 4th century AD also planned to build a canal here, but his surveyors misjudged the levels of the adjacent seas and expressed fears that the construction of the canal might cause flooding of large areas of land. Once again, it was decided not to build the canal.
In 1687, after the conquest of the Peloponnese, the Venetians also considered building a canal, but failed to do so.
The Corinth Canal was nevertheless built.
In 1830, Greece officially became independent from the Ottoman Empire, and the canal project was given new life. Greek statesman Ioannis Kapodistrias asked a French engineer to estimate the feasibility and cost of the project. But the amount of 40 million gold francs announced by the Frenchman was too high at the time. Again the project was postponed.
In 1869 the Suez Canal was opened. Against the background of this event, the Greek government again initiated the Corinth Canal project. In 1870, preparatory work and the search for money began. The French company that was involved in the construction of the Panama Canal went bankrupt. It was decided to build the canal under a concession agreement. In 1881, the International Corinthian Sea Canal Company was granted exclusive rights to build the canal and then operate it for 99 years.
King George the First of Greece officially opened the construction on April 23, 1882. But after 8 years of work, the allotted 30 million francs ran out. Additional funds were allocated and the project was transferred to a Greek company. On July 25, 1893 (after 11 years), the Corinth Canal was nevertheless completed.
Problems of the Corinth Canal
After the work was completed, a number of problems and difficulties arose. The width of the canal made navigation very difficult. The high stone walls directed air currents in such a way that there were periodic strong tidal currents in the canal. Consequently, many maritime carriers did not use it for its intended purpose, and the canal’s workload was much lower than planned.
It was thought that annual traffic would be about 4 million tons, but by 1906 the volume reached only 500,000 tons per year. By 1913 the volume had increased to 1.5 million tons. The First World War significantly reduced the workload of the canal.
Another problem is associated with the constantly deteriorating limestone walls of the canal. Landslides and rockslides often occur here, which block the already narrow canal.
Sometimes even the ships themselves damaged the canal walls as they passed through the canal.
Sometimes ships practically destroy the walls of the Corinth Canal themselves
To prevent destruction, work was carried out to strengthen the walls of the canal. For this purpose, about 165,000 cubic meters of masonry were used to build special additional artificial walls along the water’s edge for more than half the length of the canal. Between 1893 and 1940, the canal was closed for a total of four years. During this time, work was underway to repair its walls.
Works to reinforce the walls of the Corinth Canal Archival photos of the Corinth Canal reinforcements
In 1923 alone, 41,000 m³ of rock was deposited and it took a full two years to clear the canal. During World War II the canal was destroyed. It wasn’t until 1947 that it was cleared and put back into service.
In February 2018, another landslide occurred in the canal, resulting in a temporary halt to ship traffic.
As a result, the Corinth Canal is of interest almost only to tourists. Still, a passage through it is worth doing and seeing everything for yourself. For the more adventurous there is a “bungee jump” on one of the bridges – you can jump to the very bottom of the canal (if you have the courage of course).
Jump over Corinth Canal