Ancient Corinth & the Corinth Canal

I saw so many pictures of this beautiful canal and I wanted to see it for myself. We were on a full day tour and had to cover a lot of places, so this was just a quick stop. 

Corinth Canal

Corinth Canal

The Corinth Canal connects the Adriatic’s Gulf of Corinth with the Aegean Saronic Gulf. The canal is 6.3 kilometres in length, has a depth of 26 feet and width that varies between 69 feet minimum (at the bottom) and 82 feet maximum at the water surface. Before its construction, ships had to circle the Peloponnese to cross to the Adriatic which was an extra 185 nautical miles and was quite dangerous too.

The modern canal construction started in 1882 and was stopped due to insufficient funds. Work restarted in 1890 and the canal was finally completed in 1893.

The Canal Dream

  • The idea of building the canal started 2,000 years before back in the 7th century BC by the tyrant Periander but the project was abandoned, due to labour issues and the possible threat it may pose to Corinth as a key port. Periander instead constructed a simpler and less costly overland paved road, named the Diolkos, which allowed ships to be towed from one side of the isthmus to the other.
Before the canal, ships had to circle the had to circle the Peloponnese to go from the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea to the Gulf of Corinth.

The Romans

  • Later the Greek philosopher Apollonius of Tyana prophesied violent deaths for those who tried to join the gulfs. There is a whole story (legend?) around Apollonius – he wasn’t just a philosopher but was believed to have magical powers. Different story – not going there…
  • But the Roman emperor – Julius Caesar went through with making plans to build the canal anyway, but as we know he got assassinated and that happened even before construction began. Every time I think of Caesar, a quote crosses my mind … “the fault dear Brutus, lies not in our stars….” – that famous quote before Caesar was killed – stuck to me since Primary School days.. yes nerdy from very young, that’s me…
  • Next, Emperor Caligula, hired experts to do up a plan for a canal although they wrongly concluded that the canal would cause flooding from the water in the Corinthian Gulf – and while all the planning and discussion was happening, he was assassinated.
  • Later another Roman emperor Nero, made plans and started the construction of the canal. After about 10% of the construction work done, he committed suicide. That is also an interesting story – Nero got his Mum, and wife killed amongst other things… again – won’t go there..don’t worry. Key thing is that all this seemed to be consistent with Apollonius’s ‘prophecy’… lots of drama, right?

Best Way to Experience the Canal

If I had more time, I would have really loved to take a boat trip down the Corinth Canal. Most modern ships are too large for the narrow canal, so the canal is mostly used by tourist boats. The tour is about 60-90 minutes.

Otherwise, you will probably have to be satisfied with just taking some shots from the Corinth Canal footbridge. Don’t get me wrong – you get beautiful camera shots from up here…so definitely a must-do! Just wished I had time to do both!

We went on the footbridge and also to the ground level near the submersible Bridge of Isthmia. In 1988, two submersible bridge were constructed at each end of the Corinth Canal, Isthmia and Corinth. To allow boats to pass through the bridge lowers the deck 8 metres below water level. In the picture below, the bridge was underwater, so we couldn’t pass through to the other side. 

From the ground - Submersible Bridge of Isthmia. It's actually underwater right now so you don't see - this is the view of the canal opening out to the Aegean Saronic Gulf
Gorgeous!!! Too bad there were no ships passing through...

Ancient Corinth & Acrocorinth

This is a big archaeological site around the Temple of Apollo on the northern foothills of the Acrocorinth hill. At the site also, you will find the Museum of Ancient Corinth built in 1932, where objects found at the site by the archaeological excavations are displayed. I think it would be best if you visit the museum first to get a bit of guidance of what you will see at the site. We went to the site first – it’s quite big and you may be lost, wondering what is it that you are looking at.

Map of Ancient Corinth on the left; Acrocorinth on the right

Acrocorinth

If you go up to the Acrocorinth, you will see ruins of a stone minaret and ancient defensive walls.  You need proper shoes to go up and down as the trail can be a bit of a challenge.

Acrocorinth is also where you can find a few traces of the Temple of Aphrodite. Aphrodite was the Olympian goddess of beauty, love and procreation. Around 20 AD, a Greek geographer, Strabo, wrote that the Temple was very rich – more than one thousand prostitutes were donated by both men and women to the service of the goddess (basically their prostitution income supported the upkeep of the temple etc). The prostitutes were mostly slaves dedicated as a form of religious offering to the Goddess. Ship captains and others would spend fortunes in Corinth – hence the saying ‘The voyage to Corinth isn’t for just any man’.

Temple of Apollo

When people talk about Temple of Apollo – it is usually associated with Delphi’s Temple of Apollo – which was somewhere I wanted to go to also. But I didn’t have time this time round. Maybe next trip..  But there is also a Temple of Apollo right here in Ancient Corinth. The temple is one of the earliest Doric temples in the Peloponnese and the Greek mainland, built around 560 B.C.E. It had 38 columns (only 7 remaining today).

Who is Apollo?

Apollo was known as the god of light and sun; also the god of music and poetry. He symbolises youth and beauty, source of life – he is associated with the Sun after all. He is the son of Zeus and Leto (yeap that’s right not Hera, Zeus’s wife), and the twin brother of Artemis.

Apollo was usually depicted as a young beardless handsome man with long healthy hair (youth and beauty, so that makes sense), holding a lyre in one hand (of course – God of music) and a branch of laurel in the other. Sometimes, he was depicted holding a bow and a quiver of arrows.

Cupid's Arrow & The Unwanted Love

The laurel came about from a mythical love interest – Apollo was said to have fallen in love with Daphne, a beautiful nymph, daughter of the river god Peneus. 

It started with Apollo angering Eros (or more well known as Cupid). Apollo just killed Python, a dragon that lived in Delphi and he was feeling rather arrogant that he told off Eros to leave war-like weapons (referring to Eros’s bows and arrows) to superior gods like himself. Eros took revenge by shooting a sharp and gold tipped arrow into Apollo’s heart causing him to fall heads over heels with Daphne. And he shot another arrow blunt and lead tipped into Daphne’s heart that created intense aversion to love in her heart. 

Apollo went after Daphne and refused to accept no for an answer. When she found herself trapped by Apollo, she pleaded for help to the Earth goddess Gaea (or her father, Peneus, in another version), who then transformed her into a plant – the laurel tree. Apollo was heart broken and used the laurel as a symbol of tribute to poets.

Roman Structures

Most of the surviving buildings are Roman rather than Greek after Caesar rebuilt the original city. Check out a few of the highlights below.

Glauke (or Glauce) Fountain

There is always some kind of cool story behind each building. The Glauke fountain was named after Glauke, the daughter of King Kreon of Corinth. Glauke was about to marry Jason (THE Jason and the Argonauts – who went searching for golden fleece… different story). He was married to another named Medea – so basically he was leaving his wife to marry a Princess for what else – wealth, power and so on. Medea got upset – she sabotaged the wedding peplos (gown) that Glauke was to wear for the wedding. It inflamed when it was worn, she threw herself in this particular fountain trying to put the fire out – well she didn’t make it. Anyway – the story doesn’t stop there – if you are interested, you can also read the ‘Medea’ Greek tragedy play written by the ancient Greek playwright Euripides.

Lechaion Road

The Lechaion road is a 12 metre wide paved road and it led to the Lechaion, an ancient port in Corinth, facing the Corinthian Gulf. On both side of the road were pedestrian ways and colonnades. 

The Market Place

You can see the evidences of the marketplace or ‘agora’ at the site. This is where locals gather to buy and sell their produce. The picture above is one of the shop fronts.

Archaeological Museum of Ancient Corinth

Link to the museum website here.

The Museum of Ancient Corinth houses objects found at the site by the archaeological excavations. It would be good to visit the museum first so that you can get a clearer picture of what’s at the site. Photos are allowed in some areas. 

The famous Kouroi of Klenia (credit: photo from the Museum collection)
Funeral bed from a tomb chamber

Wonderful Stopover at Corinth!

It was an excellent outing. There were not many people around – so it was really nice. You kind of have the whole site to yourself (almost). I do recommend that you do a bit of reading or at least get some materials from the museum before you visit the site so that you can appreciate what you see. 

Check out my other posts on my Greek adventure

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