History of Corinth Canal
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 Peloponnese 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.
Corinth Canal 602 BC – 44 BC
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 3300 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 lore.
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 superhuman feat.
Corinth Canal 1830 AC – 1893 AC
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 6300 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 2495 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 take place.
Corinth Canal 1923 AC – Nowadays
The Corinth Canal cuts the Isthmus of Corinth in a straight line 6346 m. long. The width of the canal 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 41000 cubic meters of earth which had fallen in.
Another major interruption of operation occurred in 1944, when the retreating German Army set explosives to the flanks of the Canal and caused 60000 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 then.
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.