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GreekReporter.comGreeceA Tale of Greece's Perseverance: The Construction of the Corinth Canal

A Tale of Greece’s Perseverance: The Construction of the Corinth Canal

Corinth Canal
The Corinth Canal. Credit: Oleg Kr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Corinth Canal is rightfully considered one of the great engineering accomplishments of Greece.

The construction of the Corinth Canal not only changed the shipping world, but it also changed the geography of Greece itself as well, as it technically turned the Peloponnesian Peninsula into an island, although it is widely still referred to as a peninsula.

The canal was constructed from 1880 to 1893; however, shipowners and captains had dreamed about constructing such a canal for some 2000 years before it became a reality.
In fact, the first person to propose constructing the canal was the ruler Periander in the 7th century BC, but the project never came to fruition.

Then, during the first century AD, the philosopher Apollonius of Tyana made an unsettling prediction that came to be a reality. He declared that the canal would not be constructed for the simple reason that any individual who attempted to plan the digging of any canal across the Corinthian isthmus would fall ill.

This prophecy was quite prophetic, as three powerful Roman emperors met their fate, dying prematurely while making plans to build the canal.

Corinth Canal
The Corinth Canal from the air. Credit: BY-NC-SA 2.0

Julius Caesar was the first of the three to set out to plan to build a canal at Corinth; however, before he even got started, he met his death when he was assassinated.

Then, the demented Emperor Caligula hired a group of Egyptian experts to plan the canal, but he met his death before the plans could get off the ground. The third Roman emperor to attempt to build it was Nero, who was assassinated by his guardsmen — although he did live to see the planning stage completed.

Herodes Atticus, a Roman senator, made an unsuccessful go at re-starting the canal project during the second century AD.

The dream of joining the two seas

In 1830 after Greece gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire, Greek politicians re-explored the idea of constructing the canal. This is when Greek statesman Ioannis Kapodistrias hired a French engineer to put together a realistic project — which ended up with an estimated steep cost of 40 million gold francs, causing Greece to walk away from the project.

Soon after, inspired by the construction of the Suez Canal, Greek Prime Minister Thrasyvoulos Zaimis created a law in 1870 that authorized the engineering project of the Corinth Canal. A French company oversaw the project that resulted in the construction phase starting — and soon after ending — again due to cost issues.

Corinth Canal
“The Opening of the Corinth Canal” by Constantinos Volanakis. Credit: Tilemahos Efthimiadis/CC BY 2.0

The dream of a canal across the Corinthian isthmus would finally become a reality when in 1881, the Société Internationale du Canal Maritime de Corinthe was commissioned to construct the canal and to operate it for the following 99 years. Construction began in April 1882, however, eight years later, Greece ran out of money. This time, a Greek company stepped in and the canal was finally completed in July of 1893.

Corinth Canal epitomizes perseverance of the Greek people

Once constructed, the Corinth Canal played provided a vital passageway for vessels to enter the Aegean Sea by joining the Gulf of Corinth to the Saronic Gulf, allowing them to not only cut transportation time but to avoid bad weather in the open seas around the Peloponnese.

Prior to the canal, captains who wanted to cross into the Adriatic Sea or anchor in Corinth, which was at the time an important shipping hub, would have to traverse the sea around the Peloponnese, adding another 185 nautical miles to their trip.

The Greek engineer Petros Protopapadakis created the canal that cuts through the earth with a length of nearly 6.5 km, (a little over 4 miles) while it is just 25 meters wide.

At present, the Canal is very unfortunately still closed, as it has suffered damage from landslides that make it impossible to traverse it. Repair work is currently underway, but there is no clear timetable on when this will be completed.

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