Although it was not quite as vast an undertaking as the contemporary construction of the Suez Canal, the building of the Corinth Canal was no mean feat of engineering, particularly for the 19th century, when newly-independent Greece was still a small, poor and embattled country. In just 12 years its builders dug an artificial gorge, 6.3 kilometre long, 87 metre deep and 24.6 metres wide, through solid limestone, north to south, to join the Corinthian Gulf to the Saronic Gulf.
Above its 79 metre high cliffs, the canal is spanned by bridges for the motorway, the old Corinth to Athens road and the railway, as well as the inevitable power and telephone cables.
The photo above was taken from a submersible road bridge across the southern end of the canal at Isthmia, itself an engineering wonder, which is lowered to the sea bed around every half hour to allow ships to pass. Today, in the age of super tankers, giant container ships and mega cruise liners, most of the traffic along the waterway consists of smaller cargo ships, tour boats and private craft. At either side of the bridge is a restaurant with a terrace where you can sit and watch the bridge rise and fall and the passing boats and ships.
About 10 minutes walk west of the bridge is ancient Isthmia, location of the Panhellenic Isthmian Games, a temple of Poseidon and a massive defensive wall. Visible remains at the archaeological site are negligible, but the small Isthmia Archaeological Museum is well worth a visit (Tuesday-Sunday, 8 am - 3 pm; closed Monday). Further south is the more impressive and atmospheric site of Nemea, the home of the ancient Nemean Panhellenic Games, and where Herakles is said to have fought the Nemean Lion. It also has an excellent small museum (same opening hours as Isthmia). There are only a couple of buses a day to Isthmia and Nemea from the centre of New Corinth, and none from ancient Corinth. If you do not have your own transport, you may consider it worthwhile taking taxis.
A rough, sometimes steep and overgrown footpath allows pedestrians to walk along the west side of the canal (on the left in the photo above) from Isthmia at least as far as the first bridge. A pleasant walk. From there, a road leads to the area of the Corinth/Isthmia inter-city bus station, where there are cafes, supermarkets and tourist shops. There is even a bungy-jumping platform (www.zulubungy.com).
A monument to the builders of the canal, in the form of of two enormous stone steles inscribed in Greek, Hungarian and English, was set up in 2009 at the side of the Corinth to Athens road near the northern end of the canal.
The inscription on the first stele:
"In grateful memory of the Hungarians István Türr (1825-1908) and Béla Gerster (1850-1923) who planned, organized and directed the construction of the Corinth Canal, a masterpiece of 19th century engineering.
The successful undertaking stands as a permanent monument to Greek-Hungarian relations and as inspiration to all future generations.
With great honour and respect to those who participated in the construction from 1881 to 1893."
The second stele states the canal's statistics:
Length 6,343 metres.
Depth of channel 8 metres.
Width at sea level 24.60 metres. Bottom width 21 metres.
Inclination of the walls 71-77 degrees.
Height of the walls from sea level 79 metres.
Transits annually 12,500.
Grand opening ceremony: August 6, 1893, in the presence of King George I of Greece and Francis Joseph, Emperor of Austia and King of Hungary.
The monument was erected by: Republic of Hungary, Periandros S.A., Corinth Canal S.A., Municipality of Louraki, Perachora."
Open to traffic: August 28, 1893.
The canal reduced the distance between the ports of the Aegean and the Adriatic Sea by 131 nautical miles.
The northern end of the Corinth Canal from
the bridge of the Corinth-Athens road.