Corinth Canal

Corinth Canal

The Corinth Canal is a canal that connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. It cuts through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth and separates the Peloponnesian peninsula from the Greek mainland and therefore effectively making the former an island. The canal is 6.3 kilometres in length and was built between 1881 and 1893.

History

Several rulers in antiquity dreamt of cutting a canal through the Isthmus. The first to propose such an undertaking was the tyrant Periander in the 7th century BC. He abandoned the project due to technical difficulties, and instead constructed a simpler and less costly overland portage road, named Diolkos. According to another theory, Periander feared that a canal would have robbed Corinth of its dominating role as entrepôt for goods. Remnants of the Diolkos still exist next to the modern canal.

The Diadoch Demetrius (336283 BC) planned to construct a canal as a means to improve his communication lines, but dropped the plan after his surveyors, miscalculating the levels of the adjacent seas, feared heavy floods.

The historian Suetonius tells us that the Roman dictator Julius Caesar (r. 48 to 44 BC) projected, among other grandiose engineering schemes, a canal through the Isthmus. However, he was assassinated before he could bring the scheme to fruition.

The Roman Emperor Nero (r. 5468 A.D.) actually launched an excavation, personally breaking the ground with a pickaxe and removing the first basket-load of soil, but the project was abandoned when he died shortly afterwards. The Roman workforce, consisting of 6000 Jewish prisoners of war, started digging 40–50 m wide trenches from both sides, while a third group at the ridge drilled deep shafts for probing the quality of the rock (which were reused in 1881 for the same purpose). As the modern canal follows the same course as Nero's, no remains have survived.

The modern attempt at construction began in the 1870's following the successful opening of the Suez Canal. A French company was hired to build it, but due to financial difficulties, the company ceased work after only the two ends had been dug. Finally, in 1881 the Hungarian architects István Türr and Béla Gerster, who had also been involved with early surveys for the Panama Canal, were hired to plan a new canal. A Greek company led by Andreas Syngros (the main contractor being Antonis Matsas) ultimately took over the project and completed it in 1893.

Achievement

The Corinth Canal is considered a great technical achievement for its time. It saves the 400 kilometres long journey around the Peloponnesus for smaller ships, but since it is only 21 metres wide it is too narrow for modern ocean freighters. The canal is nowadays mostly used by tourist ships; 11,000 ships per year travel through the waterway. The depth of the canal is 8 metres at low water.

At each end of the canal, seashore roads cross using submersible bridges that are lowered to the canal bottom to allow maritime traffic to pass.

Geology

The canal was cut through heavily faulted sedimentary rock in an active seismic zone. Between 1893 and 1940, it was closed a total of four years for maintenance and to stabilize the walls. In 1923 alone, 41,000 cubic meters of material fell into the canal, which required two years to clear it out.

See also

References

Further reading

Ancient attempts at a canal

  • Gerster, Bela, “L'Isthme de Corinthe: tentatives de percement dans l'antiquité”, Bulletin de correspondance hellénique (1884), Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 225-232
  • Werner, Walter: "The largest ship trackway in ancient times: the Diolkos of the Isthmus of Corinth, Greece, and early attempts to build a canal", The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, Vol. 26, No. 2 (1997), pp. 98–119

External links

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