Isthmus: The History



One of the most important projects of modern Greece, which played a catalytic role for the Mediterranean trade, the canal of the Isthmus of Corinth, has constituted an inspiration for centuries and was completed 25 centuries after the conception of its idea.

The beginning

The time clock turns back to the late 7th century B.C., and specifically in 602 B.C.  At that time, the tyrant of Corinth Periander decided to connect the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf.  His purpose was to try and open a canal in the Isthmus of Corinth which would allow the avoidance of a dangerous circumnavigation of the Peloponnese and to shorten the route.

The second attempt

Perianders vision found a follower, after nearly three centuries.  Demetrius Poliorcetes in 307 B.C. decided to put back in place the plan for the opening of the canal.  However his initial enthusiasm couldn’t continue as the engineers he brought from Egypt had persuaded him to abandon the project.  The engineers assured him that the waters of the Corinthian that would have been poured into the Saronic would have drowned it, in consequence the drowning of Aegina island and its neighbouring islands.

The Romans

The hegemony of Rome gives a “fresh air” to the project, after about two and a half centuries. It started by Julius Caesar in 44 A.C. who failed, just like Caligula did, in 37 A.C., and also the other emperors Hadrian and Gaius.  But the plans were abandoned for military and political reasons.  Indeed in 40 A.C., Gaius, delegated to the technicians the study of the project.

The most important step however occurred when Nero got the rein of the Roman Emperor about 66 A.C., at the age of 29 when he was at the Isthmian games.  There he decided, as Lucian mentions, to proceed with the project and he announced it to the Greeks.  A few months later in 67 A.C., he makes the opening of the projects on November 28 at an impressive ceremony, where he used gold mattock under music trumpets.

The Countdown

In 1830 the first governor of Greece Ioannis Kapodistrias decided to carry on with the ambitious project. The plan of opening the Isthmus came to the fore again.  Ioannis Kapodistrias entrusted the project to the French engineer Virle d’ Uct, who had estimated that approximately 40 million gold francs would be needed in order for the project to be completed.  This amount was too big for the young Greek nation.

But it was too late.  In 1869 the Suez Canal functioned and that process roused the Greek government to decide the intensification of their efforts.  The same year the Zaimis Government decided and voted the law “on the Isthmus canalization” and essentially favourable decisions were taken for the establishment of companies in order to undertake the project.

Source: Corinth Canal


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